15 Feb How to Properly Set Up Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) was rebranded to Google Search Console in May 2015. The name was changed to be more inclusive to its users, and the user process is still the same.
Working for an Internet marketing agency, I see inside many Google Webmaster Tools accounts. I have noticed a trend in the way that many accounts are set up by site owners. Too often, website owners and others who set up Webmaster Tools have only gone so far as to create an account and verify their website. This, however, is only the bare minimum. Additional steps are required in order to set up Webmaster Tools properly and effectively. While there are many powerful tools within Webmaster Tools, this post will simply focus on the proper way to set up the account to help Google find, crawl, and index a website.
Create an Account
To create an account, go to google.com/webmasters and follow the prompts. If you already have a Google account, simply log in.
Add Both www and non-www Domains
As far as Google and other search engines are concerned, www.domain.com and domain.com are two separate domains. Therefore, submitting both www.domain.com and domain.com to Webmaster Tools within the same account is important, so Google knows the www and non-www sites are the same site.
Verify the Website
After you have added your website, choose a verification method to verify that you are the site owner of both domains. There are five different methods to choose from and you should implement the same verification method for both www and non-www domains. These methods are:
- Domain name provider
- Google Analytics
- HTML file upload
- HTML tag
- Google Tag Manager
The HTML tag and HTML file upload methods tend to be easier to implement if you have access to your website files and I will discuss both below. The Google Analytics verification method is also simple, but it only works with the asynchronous Analytics code and Analytics and Webmaster Tools must be created using the same account.
Verifying your website via the HTML tag is as simple as copying the meta tag that Google provides and pasting it in the <head> section of your home page. If you choose the HTML file upload option, Google will provide an HTML file to download. Upload the file to the root directory of your website–this can be done via FTP or a file manager. Then you can check that you correctly uploaded the file to the root directory by entering the file name after the domain name. Example: http://www.domain.com/googlebb68864k67usy123.html. Click “Verify” in Webmaster Tools for both www and non-www domains.
Add an XML Sitemap
Adding an XML sitemap is an important part of setting up Webmaster Tools. An XML sitemap helps Google know the location of each page on a website and how the website is structured. Google will crawl the sitemap, follow the links to each page, crawl the pages, and index accordingly. Upload the XML sitemap to both domains and always keep your sitemap updated.
Set the Preferred Domain
Now that both sites are verified, set the preferred domain (www. or non-www.) so Google knows how to display the domain in search results. Setting the preferred domain is also another way to tell Google to treat both versions of a page the same. Consolidate the domain authority, page authority, and links to the same domain (www.domain.com or domain.com) and redirect all non-www URLs to www or vice versa. This redirection also helps prevent duplicate content.
Note that setting the preferred domain within Google Webmaster Tools does not redirect the domain; rather, setting up redirects has to be done outside of Webmaster Tools. Be sure that redirects are implemented by someone who understands redirects well.
Spending a lot of time and money on a website and then not seeing any traffic would be a tragedy. Therefore, you need to check if the robots.txt file is blocking search engines from crawling your site. Luckily, Google Webmaster Tools has a robots.txt Tester tool. Only sites that don’t want certain content crawled by search engines need a robots.txt file. If your site does have a robots.txt file, test to make sure the file is not blocking search engines from crawling your home page. If you see “Disallow: /” in the robots.txt file, the file is telling search engines not to crawl anything after the domain. We could write an entire article about the robots.txt file, but for the purpose of this post, all you need to check for is whether or not the site is blocked.
Fetch the Domain
Fix any issues that may prevent Google from crawling important information, then submit the site to Google to crawl the home page and all direct links. You have 10 monthly submissions if you choose to submit a URL and all direct links, or 500 submissions per month if you submit a URL without asking Google to fetch all direct links.
Google Webmaster Tools is Set Up!
Congratulations! You set up Google Webmaster Tools. To double check, did you
- make sure Google knows about the website? (Verify the website)
- tell Google where all the pages are on the site and how the site is structured? (Submit an XML sitemap)
- help consolidate the domain and page authority by telling Google that the www and non-www sites are the same site? (Set the preferred domain)
- tell Google how to display the domain in the search results? (Set the preferred domain)
- make sure Google is able to crawl your site and point Google to the XML sitemap through the robots.txt file? (Test robots.txt)
- submit the domain and all linking pages for Google to crawl and index? (Fetch the domain and submit!)
If so, you’ve done your part. Now it is up to Google to decide when to crawl the site.