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The navigation menu in Google's Webmaster Tools has been given a very subtle new look. Apart from looking fabulous, it's actually a pretty logical update.

If you like to keep your finger on the pulse of your website, you’ll be no stranger to Google’s Webmaster Tools. And those of you that use it on a daily basis will have noticed that last week, Google changed the navigation design.

Although it’s perhaps a subtle change, it’s a logical one, as it makes frequently used features easier to access and organizes them into related groups that match “the stages of search” - to quote Google.

Here’s a screen shot from my own blog’s Webmaster Tools (GWT) account, so you can see the new navigation (on the left):

As you can see, new navigation headings have become: “Search Appearance”, “Search Traffic”, “Google Index” and “Crawl”. This new design is much tidier, allowing quick access to the key areas or issues that webmasters will want to monitor and assess.

I am inclined to agree, these are the key areas of the stages of search: Google crawls a site then indexes the content accordingly.

As digital marketers, we should be monitoring GWT closely, because if Google cannot crawl and index your site, neither can a user access your content costing you valuable visits. So if there are issues here, we need to correct these first.

But if crawling and indexing are ticking over nicely, we then try to improve the appearance and coverage in search so that we’ll receive optimum levels of search traffic to our site. This is something that we tend to monitor more frequently than crawl issues, as we always have our eyes on the prize of more traffic.

So, what’s under each heading?

Site appearance

Under this heading, you’ll still find structured data. Google’s data highlighter tool allows the less technical savvy among us to markup content with rich snippets. These additional snippets of HTML allow Google to include more information in its search results.

The “sitelinks” feature allows you to check which links are appearing within your individual organic results. Here’s an image of a listing using rich snippets in the search results:

New search appearance pop-up window

Google has added a new feature to this tab, too. Just click the question mark bubble. A window will pop up showing how your site appears in the search results.

You’ll then be able to make changes to individual listings so they’re more appealing. Here’s what it looks like:

Search traffic

The ’Search traffic’ tab allows you to gain an insight into the terms people are using to land on your site (click on “search queries” for this). There’s a tab listing “links to your site”, which is a great way of finding out which sites are already linking to you.

And there’s a run-down of your “internal link” structure. So, you should look here to check that your site is clearly structured.

Google index

Here you’ll see how many pages of your site are in Google’s index. GWT tells you the overall number of pages it has indexed. If you’re seeing more pages indexed than you have published, this may be a sign that your site has a ‘duplicate content’ problem. In other words, Google is finding more than one version of each of your pages; which will harm your site’s rankings.

You can also see which keywords Google has found on your pages.

You’re also able to request the “removal of URLs” from Google’s Index if not already blocked in the robots.txt file. Use this feature if you have pages that you don’t want Google to find.


This tab allows you to understand Google’s crawlers a little better, especially their behaviour on your own website. It’s important that Google is able to crawl your site easily: you want Google to find and index your content after all!

You can find out “crawl stats”, any possible “crawl errors”, the “URLs that are blocked” from Google’s crawlers, “sitemaps” associated with a website and find out whether Google is having any trouble with the coverage of your site with the “URL Parameters” tab.

All of these are important factors in making sure your site is indexed properly by Google.

Account-level admin tasks now accessible from the settings menu

There’s also been a shake up on which items users can see. If you’re the admin for the GWT account, you’ll find a full list of tasks like “Webmaster Tools Preferences”, “Site Settings”, “Change of Address”, “Google Analytics Property”, “Users & Site Owners”, “Verification Details” and “Associates” under the gear icon in the top right hand corner.

If you have limited access, you’ll see fewer options. The idea is that you can give access to a wider variety of users.

If you’ve received any messages in Webmaster’s Tools there could be a chance that Google isn’t able to properly access and index your site which can have a detrimental effect on rankings and visits. 

Zoe-Lee Skelton

Published 8 July, 2013 by Zoe-Lee Skelton

Zoe-Lee Skelton is SEO Content Writer at Receptional and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can connect with Zoe on Google Plus or Twitter, and here's her personal blog

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