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Over the past decade, website operators have relied on Google Webmaster Tools for ensuring their sites were being properly displayed and indexed across the search giant, but big changes are on the way. Google is rebranding one of its most popular services to Search Console and there a few new features coming with the new name.

According to Google, the shakeup is the result of user feedback, as only a small portion of users actually identify as “webmasters.” Google is hoping the new name will help bring the service to a wider user base.

“It turns out that the traditional idea of the “webmaster” reflects only some of you. We have all kinds of Webmaster Tools fans: hobbyists, small business owners, SEO experts, marketers, programmers, designers, app developers, and, of course, webmasters as well… So, to make sure that our product includes everyone who cares about Search, we’ve decided to rebrand Google Webmaster Tools as Google Search Console.

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The rebranding is coming in the next few weeks, and Google has announced two new features that are expected to roll out about the same time.

With Search Console, users will have access to all the functionality they have come to expect of Webmaster Tools, as well as the ability to see how searchers are accessing your content via Android apps through Google Search within Search Analytics reports and the ability to see your app content through Google’s eyes with an alpha version of Fetch as Google for Apps.

Google-Webmaster-Tools-LogoGoogle Webmaster Tools is usually the best friend for any webmaster trying to keep informed, but users have noticed the normally up-to-date service has not been updated in over a week.

The problem was noted by Search Engine Land last week and has been the main topic of conversation on the Webmaster Tools forums all weekend, but so far Google has no response.

The closest thing we have to a response comes from forum user ‘Kai Z’, who wrote “Known issue. […] Give it a few days to update/ return”. Normally forum posts like this wouldn’t carry much weight but it seems notable that Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller marked this response as ‘best answer’. Naturally this has caused quite a bit of speculation but could potentially be meaningless.

The outage seems to line up with a similar issue in Google Analytics. Many users reported data in analytics was missing for Monday February 9, but Google that problem received a prompt response from Google on its product forums: “We’re sorry for our unusually bad case of the Mondays. We’ve fixed the issue and no data was lost. Analytics users should start seeing any missed [data] soon.”

Most likely the problem will be resolved fairly quickly, but the lack of transparency from Google on what is causing the lack of updating has caused some concern within the SEO community.

Google-Webmaster-Tools-LogoGoogle Webmaster Tools (GWT) is Google’s direct line to every website owner, which consequently makes it the most important set of tools and webmaster has at their disposal. GWT allows webmasters to identify any problems with their site including alerting you to any penalties placed on you by the search engine and checking for signs of malware that may have infected your site.

Probably the most surprising thing about Google Webmaster Tools is how many webmasters go without ever opening the dashboard of GWT. It isn’t like the cost is keeping them away. Seeing as Google Webmaster Tools is free, the best assumption is that many webmasters stay away from GWT because they are intimidated by the wealth of data and tools all in one place.

Simon Heseltine created an extensive overview of Google Webmaster Tools’ features and capabilities, as well as how you can leverage these tools to optimize your site and ensure everything is working as it should be. If you aren’t using Webmaster Tools, you are missing out and your site is likely suffering because of it.

Bing Webmaster Tools

Big may not get all the praise and attention of Google, but they have been steadily growing their audience for years. They still have a ways to go in search traffic to be realistic competition for Google, but Bing has expanded their search abilities and community to the point where it is a mistake to completely neglect the search engine.

If you are a webmaster, chances are you already use Google’s Webmaster Tools, but it is shocking how many don’t bother to signup for a Bing’s Webmaster Tools at the same time. Just like Google’s tools, Bing’s Webmaster Tools make a huge variety of data available to you to help inform your SEO practices and identify any potential issues.

Most importantly, Bing’s Webmaster Tools are the primary line the search engine uses to communicate about issues with site owners.

If you’ve used Google Webmaster Tools, you probably already have a good idea of what you can accomplish with Bing’s and you can probably make your way around the tools on your own. But, if you’re new to webmaster tools or want to know all the cool things Bing’s Webmaster Tools can do, Simon Heseltine has shared a guide to the tools at Search Engine Watch. Get yourself familiar with the tool, then make sure you sign up. There is no reason you should be missing out on such a free, versatile and important set of tools for your website.

Google Webmaster Tools is one of the best tools at your disposal for making sure people are able to find your site, but a surprising amount of people run websites and never open it. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team calls not using the free Google webmaster resources one of the five most common mistakes a site owner can make, so it makes sense to share some information about the tool.

For those that don’t know, Google Webmaster Tools is free software that helps you manage the more technical aspects of your website. It is especially loved by SEO professionals because it offers various diagnostic reports on numerous areas of your page from the best possible source. You can find out why you aren’t ranking or review your link profile, but Webmaster Tools also provides a direct hotline between Google and website owners. If you have been hit with a penalty, you are notified in Webmaster Tools.

Google Webmaster Tools is often confused with Google Analytics, which is a sort of companion software to Webmaster Tools. However, Analytics is aimed at marketers and provides data more relevant for that area. Both provide extensive resources and options for optimization, but for SEO you will be much more interested in Webmaster Tools.

You will have to be logged into your Google account which you use for Gmail or Google+, which you should undoubtedly have if you are running a website. Once you’ve logged into Google, you can go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools and begin the process of setting up your account. Bruce Clay offers an extensive tutorial with four different options for verifying you are a site owner and setting up your account.

Once you’ve verified, you are set to explore the options and resources available. It may take some playing around to get the hang of, but you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish within the software. There are also numerous guides available to help you understand what can be done with Webmaster Tools.

Many webmasters believed that the 700,000 notifications Google sent out in the first two months of this year were related to link notifications. Not true, says Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts.

According to Cutts, 90% of the messages sent out via Google Webmaster Tools are related to black hat issues. Their estimates are that only 3% of the messages were about unnatural links on a page. You can find out more from Search Engine Land

If you’ve ever received a notification from Google about a manual spam action based on “unnatural links” pointing to your webpage, Google has a new tool for you.

Links are one of the most known about factors Google uses to order search results, and they examine the links between sites to decide which pages are reputable. As you probably know, this is the foundation of PageRank, another of the most well-known “signals” Google uses to order search results. Google is concerned about spammers trying to take advantage of PageRank, and often they have to take manual action.

The notification you may have received in Webmaster Tools about those unnatural links suggests you got caught up in linkspam. Linkspam is the use of paid links, link exchanges, and other tactics like those. The best response to the message would be to remove as many low quality links as possible from your site. This keeps Google off of your back, and will improve the reputation of your site as a whole.

If you can’t seem to get rid of all of the links for some reason, Google’s new tool can help you out. The Disavow Links page allows you to input URLs which you would like disavowed from your site, and the “domain :” keyword will help you disavow links across all pages on a specific site.

Everyone is allowed one disavow file per website, and the file is shared among site owners through Webmaster Tools.

If you need assistance finding bad links in your site, the “Links to Your Site” feature in Webmaster Tools can also assist you in starting your search.

Google’s Webmaster Central Blog included a few quick answers in their announcement for the tool for questions you may have, noting that most sites will not need to use the feature in any way unless they’ve received a notification.

 

Bad URL structure is far too common of an issue in SEO. It can drag down your rankings, keep your pages from appearing in search engine indexes and destroy ranking authority from any other pages and websites you are a part of.

This is sometimes the fault of content management systems who can build poor URL structures within the websites. Elsewhere, some platforms devise URLs with illegal characters.

Search engines do try to read and index even the most poorly made URLs, but paying attention to your URL management and optimization has its own set of benefits. It’s about time you made sure you are doing your part.

It isn’t difficult to diagnose URL based issues, however. You can check for errors and warnings that suggest URLs are causing the issues, and you can audit all of your URLs for proper syntax.

Google and Bing Webmaster Tools also have reports that reveal duplicate content. From there, you can examine the webpages themselves and their locations. Google and Bing aren’t even the only ones with these types of tools. Plenty of third-party SEO tools can help identify these types of issues. Also make sure to check for unsafe characters.

Tom Schmitz from Search Engine Land has charts to help make clear what characters you should be using and when. He also has many other suggestions on how to solve issues with poor URL structures.

 

Google’s algorithm changes over the last decade have really made huge shifts in the way we search things. They also really help developers stay on their toes.

Initially, the SEO business was all about rankings. You told your client how you would get their keywords to the top of the search, and then showed them how high they were coming up in searches. Of course, it took a while to get their site to the top, but once you did, they were content.

Now, thanks mostly to Search+, it is the job of SEOs to get their clients to stop thinking about ratings. What Search+ has done is customize the results for every search you make based on search history, location, social media usage, and other criteria. That means everyone gets results catered to them, but it also results in your client’s site not appearing high in the rankings for some people.

Sujan Patel offers some other methods of tracking how your websites are performing, all of which can be found in Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics.

There are simple reports like “visitor growth” that show how your site is trending quickly and clearly, as well as old metrics that have risen in popularity. Such measurement tools like Impressions give you ideas of how your pages are appearing for similar search terms.

Another old metric that has become much more useful is your site’s average ranking. In January, Google announced changes to how they score site’s average rankings and now it gives a much closer average of “how a link’s position in Google search results should be important.”

While the older ways of Google made it easier for you to see how your site is performing, the changes in recent months have actually been an improvement for marketing towards target demographics. Unfortunately, this means improving your analytic skills is essential if you want to succeed. You may not be able to give your client keywords to search to see their performance, but if you know your analytic tools, you can still quickly show them how your SEO path is helping them grow their business.

 

Google’s changes to their SEO policies have made optimization more and more difficult over the past few years. Chris Crum at WebProNews suggests that a new study from the world’s largest search marketing-specific nonprofit trade organization SEMPO reports that SEO spending is still going strong in spite of all of the free information available on the Internet.

The 72-page report, published by Econsultancy, looked at almost 900 companies and agencies and found that, “overall, the report depicts a stable industry, without making dramatic changes.” Despite significant changes in practices through the inclusion of new tools and algorithms, the survey reports that SEO has “very much the same goals in place.”

Most survey respondents increased their SEO budgets over recent years, and as low as 2% of those responding said they did not spend money on SEO. Meanwhile, the amount of agency billing for SEO services is on the rise. SEMPCO says “a significant rise in those spending less than $100k corresponds to higher numbers across the board, with the greatest increase in the $1 to $5 million range.”

One change that is particularly interesting is the statement by SEMPCO that “survey responses show a drop in the blunt objectives of driving traffic.” However, the amount of agencies citing brand reputation as their primary objective has consistently doubled annually. This is especially clear in the paid side of the industry.

What can’t be denied after the report is the value of the search marketing industry is only rising, even when faced by the rise in popularity of social media and Google algorithm updates that force sites to be less reliant on Google.

The report makes clear the “changes to the Google algorithm affects a large percent of marketers, or at least has them concerned,” and SEMPCO also notes “87% call the updates of the last 12-18 months ‘significant or highly significant'”. Most find the changes to be positive, but some legitimate brands have felt the backlash of the hunt for spam sites. Meanwhile, there are rumors of more Google updates in the future.

Thankfully, Google offers some advice on SEO, especially when beginning to look at hiring someone: “Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site.”

Google does emphasize the benefits SEO agencies can provide, such as technical advice on website development, content development, keyword research, and expertise in specific markets and geographies.

They advise “before beginning your search for an SEO, it’s a great idea to become an educated consumer and get familiar with how search engines work.” Of course, they recommend their Webmaster Guidelines and Google 101: How Google crawls, indexes and serves the web as starting points. Google also recommends hiring an SEO early in the development process. They even offer a list of questions you can ask SEOs during your hiring process.

Google’s assistance with SEO doesn’t come without it’s warnings, however. “While SEOs can provide clients with valuable services, some unethical SEO’s have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways.”

It’s Google’s suggestion to be nervous of any SEO firms or agencies that contact you out of the blue, or one that asks you to link to them. “You should never have to link to an SEO.” They also warn that no firm can guarantee you a #1 ranking.

And if Google hasn’t already made you worn out from lists of recommendations, they also offer a list of deal-breakers when investigating an SEO, such as if the SEO owns shadow domains, puts links to their other clients on doorway pages or offers to sell keywords in the address bar.

Just because Google offers lots of advice, doesn’t mean they are making it easy to get on the first page of test results. But, they are offering resources to give your site its best shot and SEO doesn’t look to be going anywhere.