Webmaster Tool Wish List for 2008

Search engines must strike a delicate balance when creating Webmaster tools for site owners; the tools must be mutually helpful. This sounds simplistic, but site owners have to see a benefit to their traffic and site control, and engines must derive some sort of indexing benefit or efficiencies. That’s not always easy to achieve.

Recently, I’ve examined the current state of Webmaster tool offerings from Yahoo and Google. Today, I’ll describe tools that don’t currently exist but that should.

Engines must continue to take the initiative to circumvent the chasm between online marketing and IT departments in the same organization. In other words, just like Yahoo’s dynamic URLs section enables the Yahoo index to view session IDs from URLs without those session IDs actually being stripped, engines should continue along this path, saying in essence, “Even if your IT department can’t fix a certain issue, we’ll do our best to view your site as if the issue didn’t exist.”

Consequently, many of my wishes here continue in that vein, as opposed to the more traditional list of passive reports that engines can show.

Canonical Control Reduces Duplication

One issue we frequently find is that due to certain CMSs (define), URLs resolve at either the folder or page level. For example, you might have pages such as www.companyname.com/products/ and www.companyname.com/products/index.aspx. Typically, these URLs contain exactly the same content, but due to inconsistent linking throughout the site (and from third-party sites), both URLs become independently indexed and attain independent link popularity values.

Engines are getting better at understanding that URLs like these are frequently, and inadvertently, identical. But a great tool would be some logic in the equation, so Webmasters could tell engines, “If a given page ‘/index.aspx’ exists, the page is identical to the URL of the immediately preceding folder, and it should be treated as such.”

Likewise, greater canonical control at the subdomain level would be a welcome improvement. Google Webmaster Tools already has a prototype for canonical subdomain selection in its “Set preferred domain” tool. This tool allows you to select whether you’d prefer to have your site show up in the Google index with or without the “www” subdomain attached.

This is a great start, but further enhancements would increase the benefit. Imagine the headaches eliminated in load balancing if you could tell an engine that www, www2, www3, and so on should be treated as identical subdomains.

Redirect Control for New Content

Have you ever dreaded the release of new content because of the headaches associated with dealing with its outdated counterpart? When I recommend redirects to clients, I frequently encounter “the frown” as they agree and understand why I’m asking them to do it but realize it will take weeks or longer for their development staff to get around to it. I would love to see a dual-paned tool that enables Webmasters to assign redirects (either temporary or permanent) from one URL to another, right from a control panel.

As with URL removal tools that already exist, a redirection tool would be quite powerful and shouldn’t to be considered lightly.

Add, Subtract URLs From XML Feeds

A physical XML (define) sitemap feed will (or should) eventually give way to one that’s easily customizable and editable from within a Webmaster tools console. When you create a new batch of content, it would be great to be able to add new URLs from the Webmaster tools console. It’s not that adding a few lines to an XML or .txt file is that difficult, but when you don’t have FTP (define) access or your IT department adds requests like this to the growing queue of work, it would be nice to have a direct path to the data.


Those too timid to lay their predictions on the line often resort to the best alternative — the “wish list” column. Count me among that group. But the goal here is noble. If I make predictions and I’m right, the best I get is an ego boost. But if I supply a wish list and some of the items actually come to exist, site owners get something much greater.

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