Practical Ecommerce

SEO: Google Cracks Open Its Black Box

Wouldn’t it be great if Google offered insight into how your website stacks up against its super-secret algorithms? What ails your site when it comes to SEO and what could be done better? Google Webmaster Central does just that, by offering a plethora of diagnostic and statistical tools, advice, answers and peer support to SEOs and webmasters.

Webmaster Central began its life as Google Sitemaps, a protocol for submitting a list of your URLs to Google. With it you can let Googlebot know how you want your site crawled. Sitemaps still exists; but the breadth of services expanded so much that it warranted Google changing the name of its webmaster resource area to Webmaster Central last August.

What are some of those services? In a recent interview, Vanessa Fox, product manager at Google Webmaster Central, offered some detail about those tools and resources (interview audio available here).

First, at Webmaster Central, you can be informed if your site is being penalized for a violation, or if it has malware on it, or if Googlebot can’t gain access. Furthermore, the Link Reporting Tool reveals virtually all the links to pages on your site, including the ones that are most often linked, as well as inbound links and internal links. And the PageRank Tool tells you which of your pages has the highest PageRank each month (often it’s not those you expect!) along with a graph that shows the PageRank distribution across all your pages.

If you aren’t ranking well for a particular product or category, you can use these tools to identify missed opportunities or previously unnoticed mistakes. For example, perhaps you have inadvertently severed an internal link to a page you hope will rank well. Webmaster Central’s reports would reveal this problem, which you could then rectify by linking to it from one or more pages well-endowed with PageRank.

Other reports reveal the queries that most often return your site in the search results and the level of traffic those SERPs (search engine results pages) received. How else could you learn which pages of your site receive many impressions in the SERPs but very few click-throughs? Certainly not through log file analysis!

Google shares which words appear most on your site, and which words are used most often in the anchor text of inbound links.

“If you think your site should be ranking for a word but it doesn’t show up as one of the common words on your site, or as a link to your site, then you may need to optimize a little better for that particular phrase,” Vanessa advises.

Of course you should check whether those words are popular with searchers or not. For that, Webmaster Central offers the Keyword Popularity Data Tool, in order to spot trends and view historical data on the keywords you most care about.

Google also has you covered when it comes to crawlability diagnostics. Webmaster Central reveals the pages that were blocked when Google tried to crawl them. It will also tell you the crawl rate of your site — i.e., how many pages per day, how much data are downloaded, and how long it takes to download a page.

If your site operates at two locations, one at and one at, your PageRank will be split across the two sites, resulting in poorer rankings due to the dilution effect. Webmaster Central has a tool to help you rectify this, where you can specify which version you want indexed. That’s handy, but the best scenario — as I have mentioned in numerous SEO Report Cards — is to do a 301 redirect to aggregate both versions into one. It certainly won’t hurt to use the tool within Webmaster Central as an additional measure.

That’s an invaluable list of tools, wouldn’t you agree? On top of that, there’s also the Webmaster Central blog and the Google Webmaster Help discussion forum. On my wishlist of tools to add to Webmaster Central is the ability to see which of your own site’s pages appear in the Supplemental Index. Let’s hope that Google considers my suggestion.

In the meantime, go sign up for Google Webmaster Central and verify your site. You’ll be glad you did.

Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer

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  1. Legacy User April 17, 2007 Reply

    I have tried to test my site to see if it has a penalty against it, but I am not able to find out where this tool is available. Where do I go to check for penalties?

    — *Craig*

  2. Legacy User April 17, 2007 Reply

    Try this link, Craig:

    I am just now going to check it out but it looks like what you need 8^)

    — *Cindy*

  3. Legacy User April 18, 2007 Reply

    harvey, you should check out the courses offered by Perry Marshall and his team. He has a great ebook and real book teaching the basics of google adwords and how to monetize its use properly. Google does a horrible job of teaching the basics of adwords, if you don't follow his advice you will lose money. Check him out at

    — *A.J. Sommers*

  4. Legacy User April 18, 2007 Reply

    Any Thoughts on This?

    Pay per click is a big loser for many large ticket items like we sell.

    We sell medical mobility products. Most of the people visiting our site are using it for a catalog never intending to buy.

    I think there is a lot of waste and fraud with pay per click for many products and services on the web effecting a large percentage of companies.

    Google and Yahoo are aware of this and they have the data and have not released this data to the customers.

    Do you think google/Yahoo is going to admit that a large percentage of people doing PPC are wasting their time and money? NO WAY!

    I think people are figuring this out now in a big way. That’s why Pay Per Action is being offered by google.

    Google/Yahoo know the secret is getting out now. If people knew what google and yahoo know they would not even try PPC for many products people are trying to sell on the web.

    The word is getting out on this and will soon shock the PPC biz and the big search engines. Pay Per Sale will save google and yahoo and others will follow.

    It will take a while but the pain for the publishers and google/yahoo will be worth it.

    The big secret is now being exposed and will save many of the advertisers and google/Yahoo.

    Thank God!

    — *Harvey Lawton*

  5. Legacy User June 12, 2007 Reply

    We have tried all of that and more… google even optimised our campaigns with no luck. Like I said some large ticket items do not do well with PPC.
    Other methods work much better.

    — *Harvey Lawton*