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Dean Marsden

Google Webmaster Tools Alerts: Be a Smarter SEO

24th Aug 2012 SEO, SEO Resources 6 minutes to read

Webmaster Tools AlertsYou might not have noticed, but recently there has being a whole host of Google Webmaster tools updates. These rather silent updates have enabled Webmasters to learn more about how Google interacts with their website and now alerts you to even more potential site issues discovered. In this blog post I want to highlight the Message Center feature.

Previously, your only option for checking any potential issues with your website was to manually review Webmaster Tools every day or to setup the custom alert in Google Analytics to notify you have any sudden changes in website traffic.

Google Webmaster Tools did provide a limited number of alerts in the Message Center, but these were mainly just to confirm settings changes that you made to your website.

Over the past few months Google has rolled out a wealth of new Alert messages to help make our lives much easier when it comes to being able to spot site issues and allow us to fix them a lot quicker.

One thing to note at this stage in the blog post is that these new message only appear in your Webmaster Tools Message Center as default; but you should enable email forwarding of these message so that you are alerted immediately without having to constantly review Webmaster Tools itself. Professional SEOs are busy people and it’s always best to set up email alerts in case you miss something.

Setting up email alerts

To set up email alerts, just navigate to the main Home page of your Webmaster Tools account (straight after you’ve logged in) and choose the ‘Preferences’ option in the left-hand navigation. You are then presented with options to choose your language and set what type of emails to receive and to which address. I recommend setting the email type to ‘all issues’ to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Message Centre Email Forwarding

Alert Types

Lets take a look at most of the Alerts now provided by Google Webmaster Tools.

Search Queries

If you haven’t already checked it out before, GWMT provides decent info on the search queries your website has appeared for and what Click through Rate your listing achieved for that query. You can also find out the average position for the different pages of your website for a clearer insight into overall performance.

If you can learn to understand the data of the search queries feature then you can help improve your site’s SEO, because unlike Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools actually provide full search query listings for your visitors to your website. I’m going a little off topic, so if you want to learn more about how to use the search queries feature to help your SEO then I recommend this video by Maile Ohye (Developer Programs Tech Lead at GWMT)

The search query alerts is the newest alert launched by GWMT (20th  August 2012) and will generate a message if there have been any sudden spikes or drops for your impressions or clicks. Please note that the sensitivity of these is currently being tested and may behave differently over the coming months. There can be a number of different reasons for this, such as changes in search demand or technical issues with your site, or even as result of Algorithm updates! So it’s not going to tell you why there has been the sudden changes, but will offer some recommended actions as shown in the screenshot below:

Search Query Alert

Crawl Errors

Google Webmaster Tools has long been an important tool for identifying crawl errors with your website such as 404 page not found errors, 500 server errors or if Googlebot is being blocked. Please note that these messages may not always be generated and you should be checking your site manually too.

Each of the messages will be categorised into either of the following two types:

Critical Site Errors

These are usually systematic issues with accessing your website, here are some issues that might cause them, although the majority of websites on the internet do not usually get these issues:

  • Your DNS server is down or misconfigured
  • Your web server itself is firewalled off
  • Your web server is refusing connections from Googlebot
  • Your web server is overloaded, or down
  • Your site’s robots.txt is inaccessible

This is an example of the message you would receive for these type of errors:

Site Error Alert

Less Critical URL Errors

Only when a certain number of URL errors are seen by Google they will generate an alert message, so there won’t always be an alert for some errors and it depends on the size of your website as to how bigger impact these errors will have.

The URL error message will be categorized into one of the five: Server error, Soft 404, Access denied, URL not found, URL not followed. The alert will show this along with some recommendations, for example:

URL Errors Alert

Webmaster Guidelines Compliance

Message Center may also supply notifications of issues Google has found with your website that do not respect their Webmaster Guidelines. If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you will receive a message hinting what has been found through suggestions of what to check. For example, if it mentions that they have found links to your website that have been designed to manipulate pagerank, then it thinks you have unnatural paid links.

Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts  has stated that some of these warnings were previously not always accurate and some webmasters received them because of a few small issues.

Unnatural Links Detection Alert

Website Software Updates

In an effort from Google to help its users prevent being exposed to Malware (see below) from websites on the internet, messages will appear in the Message Center warning you if your website’s Content Management System (CMS) is not running the latest version. This feature is only supported by Google for a number of high profile CMS’s such as Joomla, Drupal and WordPress. These messages will warn you of that if your CMS is not up to date and is therefore potentially open to attack from hackers because the security hole found by the CMS developers has not yet been applied by your webmaster.

CMS Update Alert


Malware detection messages have been about for a long time now and is something Google looked to eradicate in early days to protect it’s users from viruses and damaging software. This is part of the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

If you were to receive a message about this then you can expect pages of your site to be instantly removed from the results (temporarily) and you should edit your webpages to remove the damaging content as soon as possible.

Malware Alert


Google Webmaster Tools Message Center is in itself a powerful feature that should always be checked. Plus you can get any messages forwarded to your email address so there is no excuse not to be aware of any important messages.

With the recent addition of the Search Query and Crawl Error alerts, a significant amount of an SEO’s time is saved by not having to manually check sites everyday, however I do still recommend regularly checking the different areas of Webmaster Tools manually as these new alerts may not always be generated if the problem is not deemed significant enough. To be a good SEO you need to be on top of any site issues that Google find whilst ‘measuring’ your website.

If you haven’t yet setup Google Webmaster Tools on your site then make sure you do and then set up email forwarding so that you are never left open to falling foul of undiscovered website issues.

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