I’ve been messing with Google’s webmaster tools. I definitely wish I’d looked at them a lot sooner. You sign up, prove you own the web site (I inserted a meta tag), and then they start putting together everything they know about your site. It takes a while for all of the data to trickle in at first, or at least it’s taking a while for me, since I’m pushing 2,000 pages. But I think it’s invaluable for all but the very smallest, simplest site.Of course you can learn a lot about search: what people are searching for that matches up with your content, and how many of those people are clicking on your stuff. That could prove valuable to me in the long run: If my stuff is relevant to what they’re searching on, and only a small percentage are clicking, then I need to adjust the terminology I’m using, fix my title, or something.
More importantly to me right now, though, are the diagnostics. Especially the dead links. It will tell me the dead links it knows about, so I can investigate. Sometimes it’s old content from three blogging systems ago, so I can put a 301 redirect in my .htaccess file to redirect traffic to that content’s new home. Sometimes they’re links where I forgot to type http://. I have a lot of dead links, since I just changed servers and left 8 or 9 years of cruft behind. I’ve already fixed the ones I knew about, but I didn’t know the half of it, as it turns out. Since Google tells me how many sites link to each, I can concentrate on the ones that have 20 incoming links, and favor those over the stuff that has 1 link, which will probably be mine anyway. Google penalizes you for dead pages, so having a way to find and fix them helps. And of course Google rewards you for incoming links–that was Google’s secret sauce that made them different from Altavista and Webcrawler when they first appeared–so you want to do everything you can to keep those.
Bing seems to have something similar, but since it requires Silverlight, I haven’t looked at it. Maybe someday. But it doesn’t seem worth it to me, to have to install yet another thing I have to keep patched. I uploaded my sitemap to Bing, since I can do that without registering or installing any software, and I left it at that.