MSN's Live Search team announced back on August 22 that they would be launching a set of tools for Webmasters. At that time, this was strictly a private, by invitation beta. Even then, Webmasters and SEO practitioners alike were excited and hopeful as one of the much awaited features was the ability to pull up backlink information. MSN had previously turned off the special "link" and "linkdomain" query operators that provided a count of links pointing to a page or entire site, respectively.
The Live Search team is really trying to give everyone something to be thankful for. Karen Blakeman reported in October that Microsoft had restored the link and linkdomain queries, though with the slight modification of leading them off with a "+" sign, like:
With apparently no official announcement from Microsoft, news of this seems to have just now picked up notice after Barry Schwartz reported it on Search Engine Land.
And now the Live Search team has announced that they are opening up the Webmaster Center to the public, in beta form still. Barry also gave us a great sneak peek at some screenshots during the private beta.
Visually, the interface looks pretty much like it did during the private beta, but no doubt it will change a little as they fine-tune things. They seem to have already changed its name from the initial proposed "Webmaster Portal" to "Webmaster Center."
There is still a little work to be done. They offer up a visual representation of the domain rank, but there's no real indication of what those five green bars mean in relation to less than five green bars. And did they really need to make them green? Seems like there are enough green bars to worry about on the Web.
But anyway, at least they do provide a listing of what they consider to be a site's top-five pages and when those pages were last crawled. However, there's no real indication as to why those five pages are the top five to begin with.
They also provide a similar view of the top-10 pages a site links out to as well as what they consider the top-10 pages with links into the site. Again, there's no indication as to what makes any of these the top 10, and in the site I was looking at, certainly would have considered other pages/sites to be far more worthy of making the list.
Certainly one of the other exciting features is the ability now to declare the location of a site's XML sitemap. MSN started picking this up through auto-discovery through the robots.txt file, and there was a workaround method for pinging, but you couldn't ping them directly. Not to go unnoticed, there is also a method for pinging Live Search directly now:
http://webmaster.live.com/ping.aspx?siteMap=[Your sitemap web address]
But I'd still recommend verifying site ownership, which is similar to Google with the ability to upload a special file to your site or insert a special meta tag in the home page. Besides, when you verify, you'll get full access to the Webmaster Center and the ability to specify the name and location of the XML sitemap.
Working with the search engine spiders by creating a XML sitemap should be on every Web site owner's to-do list as it helps search engine spiders get to the pages on your site. Normally, the spiders would follow inbound links and the internal links of your site to crawl the pages, but if there were any hindrances along the way, pages wouldn't get crawled. Using an XML sitemap helps inform the spiders about the pages directly. You can learn more about the XML sitemap protocol through the Sitemaps.org site.
There is also a Live Search Webmaster Center Blog to help open up communications between the search team and site owners. It's great seeing Live Search bringing new tools and features to the hands of Webmasters. In the search engine battle, as each search engine tries to outdo the others with new and better tools and communication, Webmasters are the ultimate winners.
And for a deeper look inside what's driving the Live Search team, be sure to check out Rand Fishkin's interview with Eytan Seidman, of Microsoft's Live Search.