Wednesday, March 19, 2008

First steps with Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools

After setting up Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools for your site, there are a couple quick settings and tweaks that I'd recommend:

  1. Set your preferred domain.
    Decide whether you want your website to be referenced with or without the www prefix ( vs. In your Webmaster Tools account, navigate to Tools > Set preferred domain and select the radio button next to your preferred version of your domain. I'll talk more soon about how to set this preference on your own server as well (so that anyone visiting your site will know which version you prefer).
  2. Remove yourself from your Analytics traffic reports.
    You probably don't want to include your own visits to your site in your reports. To fix this, create a filter in Analytics for each IP address from which you frequently access your site. I've created filters for my home IP address and my office IP address. Here's how to create the filter. If you don't know what your IP address is, a site like can find it for you. Note that if you frequently access your site from a public location (such as a library computer or your local cafe), filtering out traffic from that IP address will also exclude from your reports anyone else visiting your site from that location.

If tools like Analytics freak you out, or you want to dig deeper but don't have the time, consider contracting an Analytics Authorized Consultant. These companies have in-depth knowledge of Analytics and can provide hands-on setup and support if the do-it-yourself style of the Help Center isn't enough for you.

Previous: Installing Analytics & Webmaster Tools

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Setting up Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools

A friend called recently and told me he'd started his own blog about comics and film. He's not very web savvy, and simply asked, "What should I do to make my blog successful?" My next couple posts cover the advice I gave him. The examples are tailored for a site using Blogger, but the advice applies to all types of sites.

The first thing I walked him through was setting up Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. Webmaster Tools gives you information about your site's performance in search results, and Analytics gives you information about who's visiting your site and what they're doing once they reach your site. Here are the steps to sign up:

[Edit: Blogger is now integrated with Webmaster Tools, so you can skip steps 8-12 below and just click the 'Webmaster Tools' link at the bottom of your Blogger Dashboard.]

  1. Log in to Blogger and click the 'Layout' link for your blog.
  2. Click the 'Edit HTML' link.
  3. Click the 'Download Full Template' link to save a copy of your current Blogger template on your computer. That way, if you mess something up while you're editing your template, you can revert to this saved version.
  4. Leave the browser window with your Blogger template open. In a new window (or tab), go to
  5. Log in to Analytics and click 'Sign Up'. Enter your site's URL and name your account something like "My personal sites" (you can add other websites to this account in the future if you like).
  6. Walk through the rest of the sign-up process. You should end up on a page that says 'Tracking Code' and contains a block of code. Copy this code.
  7. Go back to Blogger and scroll down to the bottom of your site's HTML template. You should see code that looks like this:
      </div></div> <!-- end outer-wrapper -->
    Paste the Analytics code that you copied right above the </body> tag, like this:
      </div></div> <!-- end outer-wrapper -->
    <!-- Analytics code -->
    <script src=""
    <script type="text/javascript">
    _uacct = "UA-1234567-8";
  8. Leave the browser window with Blogger open. In a new browser window (or tab), go to
  9. Type your site's URL into the box on the Dashboard and click 'Add Site'.
  10. Click the 'Verify your site' link on the next page.
  11. In the drop-down menu, select the 'Add a meta tag' option. Copy the code that appears.
  12. Go back to Blogger and scroll up to the top of your site's HTML template. You should see code that looks like this:
      <b:include data='blog' name='all-head-content'/>
    Paste the Webmaster Tools code right after the <title> tag, like this:
      <b:include data='blog' name='all-head-content'/>
      <meta content='xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx'
  13. Click the 'Save Template' button below your HTML template.
  14. Click the 'Verify' button in your Webmaster Tools account. Your site's status should change to Verified. If not, wait a few seconds and click 'Verify' again.
  15. Go back to your Analytics account and click 'Check status' for your tracking code. It should tell you that your code has been installed correctly and data is being collected.
  16. Go to your blog's homepage and view your blog to make sure that everything looks okay (make sure you didn't mess up your site's template while editing it). If everything looks okay, you can delete the copy of your template that you saved to your desktop. (If something looks wrong, you can erase your changes by uploading the template copy that you saved at the beginning.)

If you have problems with these steps you can drop me a note, or get help here: Blogger Help, Webmaster Tools Help, Analytics Help.

Next: A couple tips for your initial Analytics/Webmaster Tools setup

Monday, March 17, 2008

Art, film, and one-panel comics

If you like strange, wonderful, and inappropriate things, you must check out this comics and film blog by the boy who taught me to love graph paper.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. One-panel comics
  2. Two-panel comics
  3. More one-panel comics :-)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Building a website: Setting priorities

So you've registered a domain name, signed up for web hosting, and are ready to start making a website. But where to start? Especially if your time is limited, it's hard to know what to work on first.

These are the initial to-do items that were on my list once I'd set up my domain and hosting:

  • Design a website template (the site's look-and-feel)
  • Start writing content and articles
  • Tell everyone about my awesome new site
  • Install WordPress
  • Set up website-monitoring tools (Analytics, Webmaster Tools, etc.)
  • Make sure the site's architecture is the way I want it (subdomains, subfolders, link structure, etc.)
  • Canonicalize my domain name and homepage
  • Put up a robots.txt file

So which should come first, and how should you prioritize a list like this?

In my case, being able to see the product of my work is very motivating; so my first step was to install WordPress on my site, and to pick a theme for the site. Even though I didn't have any of my own content yet, WordPress puts up an initial "Hello world!" post for you, so as soon as you've installed it there's something there on your site for you to look at (visual progress!).

Next, I worked on some underlying technical/architectural issues. I wanted to do anything that could seriously mess up my site right at the beginning, so that if I did mess something up, I wouldn't lose a bunch of content or visitor traffic in the process. This included canonicalizing my domain name, messing around with my .htaccess file, and installing plugins and other software on my site. I also wanted to make sure that the link structure of my site was just the way I wanted it, so that when search engines started indexing it and people started linking to it they would only see the URLs that I wanted them to see. To do this I changed some of my WordPress settings such as the category base, and picked which page would be my homepage.

Once I knew that all my site's content could be found at the right URLs, I was almost ready to start telling people about my site. But I did one last thing before letting the cat out of the bag: I set up Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Analytics tracks visitor traffic and behaviour, but it can only do so starting from the moment you install the Analytics code on your site; so I wanted to make sure that it was set up before I started getting the word out, so that I could track all of my traffic from day one. Webmaster Tools isn't as time-sensitive (since it doesn't rely on JavaScript to track statistics), but the sooner you set it up the sooner you can start seeing what statistics have been gathered for your site.

At this point I was finally ready for word to get out, so I started blogging about my new site. I also put up a robots.txt file to block search engines from crawling certain duplicate content that exists on my site. I'm using WordPress as more of a content management system than a blogging platform (which is what it's geared towards by default), so there are some ways of accessing content (such as by tag or by author) that don't make sense for my site, but I'm too lazy to research how to get rid of those URLs right now. So I'm blocking crawlers from them until I get around to getting rid of them altogether.

And finally, I started putting some actual content on my site. It's kind of like building a house... The point of it is to have a house, and you're probably less excited about the foundation than about the house itself, but you need to have a strong foundation in order to build the interesting parts of the house on top of it. Similarly, I'm excited about getting this site up because I have a ton of information that I want to post; but before I can get to the fun part (creating content), I want to make sure the technical foundations of my site are strong.

So that's how I'd prioritize some of the first steps. I'll go into more detail on several of these steps in my subsequent posts.

Next: Setting up Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
Previous: Choosing a web host

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Building a website: Signing up for web hosting

After registering a domain name for my new website, I signed up for web hosting so that I could put some content on my new domain.

Choosing a web hoster

"Who's the best web host?" is a topic of constant interest on the internet, and everyone seems to have their own opinion. For me, it's Web Hosting Buzz. I've only ever worked with small-business-style sites, but for all my needs Web Hosting Buzz has been great. I've already blogged about why, and (since that post is almost a year old) I can confirm that they continue to exceed my expectations in both tech support and value (lots of features for a great price).

When picking a web hosting company, you should have some idea of your site's needs, so that you can ensure the hosting provider meets those needs. For example, if you plan to run a dynamic site (or install a CMS such as WordPress), ask whether the hoster supports PHP and MySQL. If you want everyone in your business to have their own email address on your domain, ask how many email accounts the hoster lets you create (some plans offer unlimited email accounts; others may limit the number or charge you for additional accounts). It's better to pay a bit extra for the features you need than to try to "get a bargain" and end up with a setup that doesn't do what you want. I've found useful when comparing hosting plans.

Pointing your domain name to your web host

Your domain name is the address where users will look for your website; your hosting company is where the actual content of your site lives. If you didn't use the same company for both, you'll need to make sure your "address" points to where your content actually is.

When you signed up for web hosting, you may have received information about the nameserver(s) that your host assigned to you. If not, you can find this information in your hosting account. You'll need to tell your domain name registrar what your nameservers are, so that they can direct all your traffic to those particular servers. Generally there'll be somewhere in your domain registration account where you can input your nameservers. They'll look something like,

Once you've got your domain name pointing to your content, you've got a basic website up and running!

Next: Setting priorities (a.k.a. What should I do next??)
Previous: Registering a domain name

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Building a website: Registering a domain name

Two weekends ago, I took the first step in setting up my new roller derby website: I registered a domain name for it. Two, actually.

Choosing the right TLD (top level domain)

The site is for the roller derby practice group that I skate with. Since we're an independent, volunteer-run organization that's not trying to make a profit, I decided to register a .org TLD as our primary domain: I also registered because I'm sure someone will forget whether we're .com or .org (since .com is such a "default" web-related buzzword for many people). I wanted to make sure we'd get the traffic from both domains, and I wanted to have more control over our "brand" by ensuring that no one else registered the .com version of our site.

Depending on how much money you want to spend and how much control you want to have over your brand name or domain name, you may want to register the same domain name with various other TLDs such as .net, .biz, country code TLDs (.de,, etc. I'm cheap, though, and our group is fairly small and local, so I figured a .com and a .org were good enough. If you do register multiple domains, be sure to check back for my post on canonicalizing your domain name... once I get around to writing it.

Choosing the right domain name

A good domain name should be relevant, easy to remember, and easy to tell to someone else. Your domain name will often be the first part of your website that people see (e.g. on your business card or in search results), so try to pick something memorable but also descriptive of what people will actually find on your site. For example, if I do a search for [window blinds] and I get back search results from www.windowblinds.example and www.spirit.example, I may be more likely to click on www.windowblinds.example because their domain name implies that their site is very relevant to what I'm looking for. www.spirit.example might belong to the Spirit Window Blinds Company, but I couldn't tell that from looking at their domain name.

Of course, there are many counter-examples to this, in particular if you have a strong brand name. The domain isn't very descriptive ( would be much more so), but Google's branding is so strong that they don't need a descriptive domain name. Same with Twitter, Merrill Lynch, Sears... you get the picture.

I picked because I wanted to include my group's name (PFM Practice Squad) so as to differentiate us from all the other roller derby sites out there; but I also wanted it to be obvious that the site is about roller derby, since pfmpracticesquad.example wouldn't be very descriptive, unless you were already familiar with our group.

Registering your domain name

I forgot to mention that, during the previous steps, you'll want to use a service like WhoIs lookup to check whether the oh-so-clever-and-memorable domain name you've chosen is already taken. (Heads up: I don't recommend using Network Solutions to do this! Here's why.) Even though their marketing tactics are bizarre and irrelevant (what do NASCAR and bikini car washes have to do with web hosting?), I use GoDaddy to register domain names since they're relatively cheap and well-known, which I take to mean "reliable." $10 for a .com, $9 for a .org. You can register a domain name at a ton of places, and you don't necessarily have to register with the same company that you host your site with.

When choosing a registrar, look for one that allows you the most control over your domain name. They should allow you to host your site with a different company if you so choose, or to transfer your domain name to a different registrar and still retain control over it.

Next: Choosing a web host

Monday, March 10, 2008

Building a website: The beginning

When I applied for the job of Webmaster Trends Analyst, it was still a relatively new position and Vanessa and Jonathan and I threw around a lot of ideas about what we wanted it to become, or what we could do with it. One of these ideas was to build and SEO a website from scratch, and to document the whole process as a sort of step-by-step how-to manual based on real-world experience. While I believe that the approach we take in our Help Center—giving somewhat general advice that each webmaster can interpret to fit their particular situation—is the best way for us to help the most people at once, I also know that sometimes a concrete example is really nice to see.

So, after getting psyched up by several of the sessions I saw at SMX West a couple weeks ago, I've decided to undertake a similar venture on my own.

I'll be building a website for the roller derby practice group that I skate with. I'll be documenting the steps I go through while setting up and running the site; the software and services I use; the problems I encounter; and my priorities in dealing with it all. Hopefully my experience will be particularly useful to small business owners or mom-and-pop webmasters who don't have 40 hours a week to spend on their website; I'll be doing this in my free time, which seems increasingly common among small business owners these days (many are too busy running their business to spend all day running their website).

A few disclaimers:

  • As noted in the sidebar, any opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Google. While I intend to do things "by the book" (following best practices recommended by the major search engines), it would still behoove you to read each engine's documentation if you want to know their official position on things.
  • I'm not making any guarantees about how often I'll update. I may flake out. I may get busy. The best laid plans of mice and men...
  • As I said above, I'm documenting my own personal experience. What works for me may not work for you. You may choose a different web host or a different CMS; your project will probably have different requirements. I'll try to document my reasons for choosing X over Y, and you're welcome to share your own observations or reasons for choosing differently; ultimately it's up to each webmaster to make the right decisions for their own site.
  • I'm not a super expert with some of this stuff. I may get some of it wrong, or miss something along the way. You're welcome to correct me, share tips, point me in the right direction, or point out things that I still need to work on. I'm hoping it'll be a learning experience.

So let me know what you think! I'd love to know if you find this experiment helpful. You can find my website-in-progress at, and all of my posts on this topic under the tag webmastering.

Next: Registering a domain name