Understanding how well your website is living up to your business objectives is essential. Google’s Webmaster Tools can provide a ton of information on how your website is performing and how Google interprets and displays pages on it. Even though all this information is free, plenty of businesses miss out and do not set up their website.

Make sure and setup up an account if you haven’t started using Google’s Webmaster Tools. Then, use this guide to navigate through the parts of Google Webmaster Tools dashboard you’ll want to know:

Crawl errors: When you open your account, the first thing you’ll want to click is “Crawl errors” on the main dashboard. This showcases any indexing errors Google has encountered while reading your website. Indexing errors can prevent your site from displaying in search results and limit the quantity of traffic to your website. You’ll want to fix these errors as soon as you can.

Search queries: Hover over “Traffic” in the menu on the left-hand sidebar and select “Search Queries” from the drop-down. This page will reveal all the natural search queries Google has sent you traffic over a given period, how many clicks to your website for each phrase and the average position in search results. This information is valuable when planning your content strategy or when determining what your readers are interested in understanding more about your business.

Sitemaps: “Sitemaps” appears under the “Optimization” menu. This is where you upload sitemaps. Google offers instructions on how to create a sitemap. Having an updated sitemap will affect how well the search engine can index your website.

Site performance: “Site performance” provides your site’s speed, as well as how your speed can be increased. Site speed is an essential SEO factor, as websites that operate quickly and efficiently typically offer a better user experience than slow sites. No one sits around waiting for a site loading slowly and Google doesn’t want to send visitors there.

Links to your site: The “Link to your site” feature under the “Traffic” section is also worth mentioning. This section reports on which sites link to your website, how many links each one sends, which of your content pages have received the most links and what anchor text is being used.

While the information here isn’t as comprehensive as what you get using paid software like SEOMoz Pro, it is still helpful data for planning link-building or checking for low-value links that might be harming your site.

Messages: Finally, review your Google Webmaster Tools message center. This is Google’s primary way of getting in touch with owners who are violating the company’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you see a note about a violation on your website, you should fix it as soon as possible. Check this page often and take action to avoid any critical damage to your site rank and traffic.