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What is Google Webmaster Tools?

Google Webmaster Tools is a free set of simple tools from Google which allow you to see how your website appears to Google and which pages are indexed. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to see top search queries used to find your website and any crawl errors encountered by Google’s spider (such as 404 – page not found errors).

To get started you first need to add your site to Google Webmaster Tools and verify you’re in fact the webmaster of your site. This article in Google’s knowledge base explains the process. Basically you can either add a special <meta> tag to the <head> section of your website or you can upload a uniquely named file to your website (such as google-v8j43g3s23s.html) which Google will make sure exists, thus proving your ownership of the domain.

Submitting an XML Sitemap

Once you’ve done that you’ll have access to Google’s webmaster tools. Initially you’ll want to submit an XML sitemap, which tells Google about the different pages on your website. If some pages on your website can’t be found by Google’s spider (a spider is a computer which tries to read and index all of the web pages on your site), then it will use the sitemap you submit to determine the structure of your website and crawl all of the pages you listed in the sitemap. You can generate an XML sitemap for your website here if you don’t already have one.

Setting the Preferred Domain

One of the most important considerations when it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is setting the preferred domain to use on your site. Generally most websites can be accessed with or without the “www.” at the front of the URL, such as www.yoursite.com and yoursite.com. Generally all links to other pages on your site and external links (i.e. links from other websites) should all use just the one domain format, i.e. all with the “www.” or without.

By setting the preferred domain in Google Webmaster Tools you can improve your search rankings and make sure all pages for your sites display in search results with a similar URL format. Here’s Google’s explanation on setting the preferred domain:

The preferred domain is the one that you would like used to index your site’s pages. If you specify your preferred domain as http://www.example.com and we find a link to your site that is formatted as http://example.com , we’ll treat that link as if it was http://www.example.com . In addition, we’ll take your preference into account when displaying URLs in our search results. It may take some time for changes to be reflected in our index.

You should also setup a 301 redirect in the .htaccess file of your web server’s root folder, as per WebConfs.com‘s short tutorial reposted here:

Create a .htaccess file with the below code, it will ensure that all requests coming in to domain.com will get redirected to www.domain.com

The .htaccess file needs to be placed in the root directory of your old website (i.e the same directory where your index file is placed)

Options +FollowSymlinks
RewriteEngine on
rewritecond %{http_host} ^domain.com [nc]
rewriterule ^(.*)$ http://www.domain.com/$1 [r=301,nc]

Please REPLACE domain.com and www.newdomain.com with your actual domain name.

Note* This .htaccess method of redirection works ONLY on Linux servers having the Apache Mod-Rewrite moduled enabled.

Generating a Robots.txt File

A robots.txt file allows you to tell Google’s spider which pages on your website it should and should not crawl and index. Why might you want some pages not to appear in Google’s index? As a general rule of thumb, any page which doesn’t contain useful, publicly accessible content (such as your WordPress wp-admin folder or terms of service policy) should be listed in your robots.txt file to not be crawled by Google.

The robots.txt file should be uploaded to your website’s root folder and can be generated from within Google Webmaster Tools under the Crawler Access option of the Site Configuration menu. Here’s a screenshot:

Creating a robots.txt file is quite an advanced technique, so you should learn more about it before creating yours. This Wikipedia page is a great place to start.

Top Search Queries and Backlinks

Finally, under the Your Site on the Web section you can see the top search queries people are using to find your website and a list of websites which link back to your site. The number of sites that link back to yours (also called backlinks) is a determining factor in how you rank in the search results, so the more (relevant) sites linking back to yours, the better.

Here’s a screenshot:

gwt-backlinks-300x97.gif 300w

In this example you can see we have 2,619 websites linking to our home page (the forward slash means no page in particular is being linked to, so in this example there are 2,616 external websites linking to www.example.com) and 177 websites linking to www.example.com/index.html.

Conclusion

Google Webmaster Tools gives you a great insight into how Google sees your website in the context of search engine optimization and website ranking. To wrap up, here’s a good video about Google Webmaster Tools from Google’s chief of search engineering, Matt Cutts:

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  • Can you add an alt tag to the header logo?

  • Jessica Malnik

    Hi David,

    When it comes to setting up your store as a subdomain, you can this by changing the CNAME in your hosting provider’s DNS Settings. Here’s a tutorial for how to do this. https://support.bigcommerce.com/questions/897

    When it comes to redirecting from a previous site, you can setup 301 redirects. https://support.bigcommerce.com/questions/941

  • Big Commerce DOES NOT allow editing of the .htaccess file.

    What you state in the post is accurate. The problem is that customers of Big Commerce can’t make it happen. And your tech support throw their hands up in the air when asked how we can redirect sub-domains.

    This is pretty basic functionality that most SEO’s and webmasters would find nutty to be absent from the Big Commerce console.

  • A better snippet to distribute to people is

    Options +FollowSymlinks
    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.(.+)$ [NC]
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://%1/$1 [R=301,L]

    it doesn’t require you to change any domains names it is just a straight cut and paste every time.

  • supersheek

    Google webmaster tools has increased my traffic just by entering in a target geographic location and selecting whether its www. as well as submitting my sitemap. These basic things will help your pages get indexed quicker as well as be on the ranks faster which in turn means more traffic sooner.

  • dustin77

    But the question is how do add this .htaccess rewrite to my BigCommerce store since it's on your servers?

    I have tried to upload this rewrite you have here to my site and there is no redirect. I have tried to ask the techs and the answer I get is there are no internal links on my site that go to the non-www. But that does not help that people are linking to my non-www version.

    Any help? Would really appreciate it if you actually showed how to do this rewrite for us that are hosted with BigCommerce!

    Thanks Dustin

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