Google Webmaster Tools
Like it or not, if you're managing the content of a web site then that makes you a Webmaster. Which also makes you responsible for ensuring that your web pages, your content, your domain... continues to work normally. You may feel that everything looks and runs just fine in YOUR eyes, however the judge, jury and executioner on that subject rests with a higher authority. Yes, I'm talking about Google, and if you break something, cause an error or simply piss it off then you run the risk of penalizing your site's success, regardless of how great a "http masterpiece" you feel you've composed.
The good news: A Google Webmaster Tools account is free. The amount of data that you'll receive about your site is voluminous and can be very helpful. If there is anything - and I mean anything - wrong with your site, Google Webmaster Tools is going to let you know about it.
The bad news: A Google Webmaster Tools account is one of the least user-friendly tools I believe a non-technical user can be thrown into. I've gotten emails from clients who initially attempted to run and manage their own site pleading for mercy. Ultimately just about everyone figures it out, but at first it will eat your time and leave you scratching your head. Which brings us back to the concept of being a webmaster, a person who runs a web site. A tool like Google's Webmaster Tools will offer a sobering reminder that successfully running a web site is so much more than just posting a few articles and blogging. You have to manage details, and for the first time you may finally be introduced to some technical details about your web site, the internet and the http protocol. Here's what you do:
- Don't avoid the Google Webmaster Tools, embrace them. Jump in with both feet. Sign up for your free account at http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/. You may need to validate your site and there are several ways that can be accomplished, select the way that best suits you.
- Add your web site to your account. I'll tell you right now - do all you can to add the fully qualified name for your web site the first time. For some reason Google wants to only accept "http://yoursite.com" instead of "http://www.yoursite.com". Highly irritating.
- Don't throw stuff and keep your cursing to a minimum.
- These tools may need a few days to collect your site's data so be patient. In the mean time, be sure to generate and upload your site's sitemap.xml if you haven't done so already.
- Refer to step 3, often.
Once your site's data begins reporting use and react to the data accordingly. If you see any errors address them quickly. If you see Google interpreting something about your web site differently than you intended make the necessary changes. I honestly believe almost anyone can figure out Google's Webmaster Tools but what catches almost everyone off guard is just how much time it takes to get cozy with the tools. It's all part of being a successful Webmaster.