I frequently write about various engines’ Webmaster tools, mostly because they provide a service often overlooked by Webmasters. Today, I’ll examine relatively new features in Google’s Webmaster Tools, including the mobile crawling validator and the Google Webmaster Tools widgets for iGoogle.
Mobile Crawl Validation
I’ve talked before about the importance of watching the queries that come to your site via mobile devices. Mobile usage is in a state of rapid growth, both in terms of raw searches as well as the types of queries people are using on these devices.
Recently, Google Webmaster Tools began showing a report in its Diagnostics section called “Mobile Crawl.” This report tells Webmasters whether Google’s mobile crawler experienced any particular CHTML (Compact HTML) or mobile WML/XHTML (mobile wireless markup language/extensible HTML) errors during a crawl of their site.
If you run this report for yourself, remember some important things.
- Full validation doesn’t necessarily imply a great user experience. Google’s report will tell you about crawling errors, but it won’t tell you about graphics that took 12 minutes to load before any text showed up.
- Crawling errors don’t necessarily imply a poor user experience. Plenty of terrific sites have validation errors, yet they’re invisible to the user and engines have no problem finding key content.
Consequently, the Google Mobile Crawl report is important in showing errors that can potentially stop a mobile crawler in its tracks. But one of the single most effective diagnostic tools you can use on your site is simply to visit your site from a mobile device yourself, such as a BlackBerry, iPhone, or other Web-enabled phone. This will tell you a great deal about how engines and users navigate through your site’s mobile version (if you have one). One example of a terrific mobile presence is The New York Times, which redirects to mobile.nytimes.com when you’re using a mobile device.
Mobile crawling is important for search in two distinct ways. First, remember that more “traditional” search patterns are emerging from mobile devices. Mobile searches are far more comprehensive than the stereotypical search for directions or for restaurants in a specific ZIP code. People are using their phones to search for the same things that they search for from their desktops.
Second, Google’s search algorithm for mobile devices is similar, but not identical, to its algorithm for desktop devices. Typically, for example, the mobile SERP will contain fewer than 10 results, which affects the SERP due to domain clustering. That means your site might not have an additional indented, second URL appear on the SERP if that URL’s true position is lower than sixth place.
Google Webmaster Tools Widgets for iGoogle
This is already a couple months old, but in case you don’t follow the official Google Webmaster Tools blog, Google released widgets for your personalized iGoogle home page that correspond to traditional Webmaster Tool reports.
This means that in addition to your iGoogle tabs for local weather, Gmail, Reader, Calendar, and so on, you can now create a tab that lists the following Google Webmaster Tools reports:
- Crawl errors
- Content analysis
- Top search queries
- Subscriber stats
- What Googlebot sees
- External links
- Internal links
The usability of these gadgets isn’t perfect. It’s often difficult or impossible to scroll through large lists (such as lists of URLs showing external link counts), and you need to click over to the main Google Webmaster Tools page to find anything beyond the superficial anyway. So it’s helpful as little more than a dashboard, but for many day-to-day Google Webmaster Tools metrics, that’s enough because they change infrequently.
In my opinion, the two most helpful widget windows when viewed from iGoogle are the Crawl Errors and Content Analysis reports, because there’s no need to scroll, and because you can click directly over to specific error reports.
I’m continually disappointed with the low numbers of online marketing staff who have taken the time to verify their sites through Google Webmaster Tools. Somewhere there’s a lack of communication. The verification process, which is a little like learning to ride a bike, intimidates some people. Others have no issues with verification but are apparently unconvinced that it’s worth the time. Still others have no idea that Google Webmaster Tools exists. I’ll continue to evangelize on the benefits of taking advantage of the tool sets that all engines make available. But the engines need to do some additional promotion themselves.
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