It was really great when Google launched its Sitemaps (recently renamed to Webmaster Tools, as part of their Webmaster Central utilities) – when that happened it was a really great indication of a new time where technicians who wished to help make their pages findable would not automatically be considered “evil” and the SEs might provide tools to help technicians disclose their pages directly. Yahoo soon followed with their own tools, named Yahoo! Site Explorer, and surely MSN will bow to peer pressure with their own submission system and tools.
Initially, I thought that there wasn’t significant advantage to me for using these systems, because I’d already developed good methods for providing our page links to the search engines through the natural linking found in our site navigation systems.
Why should I expend yet more time and resources to dynamically produce the link files?
I have begun using these tools, though, because there are additional features now beyond just the URL disclosure pieces. Google’s Webmaster Tools include some nice reports on errors found when indexing, top keyword reports for sites, and page content analysis. My in-house analytics systems also have a lot of this same sort of reporting of course, but I’m interested in seeing Google’s perspective on my content.
As the SEs add even more webmaster tools, it’s eventually going to become necessary to fully integrate with them. It could easily come to the point where large sites will have to explicitly declare all the pages they wish to have indexed, just to insure that those pages might get ranked as optimally as possible.
Hopefully each of the major search engines will try to employ identical or compatible formats for site URLs, because it will be a hassle to have to keep up with multiple formats. This is an area where the SEs really ought to cooperate with one another for “pro bono publico” – for the common good. Currently, Yahoo seems to be just defensively immitating Google in this arena, and no one’s showing signs of collaborating. (At the recent SES Conference in San Jose, an audience member had a question for Yahoo’s Dr. Rajat Mukherjee, but the audience member kept referring to Yahoo’s product as “Yahoo Sitemaps” instead of Site Explorer, much to the consternation of Mukherjee. Amanda and others from Google who were sitting in front of me were highly amused at the situation. It was very obvious that the parallel Google and Yahoo teams have a healthy competitive streak betwixt them.)
If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re trying to decide if using Google’s Webmaster Tools or Yahoo Site Explorer will be valuable to you or not. Here’s my advice:
Register with these services so that you can use the tools and reports they offer. If you have a site that’s not already optimized and well-indexed, use the tools to provide them with all your page URLs. While use of their services isn’t a guarantee that your pages will be ranked well in the SERPs (“search engine results pages”), it’s a sure bet that if they can’t find your pages you won’t be in the SERPs at all. This can help you make sure your pages can get indexed. This is particularly useful if you are trying to get a brand new site indexed.
Also, keep up with the developments at the Google and Yahoo teams, because they’re each bound to deploy more tools and features as time progresses.
(MSN doesn’t have a webmaster tools portal yet, though they surely will at some point.)
If you’re one of the development team members from the search engines, I have to tell you what the next killer app tool could be: provide an interface that would allow us to see how our pages rank for at least 300 keywords. I know, I know — you guys don’t like providing a lot of metrics, since people will use it to test your black-box algorithms and figure out what/how various signals are used. The thing is, some people use 3rd-party software to accomplish this already (which you don’t like, since automated queries can impact performance), or some of us can hire temps to execute the searches and document the rankings. So, we’re getting this data already — you might as well provide it as a useful service to us, and to obviate the need for people or scripts to execute pointless searches.
I’m still very excited about the increasing functionality provided by the search engines, and I hope the trend continues.