Just in case there are store owners reading who are yet to discover Google’s Webmaster tools (WMT) it really is an essential bit of kit for pretty much anybody interested in generating search traffic to their website, and eCommerce store’s are well and truly in that bracket. In fact, it’s safe to say that it’s rare for me to come across an eCommerce store where the majority of traffic isn’t coming from Google on a day to day basis.
Webmaster tools is free service offered up by Google containing a number of insights into your eCommerce store which will help to identify issues, suggest improvements and discover how your site is viewed by the internet power house. If you are in the eCommerce biz and don’t have a WMT account hopefully by the end of this post you’ll be convinced it’s work your time.
The first thing you will need to do, if you haven’t already (Assuming you already have a Google account for your analytics) is to verify ownership of your store, or stores as you can link multiple websites to one Google account in WMT. Google offers multiple methods of verification so you will need to which is best suited to your ecommerce platform, without verification WMT is not accessible.
The very first thing at the top of WMT’s dashboard once you are signed in is any messages Google have left about your site. The fact that it occupies such a prominent position should give an indication of it’s importance to your site!
This is the place you will find amongst other things is information on any penalties which have been applied to your site, in recent months unnatural link warnings have been the biggest horror story for webmasters. If Google have left you a little note, it’s generally not good news and you’re going to need to take action to fix.
Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts has many times spoken about how Google are trying to be much more transparent in action they take against websites so the message area is likely to me even more important going forward.
Health > Crawl Errors
This area of WMT lists any errors Google has found whilst crawling your website in the last 90 days. The top section “site errors” will give information on any problems the Google spiders have encountered in accessing your site. If you’ve found that your eCommerce site has been removed from the search engine results pages (SERPS) completely, or a new store is taking a long time to get indexed check here for any major errors.
Below this section any issues with specific webpages will be listed under “URL Errors”, it’s quite normal to have issues such as 404 errors if product pages have been removed as items go out of stock. Generally Google shouldn’t penalise websites for these errors but if you have a large number relative to the size of your site it maybe an indication that you have some underlying issues with the structure of your site.
Optimization > Sitemaps
Sitemaps are an important part of a website from search engines point of view and they are a feature offered by the vast majority eCommerce software providers, more often that not they can be accessed at www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml. Adding a sitemap is especially important for stores where the products are frequently changing or they have a large itinerary but they are recommended for everybody.
The closer the count of “indexed” pages is to “submitted” pages the better, if there is a large gap between these two numbers then it may be worth investigating further. Duplicate/thin content or poor site navigation are often the problem if pages in your sitemap are not being hidden from Google’s spiders in any way. (See above crawl errors!)
Traffic > Search Queries
Definitely as an SEO my favourite area of WMT to delve into is the search queries.
This section not only gives you information on keywords people have used to find your site, similar to the reports you can get in Google Analytics, but also the number of impressions and also the average position your site was displayed in that SERP. If you are looking for opportunities to potentially increase traffic to your store this is the place to go without question.
Tom Critchlow (formally of Distilled, now working at Google) wrote a great post about 3 years ago now illustrating exactly how you cam process this raw data into a prioritised list of where you should be targeting your improvements. Dan Petrovic also discusses this at length (amongst many other things) in his video “Using Google Webmaster Tools: like a pro!”
Traffic > Links to your site
Another place you’ll find SEO’s like me hanging out is the “Links to your site” section of WMT. Aside from the obvious SEO value of links, it’s a useful place to see who’s talking about your site on-line to maybe get involved in discussions and find web communities highly relevant to your products.
The links to your site feature is also important to eCommerce sites specifically to see which of your product or category pages are gaining link authority, it may be worth paying particular attention to these pages when carrying out any site updates. If you’ve been hit by a penalty it’s also a good place to start looking for Google’s so called “unnatural links”.
Optimization > HTML improvements
The HTML improvements sections is a really quick way to find where Google thinks you can improve things like meta descriptions and title tags to aid your “on page optimisation”. Often in eCommerce software titles and descriptions are automatically generated by the cart based on page content so this can also be a good place to spot duplicate content issues your site may have.
Have your say!
What did I miss? Probably plenty, but I’m seriously interested in passing on tips for eCommerce stores to get the most out of free tools such a WMT. Whether you’re an SEO or a store owner reading this let me know your views in the comments. All contributions gratefully received.
PS, Thanks to Barrie Moran for entertaining me whilst I wrote this post