If you want to attract visitors to your studio’s website (or if you design websites for clients) you really must understand and use Google’s collection of Webmaster Tools. This free service from Google provides you with detailed reports about your website’s visibility on Google, as well as giving you valuable ways to influence how your website appears in search results.
Link: Google Webmaster Tools
In this tip we’ll dig into this powerful resource that is key for harnessing Google as a marketing vehicle for your creative studio. As part of that discussion, we’ll show how you can answer the following questions:
- When was the last time Google indexed your website?
- Are there any bad links or missing pages on your site?
- Does your website’s content reflect your brand and target market?
- Who is linking to your website?
- How can you make your Flash-based site more findable?
- Can you stop Google from indexing photos in your portfolio?
- How do you remove something from Google’s search results?
Google Webmaster Tools: Overview
When you log into your Google Webmaster Tools site, you be presented with an overview page. This provides a quick report on Google’s index status for your site, and a list of any errors their system found on your site while crawling.
Google Question #1: When was the last time Google indexed your website?
Answer: One of the most useful details on this overview page is a note showing the date Google last successfully accessed your website’s home page. Google’s search robots (Googlebot) makes a guess how frequently to check your site for future changes, based in part in how often your site’s content has changed in the past. If the last successful date on the overview page is not very recent, it may be an indication Google sees your website as something that does not get updated very often.
Google Webmaster Tools: Diagnostics
The Diagnostics page gives you Google’s perspective on the hygiene of your site. Are there pages that can’t be accessed for one reason or another?
Google Question #2: Are there any bad links or missing pages on your site?
Answer: Google’s Diagnostic lists help you weed out links to old, missing pages you might have forgotten about. This can be particularly useful if, for example, you’ve renamed or reorganized your website file names and organization recently. The list of errors can show you all the links in Google’s index that have missing pages. Ideally, you don’t want anything to show up here, so be sure to review and, if possible, resolve errors that you see.
Google Webmaster Tools: Statistics
For a creative studio, the Statistics page provides you a powerful look into how Google sees your website content. Many studio owners find this feature a tremendously useful and eye-opening experience. Google lists the top search terms that lead people to your site, provides a list of the most frequent words in your site’s content, and other details.
Answer: Take a look at the “What Googlebot Sees” section in Statistics. Scroll down to a list of the prominent keywords Google found in the words on your website. Now ask yourself a question: Do those keywords accurately reflect your studio’s brand? If not, it’s time to sit down and rework the copy on your site to reflect the words you want search engines to associate with your studio.
Here is a personal example: When we looked at the keyword reports for creativetechs.com several years ago, we noticed the word “Seattle” did not show up in our keyword list. That was a significant omission, because while we have thousands of readers around the world, we pay our bills by supporting local Seattle-area creative teams. After that realization, we started mentioning Seattle more prominently in the tips we write (examples here, here, here, here, and here).
Today, the keyword “Seattle” is slowly creeping up on our site. Do a Google search on “Seattle Mac” these days and the Creativetechs website should show up as the second or third result.
Google Webmaster Tools: Links
The Links tab shows you where your pages are linked, both externally and internally.
Google Question #4: Who is linking to your website?
Answer: Google’s Webmaster Links page provides the most comprehensive list of inbound links you’ll find. It provides a breakdown of almost every page on the internet that links to your site. It is a remarkable list. You’re sure to be surprised at some of the links you discover.
Google Webmaster Tools: Sitemaps
Sitemaps can help Google discover pages their crawlers might not otherwise find.
Google Question #5: How can you make your Flash-based site more findable?
Answer: In its simplest terms, a Sitemap is a list of the pages on your website. Creating and submitting a Sitemap helps make sure that Google knows about all the pages on your site, including URLs that may not be discoverable by Google’s normal crawling process. If your studio uses a Flash-based welcome page, adding a sitemap can make a huge difference in your site visibility for Google.
Google Webmaster Tools: Tools
The Tools section deserves special attention because it provides a wealth of ways to control your site interaction with Google. We’ll focus on two features here that allow you greater control over what Google indexes with you site.
Google Question #6: Can you stop Google from indexing photos in your portfolio?
Answer: Google helps you create a custom robots.txt file to indicate which robots you don’t want crawling your site, and which files or directories you don’t want indexed. This can be particularly useful for photographers who don’t want their website images showing up in a Google Image Search. Designers can use this feature to prevent Google from searching and indexing any open “Work In Progress” directories that might contain client proofs. The example below show how a photographer might tell Googlebot-Image (Google’s image search robot) to ignore all photos inside an “images” folder on their web portfolio site.
Google Question #7: How do I remove something from Google’s search results?
Answer: This is a call we get every now and then from clients (in fact, we might run this as a stand-alone tip someday). What if you need to remove something confidential or embarrassing from Google’s search results? For example, what if you don’t want your website showing up when someone searches for a particular ex-employees name. It can take weeks or months for that old information to eventually fall out of Google’s index. But you can use the special Remove URL feature to get Google to drop the old references much more quickly.
For additional reading on Google’s powerful Webmaster Tools, we offer links to some terrific resources: