About a decade ago, Google introduced Webmaster Tools, which gave webmasters many convenient options for managing all of their websites. Webmaster Tools provided ways to submit sitemaps to Google, create a robots.txt file to communicate with Google’s web crawlers, and even submit preferred domain names. The implementation of Webmaster Tools was mutually beneficial to Google and webmasters. The administrators now had the tools they needed to ensure their pages would be optimized for search engines and Google could further streamline and standardize the way websites provided information to their web crawlers.
So why is Google changing this incredibly popular and useful tool? Well, it just so happens that the term “webmaster” doesn’t have as much meaning as it did 10 years ago. Sure, many businesses still turn to independent webmasters to run their websites, but many other types of people have taken a liking Webmaster Tools. As Google says in the Search Console announcement: “We have all kinds of Webmaster Tools fans: hobbyists, small business owners, SEO experts, marketers, programmers, designers, app developers, and, of course, webmasters as well.” It could be that Google thought that the term “Webmaster Tools” was a bit intimidating to hobbyists and tinkerers who would readily admit that they haven’t “mastered” anything just yet. Search Console just sounds much more inviting.
So what will really change when Google makes the transition from Webmaster Tools to Search Console to be more inclusive? Well, first off Google is simply referring to the creation of Search Console as a “rebranding” of Webmaster Tools, sort of like a Webmaster Tools 2.0. Throughout June 2015, Google will be making changes to Search Console a little bit at a time so that veterans of the tools can debug at will and leave their feedback. Search Engine Land has reported two main updates that users might want to pay attention to, however. One is a search Analytics report for users’ Android apps, and another is something called “Fetch” which will give you more information about how “Google sees the content within your Android app.” The dashboard will change a bit, too, but for the most part experienced users won’t see any loss in functionality after the rebranding process.
Are you one of the hobbyists, small business owners, or app developers that Google hopes to court with the rebranding process? If you haven’t used Webmaster Tools in the past, the rebranding to Search Console is a great excuse to start. What exactly can you do with Search Console?
Get to Know Your Visitors
One of the most powerful things you can analyze using Search Console is to develop a deeper understanding of where your website traffic is coming from. Using Search Analytics, you can apply several different types of filters to drill down who visits your website from certain sources, such as via image search or social media links. You can even tell what type of devices they access your website with and what country they’re based in.
You can look at who is linking to your website, too. The Link Report will give you the linking domains, anchor text, and a list of the most popular pages on your website that people are likely to link to. External links are great for SEO, but only if they’re of a certain quality. Taking a look at the Manual Actions page will give you information about any Google penalties that are hurting your rankings. Links that can trigger a penalty can come from seemingly unnatural links to your site, cloaking or duplicitous redirects, and hacked pages. Hopefully this page will be blank for you, but at least it will give you a chance to rectify anything that Google is holding against your site.
Get Feedback from Web Crawlers
If you want to see what Google’s web crawlers think about your website, visit the Crawl Errors report section. Any errors such as 403 or 404 errors that a Googlebot finds on your website will be listed here. You can even filter errors by device. The Robots.txt Tester tool does just what you would think it does: it checks your file for errors that all types of Google crawlers ((Googlebot, News, Images, Video, Mobile, etc.) might find.
See How You Look in the Search Results
The Search Appearance section gives you a chance to see what your website looks like in the search engine results. It’s important to use proper SEO techniques to get your website high in the rankings, but you also need to make sure your website looks attractive in the search results so that people actually click on it when they see it.
Sitelinks are shortcuts to other pages in your website that appear below the main search result. Google will automatically display sitelinks based on the structure of your website. You don’t have a lot of control over which pages Google decides to display, but the Sitelinks tool allows you to “demote” certain URLs that don’t have as much value as other pages.
Want to check out your coding and how it relates to your search engine results appearance? Head over to the HTML Improvements page and see what Google thinks about your meta descriptions, titles, and other content. This page is really helpful for running a report to search for duplicate content on your website, which can have a negative impact on your search engine ranking.
See What Google Has Indexed
Under Google Index, you can see how many pages of your website Google has indexed and remove those pages that you don’t want to appear in search results. Any pages that can be accessed by Googlebots will be displayed, while those currently being blocked by the robots.txt will not show up. If you want to exclude a page from the search results, you can always block it using the robot.txt file, but if you want to remove a page that has already been indexed, the Remove URLs tool can help. This tool allows you to request a certain URL—or even entire directories—to be removed from the Google index. If you accidentally request a removal of a URL you want to keep indexed, don’t worry. You can cancel the removal request at any time.
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