Last time, I discussed the Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) dashboard "site configuration" section. Here, I'll get more into the meat of the GWT reports in the "Your site on the web" section, which discusses specific ways and measurements that Google uses to view your site in relation to others.
Top Search Queries (Impressions and Clickthrough)
The Top Search Queries report contains very helpful information, but its layout is sometimes confusing. First, it's important to understand the respective roles of the two main columns of data in this report, "Impressions" and "Clickthrough."
The Impressions column lists Google queries for which your site appears on a SERP (define) -- along with the average position, or ranking, of the term. In other words, of all the searches that users perform at Google, these are the top 20 queries for which your site appears. The "%" column indicates the relative query volume of those 20 queries. For example, if the top query shows 15 percent and the second query shows 5 percent, you can estimate that the demand for the first term is roughly three times that of the second.
The Clickthrough column is a subset of the Impressions data. In other words, of all the queries for which your site appears in Google SERPs, here are the queries for which users actually clicked over to your site. (This list also contains the average position, or ranking, of the term.)
In an ideal world, the terms in the Impressions column would be mirrored in the Clickthrough column. That is, your site would both appear for significant queries and get clicks from all the users making those queries. Unfortunately, that's rarely how it happens. If your average position for a term is 8 or 9, for instance, you're likely losing organic clicks to the sites in the top three or four positions. This is a case of getting impressions but not actually getting a worthwhile number of clicks.
What can you do with this data? Contrast the lists. Create a list of query terms for which you are appearing, but for which you're not getting clickthrough. Then figure out which of your URLs match up to each query term. (Knowing only that your site is ranking for a specific term is not enough; you need to know which URL to work on.) This list of terms represents some of your most prominent opportunities for additional traffic. Why? Because chances are, some additional effort in optimizing a specific URL will likely send you into the zone to receive more traffic; if you're already on page one, you've already fought most of the battle.
Links to Your Site
This section is one of the most popular and informative of all of the GWT reports. Here you can see, down to the URL, the links pointing to your site, listed in order of URLs with the most incoming links. If you don't want to scroll through all the pages of the report, there's even a field that lets you check a specific URL from your site.
How can you use this data? It's helpful for gauging how "top heavy" or "bottom heavy" your site is. If all the inbound links to your site point to the home page, your deep data may be suffering. It's also helpful to measure the "before" and "after" phases of a specific promotion in which one of the goals is accruing new links to a specific URL.
But pay close attention to the list, because not all links are created equally. Following are a few reasons to treat the link data with a critical eye:
This report takes all the on-page data that Google collects as it crawls your site, and it lists the terms in order of how frequently they appear. It's very similar to a "tag cloud" for your site's copy, but instead of ranking terms by an increase in point size, it does so the old-fashioned way, by ranking the terms numerically.
Look at this list in two ways: Examine the terms that do appear and see if they represent your thematic goals for the site. Similarly, look at the list and try to determine what's not there but should be.
This section is nearly identical to the "Links to your site" section, except that it lists links from your own site that point to your specific URLs. Again, you can check a specific URL if you don't see it listed in the report. This is a helpful way to test your navigation (whether Google is finding pages through a new dropdown menu, for instance) and the relative authority that you're allocating throughout your site.
In Google's words, this report shows you the "number of aggregated subscribers you have from Google services such as Google Reader, iGoogle, and Orkut. And of course to have a subscriber, you must first have an XML feed that can be subscribed to. Otherwise, this report will be empty.
In my next column, we'll take a closer look at what many consider the most critical component of GWT, the "Diagnostics" section.
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Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.
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