Many claim to know how to beat Google at its own game but for the majority of us, well we just have to tow the line and work with what we can. One tool that goes towards helping you ensure Google is taking notice of your blog is called Google Webmaster Tools.
What can it do for you? Well let me use Googles own words to try and explain.
See how Google crawls and indexes your site and learn about specific problems we’re having accessing it. View, classify, and download comprehensive data about internal and external links to your site with new link reporting tools. Find out which Google search queries drive traffic to your site, and see exactly how users arrive there. Tell us about your pages with Sitemaps: which ones are the most important to you and how often they change. You can also let us know how you would like the URLs we index to appear.
Pretty useful stuff wouldn’t you say?
So how do you go about using this to your advantage? To begin with you need to get your blog generating a sitemap of all of the links on your blog. Think of it as a way to spoon feed Google everything your blog has to offer in one easy to chew mouthful.
Get started by logging into the backend of your blog and clicking on Plugins and then the Add New link in the left hand side menu. In the search box enter Google XML Sitemaps and hit search. At the top of the list should be our plugin so go ahead and install and activate it.
Side note this guide is only available to self-hosted blogs I’m afraid.
With the plugin installed and activated we need to get it setup so that we can tell Google all about you. In the left hand menu again, choose Settings and then XML-Sitemap. You can leave the settings at default or play around and exclude certain things and so forth if you wish. I generally roll with a fairly default setup and so far it seems to be working out ok for me.
To get the plugin going you are going to want to generate the initial sitemap for your blog. You should be presented with something that looks like this at the top of the page.
Once you’ve hit generate the page should update and give you all sorts of extra info. You won’t have to generate it again as the smart folks have got it all configured to update automatically for you, pretty sweet right?
The last step before heading over to Google’s Webmaster Tools is to copy the sitemap URL down as you will need it shortly. You can find it a bit further down the page and should look something like what you can see to the right. The bit you need to worry about is anything that appears after your domain name. So for me I just need to remember sitemap.xml, some of you might have blog/sitemap.xml or similar depending on how you got WordPress installed.
If you don’t happen to have a Google account you can sign up for one but given your all online addicts I know you already do. So sign into the Webmaster Tools page and you will be presented with a fairly blank old sceen with an Add a Site link smack bang in front of you. Click that and enter in your website domain name and move onto the hardest part of the entire setup (seriously).
You need to choose a way for Google to verify it’s your site and not one of your friends blog’s your trying to get all the info on. Of the four options the easiest is to link it to your Google Analytics account (what you don’t have one, for shame people). Failing that I have found uploading an HTML file (via your hosts web panel) is a really simple way to get it done as the final two options require you to either edit your WordPress Theme or have support at your webhost make changes to your hosting account. The instructions on how to do it are fairly straight forward but if you get stuck on this head over to the contact page and let us know so we can help out.
With your site now verified (I hope) you will be dumped back at the Dashboard allowing us to finish the job and submit that sitemap we created earlier. Towards the bottom right of the screen you will find a Submit A Sitemap link that will get us on our way. Here it’s just a matter of hitting submit a sitemap again and matching the URL from your blog with the one Google wants and then you wait.
Google will unleash their spider army on your site when they have a spare second (mostly I’ve seen updates in 20-30 minutes) and then you will be away. Once they visit you a few times you will start to get more stats added into your Dashboard about errors they encounter, keywords that related to your site and how often you are appearing in search results for said keywords among other things. Have a poke around the site before you leave the page, it’s a great start to helping you understand how Google see’s your blog. And once you get an idea on what they see you can begin to craft it so they see what you WANT them too.
If you are still not sure or want to read up about it yourself Google have some great support articles on their support page.