In a recent blog post, Google announced that it has made several improvements to Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), Google’s tool suite for site administrators.
Though the changes might not be enough to help webmasters unlock the Da Vinci Code that is Google, it can certainly help them track and understand what is working and what needs to change when building their site. It may also be a great motivator for those who haven’t signed up and verified for GWT to do so, lest they miss out on critical information that they quite literally can’t get anywhere else.
Search Query Changes
The largest and most important changes took place in the Search Queries page of GWT. This feature has always been useful for tracking what search terms people are finding you through, how many impressions you get and how many clicks you get via them. However, if you didn’t take very good notes, chances are you wouldn’t know how the needle was moving over time.
The latest update fixes that by adding a “Change” column to the impressions, clicks, CTR and position headings, making it easy to quickly see what has happened with any given keyword.
For example, if you’re seeing that impressions and clicks go up while your ranking slides, that keyword is probably rising in popularity and becoming more competitive – time to take steps to protect its position! Likewise, if impressions are going up but your CTR is dropping, it may mean that your title or description is no longer relevant to what people want when they search for that particular term.
Given that Google highlights positive change in green and negative change in red, it’s very easy to skim the list and see what is going on with each keyword; this helps create some of the most actionable data available from GWT.
See a term is on the rise but you only have a mediocre rank? Maybe you should consider writing new content for it. Seen a term you rank well for is on the decline? Find another term to latch on to.
This update makes it easier to spot trends and ride “waves” when it comes to search terms, even if it doesn’t help with sharp search engine spikes. With GWT, you can easily sort the data by any column, including the new “Change” columns. You can also download the entire table for offline parsing.
All in all, this new tool will probably be the most powerful addition to GWT in quite some time.
Improved Parameter Handling
Google first introduced parameter handling into GWT last year. This update brings an improvement that allows webmasters choose specific values to index rather than simply ignoring or not ignoring variables.
Generally, parameters are what appears after the “?” in a URL, such as this URL on Amazon:
They are very common in shopping cart systems and affect things like the sort order, searches, categories, etc. However, paramaters, though useful for the software, don’t always change what the end user sees. For example, a variable to manage the referrer doesn’t actually modify the on-screen experience. This is why GWT lets webmasters suggest Google ignore or not ignore various variables.
On the other hand, some variables can’t be outright ignored, such as those that set sort order, as they affect the content. However, they can’t simply be indexed as separate pages because there is a great deal of overlap and that would create duplicate content. Thus, GWT now allows users to specify which value will be indexed.
Looking at the sort order example, the webmaster can choose to only have Google index the ascending order by name version “sort_order=asc_alpha” rather than other possibilities, such as descending by price “sort_order=dec_price”
This gives webmasters much greater control over how Google handles parameters (though Google is quick to point out that it only treats these settings as suggestions and can override them as they see fit).
Finally, GWT has added the ability to star messages in your inbox. This is a nice addition to one of GWT’s best features: alerts for problems amidst large number of messages.
Personally, I don’t receive enough messages to test this feature (my inbox is cleaned out); this tool is aimed more at those managing many sites with GWT.
All in all, the updates to GWT are pretty cool, especially the addition of the change columns. The idea of registering for GWT, especially among casual content creators, used to be an intimidating waste of time with little practical benefit. Now, with the addition of change data, there is a wealth of useful data to be found in GWT.
If and how you choose to use this data is up to you, but it is important to remember that it is there for all and for free. Thus, you can be fairly certain that your competition will be using it against you!
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