Leslie Carruthers is the President of The Search Guru and a seasoned Internet marketing professional (since 1999) and search engine marketer (since 2001). In 2012, she was named one of the top women in search.

You work hard on your site, highlighting the products and services that you sell, and you’re proud of what you’ve done. But, you still aren’t getting the traffic that you want and wonder, why not? What am I doing wrong?

Well, one possibility is that your site isn’t ranking highly enough when someone searches in Google for the types of products and/or services that you offer. All your great work is being crowded out by other sites. They may not offer the same quality that you do, but they are more visible simply because online searchers find them first. So, what do you do?

The obvious answer is that you need to become more visible and show up more often and more highly in Google search results. To do that, your secret weapon is Google Webmaster Tools. These tools are free and allow you to see how your site is performing according to Google’s standards. The more your site pleases Google, the more people can see your site. And all your hard work will begin paying off more significantly.

Here’s a quick primer:

Step 1: Register and verify your site.

Go to https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount and use your email address and password to create a Google account. Register your site with Google’s Webmaster Tools at http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/. Log in with your Google account. Enter your site into the “Add a Site” box. Then, click “Add a Site.” Click on “Verify Site.” Select a verification method; options include: uploading a small HTML file adding a meta tag to your home page code using your Google Analytics account (follow on-screen instructions) signing in to your domain name provider (follow on-screen instructions)
If you decide to upload the file:

Select “Upload an HTML file” from the dropdown box. Save a blank file using Notepad or another text editing program, using the file name that Google provides. Upload this file in your site’s root (where your index.htm or index file will be saved). Then, return to the verification screen. Select “Upload an HTML file” from the dropdown box and then click “Verify,” found at the bottom of the page.
If you decide to add a meta tag:

Select “Add a meta tag” from the dropdown box. You will be provided a meta tag; copy and paste it into thearea of your homepage. Return to the verification screen; select “Add a meta tag” from the dropdown box. Then click “Verify,” found at the bottom of the screen.

Step 2: Use Google Webmaster Tools to discover how to optimize and strengthen your site.

When you log into your account, navigational links will appear on the left-hand side of the page. Here is information about some of the most important:

Optimization > HTML Improvements

Google has literally hundreds of factors that it uses to determine how to rank pages in its results. One key ranking metric is well written, optimized title tags (meta description tags are not used in rankings, but well written ones get more clicks, so they are important in attracting targeted traffic to your site). In this section of Google Webmaster Tools, Google lists issues with your tags, including:

Tags that are too long or too short Missing or duplicate title and meta description tags

Optimization > Sitemaps

When people search on Google, the only pages that Google can return are pages that the search engine has indexed. (To find out more about the number of pages indexed on your site, see Health > Index Status. Index counts are provided weekly, updated on Sundays, and charted over the past year.) So, to help Google more completely index your site, make sure your site has a sitemap created specifically for search engines; it’s called a sitemap .xml file.

Health > Crawl Errors

Google rewards sites with easy usability for site visitors. This area lists errors that Google finds when crawling your site. Fix these to increase the ease of use of your site.

Health > Crawl Stats

Keep tabs on how often Google is crawling your site and how many pages are being crawled daily. These numbers will fluctuate but are helpful for identifying any crawling issues that may occur.

Traffic > Links to Your Site

Having quality inbound links (links from another site to yours) are still an important ranking factor, although slightly less so than in the past, due to the increased importance of other factors such as social signals. Discover more about links to your site here, including:

which sites link to yours which URLs they link to on your site what anchor text (text found in the link) they’re using

Traffic > Search Queries

How are people finding your site? What terms (also known as keywords or keyphrases) are they using in that search? You can use this information to craft more articles and blog posts on the topics that are currently receiving traffic; link among those articles or posts and you’ll probably keep traffic on your site for a longer period of time, which will send good signals to Google.

In this section of Google Webmaster Tools you can also see:

number of impressions (how often your site is appearing in search results for certain keywords) average position (how high/how low your site appears in the search results for certain keywords) click-through rate (how often people click on your site when it is displayed in the search results for certain keywords)
This information is just scratching the surface of what you can learn via Google Webmaster Tools and how you can use that information to get more traffic to your site. But, it’s a great start.

Quick glance at another helpful feature

Not all inbound links are equal. Some are of high quality and are extremely desirable (think of CNN or a respected governmental site linking to your site); some are nice, logical and just plain make sense (think about dozens of smaller photography sites linking to an article you wrote about the best resources online for photographers or a magazine quoting you and linking to your site); and others are, well, bad (think about spammy, yucky sites clearly created to scam the search engines or a shoemaking site linking to a health and beauty site for no apparent reason).

Google now sends link warning messages via Google Webmaster Tools if you’re getting large numbers of unnatural-looking links to your site. They also send warnings about specific links. If you receive either type of warning, take action to have spammy links to your site removed by contacting the webmasters of those sites. No good can come from keeping those links.