Published Date: 05 - 26 - 2015
As a web development company we here at WebDuck Designs try to take advantage of every tool provided by Google. It's in the best interest of any developer to utilize Google's free developer tools because it is the only way developers can get any real insight into how Google sees a particular website.
Although Google Webmaster Tools is a useful and powerful tool, it is not without its issues. One of the biggest issues we have found is with the actual data being reported by Google Webmaster Tools. Their seems to be a "delay" between actual data and the data displayed on the webmaster tools page. A recent blog post by another development company suggests that the delay is approximately 1 week however I believe it is quite longer than that. I have two examples to share showing just how real this delay is.
The first example is my own website webduckdesigns.com which was updated with a new website on April 15th 2015. The old WebDuck Designs website contained a "News" section that was located in a news sub-directory. The new WebDuck Designs website doesn't have a "News" directory any more yet in the Google Webmaster tools under the "HTML Improvements" tab and under 'duplicate meta tags", their are multiple references to pages located in the non existent "News" directory. All 404 errors are handled by a custom file that notifies Google of the file no longer existing using the appropriate headers. Since our new website is over a month old at the time of this posting, it's safe to say that Google's Webmaster Tools is a bit delayed.
The second issue was with one of our accounts. Our account that shall remain nameless has thousands of product pages that utilize a mod rewrite .htacess file allowing each product page to be the manufacturer name plus the name of the product. Unfortunately since the product ID was appended to the end of the url their was the potential for duplicate pages due to different link encoding methods. For instance "manufacturer product name" could be turned into "manufacturer%20product%20name" with the %20 being the default "space" or it could be "product_manufacturer_name" or even "product+manufacturer+name". Google Webmaster tools saw over 13,000 duplicate product pages about 3 months ago. To correct this issue a php script was created to get the url then normalize it based on the correct link encoding. If the link was incorrect then a redirect with the proper headers was initiated telling Google that the page was permanently redirected to the correct address. We tested it against over 100 of the duplicate pages and it worked every time yet months later Google continues to list new duplicate pages which technically don't exist anymore. Based on this information and example we figure that Google Webmaster Tools data is actually a few months old.
What does all this mean? Well if you are using Google Webmaster tools for the first time then it it's a great tool for locating potential SEO problems however you need to be aware that once you start making changes or corrections those changes will most likely not show up in the data for quite some time. Because of the data delay, you could end up chasing your tail or even making more problems if you rely on the data you see to determine whether or not your changes are working correctly.