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From training your new employees and managing customer service, to creating estimates on a new residential insulation project or designing a fire sprinkler system, small business owners wear an assortment of hats. While I do know my way around your basic, primitive IKEA toolset, I commend you, small-business owner, because you know exponentially more than I do when it comes to your plumbing (or heating and cooling, or carpet cleaning, or locksmith, etc.) company.
Even if you are managing (or attempting to manage) your company’s website and online marketing presence, one skill that I may have on you is translating Google Webmaster Tool messages. Messages from Google Webmaster Tools (the free SEO tool you didn’t know you had!) are sent to the designated domain owner when an issue or potential problem occurs with that website. By intent, they are beyond helpful in diagnosing and fixing web issues, but in reality, they can be hard to understand and decide what action to take.
The number of times that a new (or previous) client came to us, exclaiming, “I don’t know what any of this means!” while providing their recent Google Webmaster Tool messages cannot even be counted by the number Steve Madden shoes that Lexie owns. Luckily, each of us at Blue Corona can help you out without the need to whip out our pocket-sized GWT-ENG translating dictionary.
What Does “Increase in not found errors” Mean?
A common message sent to websites that don’t have experienced and diligent web developers, like our own Chase, Dana, and George, constantly checking in on them may receive a message titled “Increase in not found errors.”
What Google is pointing out to you is that many of your website’s pages are returning a “404 (Page Not Found)” error.
Commons reasons for 404 errors are when the page:
- Title or URL has been renamed
- Location has moved without proper redirect
- Is coded with case-sensitive URLs
- URL has been misspelled
- And domain has been previously owned
- Has been linked to incorrectly
Those just mean that, for the most part, particular pages cannot be found where they are supposed to be (whether you turned them off intentionally or there is now an error for where they are located within your website). Each of these reasons requires different steps to remove and prevent the 404 errors. When the Google spiders find this error during its crawl of your website, it cannot rank the individual pages and too many 404 errors may harm your rankings on Google.
This error can also be detrimental to the conversion rates of your website—if users are not able to find the webpage they are looking for, or are consistently shown that the webpage doesn’t exist, they will most likely go to one of your competitors.
Need help fixing up your company’s website and all of its 404 errors? Contact us online and we’ll help make a plan of action to clean up the errors and get your phone to ring more.
What Does “Googlebot can’t access your site” Mean?
Googlebot is the crawl spider that Google uses to discover, index, and rank not only your company’s site but the billions of website out there in the World Wide Web.
There are two important components of this message: that Google is trying to get your DNS information and that it was unsuccessful. Let’s start with translating the latter:
DNS means Domain Name System and it converts the human-entered URL (e.g. yourplumbingcompany.com) into IP addresses like 126.96.36.199 so that the computer and server can access, read, and present the webpage back to the online user. It’s easy to think of DNS as a phone book—if you were to know someone’s last name but not his or her phone number, the phone book provides you with the phone number you can enter into your iPhone and hit dial. Without the DNS, Google can’t “make any calls” to your website.
This problem can occur when:
- Your domain is not properly registered to WHOIS
- The redirects to your site’s DNS is down
- Your nameserver is not properly recorded or updated
- Your server or hosting provider is overloaded
- A coding issue uses robot.txt to prevent search engine crawlers
Now, that list still seems like poorly translated explanation, so let me take if a step further. When you Googlebot cannot access your DNS information, it cannot turn your site’s URL into search engine-readable (and rankable) material. That means something on your site or its code is preventing Google from crawling it—this can lead to a loss of rankings if Google consistently can’t access your site.
When you get receive this GWT message, it’s important to figure out why the message was sent and fix it ASAP. Once you think you’ve fixed the problem on your domain, you can use the Fetch as Google tool to see if Googlebot can once again access your site.
What Does “Big traffic change for top URL” Mean?
This next message is only important if you weren’t expecting it.
What this means is that one of your website’s pages (remember Google views pages individually) is suddenly experiencing drastically different levels of online visitors than normal. Since Google oversees most of the web, it can put two and two together from your Google Analytics and GWT accounts to compare traffic expectations and patterns.
When we see this message for our clients at Blue Corona, it’s often anticipated and follows a client’s decision to shut down a particularly well-performing service line or product. Keep in mind, as a business owner, you might not want to shut down a page of your website that has a lot of traffic and potential leads—when that service line’s landing page is taken down, obviously there will be a great decrease in traffic to the URL.
What you don’t want is to receive that message when you haven’t made any large changes to your website. That means you are noticeably getting different traffic numbers for a particular page—which could mean less users converting on that page.
What Does “WordPress Update Available” Mean?
A message about the WordPress (or any other CMS system your site uses) is a more neutral message to receive and doesn’t require any immediate, lead-reliant action. It’s simply a friendly reminder from Google that your site can update its WordPress software to the newer, improved, and more secure version.
While this doesn’t require immediate action from the webmaster, it’s important to first thank Google for reminding you of an update and then take Google’s advice to update the system (unless you think a hacked website is fun).
Hacked website? Where’d that come from? Old versions of WordPress sometimes contain security vulnerabilities and hackers regularly scan websites for old versions of WordPress that are easy targets. For example, WordPress 3.2.1 has 24 known vulnerabilities—some of which allow hackers complete access to your site. By updating your site’s version of WordPress, you can prevent it from getting hacked and potentially experiencing ranking penalties from the hack.
To be an even kinder search engine giant, Google provides the version of WordPress that your site is running, so that you know when and where the update needs to happen.
Professional Translation Services by Blue Corona
Have any more questions about what your GWT messages mean? While, I’m no Rosetta Stone, my coworkers and I can help you translate those messages and ensure that your website is putting its best face forward to earn rankings, leads, and conversions that will help grow your business and online presence. Fill out the “Contact Us” form on the right to get started!
About The Author: Hannah is the SEO Team Lead at Blue Corona. If she's not busy daydreaming about the training session for her team, you can find her improving client conversion rates and planning her next trip.
View more blogs by Hannah Nelson