Microsoft / Yahoo Search Alliance: a closer look at Bing Webmaster Tools & a free data export tool

Now on its third significant iteration, Bing’s Webmaster Tools merits a closer look in light of Yahoo’s continuing transition to search technology as part of the Microsoft/Yahoo Search Alliance. During the summer lull in the northern hemisphere, Bing and Yahoo each made a series of important announcements regarding the Alliance. On July 22nd Yahoo stated that a further 6 countries are now powered by Bing organic search results; Yahoo added another 6 countries to this list on August 4th, bringing the total to 17. On August 16th Bing noted the integration of Yahoo traffic data into .
Bing Webmaster Tools Traffic Performance Report
Figure 1: Yahoo logo in Bing Webmaster Tools to show combined traffic sources

Why practitioners should care

The Bing / Yahoo consolidation won’t immediately challenge Google’s effective monopoly in most markets, with the US being as an important exception, it does put Bing in a better position to give Google a run for its money – important for anyone working in international SEO.

Bing’s increasing importance gives search marketers greater incentive to include Bing in the earned (SEO) and paid (PPC) components of their search engine marketing strategies.

Microsoft deserves much credit for its third revamping of Bing Webmaster tools. The unfortunate Silverlight interface, introduced in the second major version, is now gone, allowing Bing Webmaster Tools to function again on almost all browser and platform combinations (Silverlight doesn’t work in many Mac browsers; it doesn’t work at all on Linux due to an interesting Microsoft policy of only distributing useless obsolete versions, originally through its partner Novell).

Bing webmaster communication in overdrive

The Bing team is clearly working hard on its communication with web professionals, continuing to release lots of documentation aimed to insure sites take search engines into account during site design, development and ongoing maintenance. Unfortunately most, if not all, of the documentation appears to be limited to English which may be an issue for many. Bing’s Webmaster Blog is must reading; Duane Forrester, responsible for Bing Webmaster outreach, has written most of the recent articles. While his name may not be yet as familiar to readers as Google’s Matt Cutts, Duane understands first hand the pain many Webmasters (and marketing professionals) feel when working to promote the importance of SEO with all the stakeholders of a web project from business representatives to web designers and system administrators: Duane formerly headed MSN‘s own SEO program. He has also been a regular speaker at search marketing conferences such as SMX West where I first met him. Duane’s understanding and passion is an asset to those who want to better Bing use to market their business or organization.

Data, lots of glorious data, for export too!

Microsoft / Yahoo Search AllianceSEO practitioners will undoubtedly be interested in the rich data Bing generously provides to those who can verify a connection to a given website or section of a website. The Bing Webmaster Tools web interface facilitates exploration of current data, and for many reports, historical data up to 6 months ago (or from when a site was added to Bing Webmaster Tools if less than 6 months ago). Data lovers will surely appreciate the option to export data for further analysis in spreadsheet programs (i.e. MS Excel, LibreOffice Calc) or for integration with additional data in other applications. The data export option also allows sites to keep their historical data for external year on year (YOY) and year to date (YTD) reporting. There in lies the crux: despite lots of data goodness, Microsoft doesn’t yet offer a Bing Webmaster Tools API to facilitate ongoing data export: a user must load each tab and sub tab for every site and date range in order to save each data set.

Bing Webmaster Tools and data differences

There are several Webmaster Tools areas where Bing’s approach to data differs from Google’s.

Webmaster Tools link data: Google regresses

Inbound link data is arguably among the most interesting to SEO practitioners and in this area Google has botched it. For years Google has offered the link: search operator, but it shows just a small subset of the data Google has available, a non-documented “feature” that continues to mislead many novices. In 2007 Google Webmaster Tools began to offer a straight forward file of up to 1 million incoming links by page (Page, Link, Last found) but they removed the date field in mid-2010 and in October 2010 they replaced the full data export with a set of more generic data sets (i.e. Page URLs with a count of incoming links rather than the exact link), each limited to a maximum of 1000 rows. The web interface can be used to view incoming linking domains for any given page by drilling down into the data but it isn’t possible to view nor extract a list of all incoming links to page, never mind all incoming links to all pages in a site as before: a clear regression. An additional drill-down can be performed to view incoming links from a specific domain to a page, but all of this extra clicking is of limited usefulness. The purpose of the revamp seems focused on obscuring data through too many clicks. The interface may be fine for occasional use, but it fails any objective usability test. That Google also removed the full data export of incoming links seems to make their intent pretty clear. As a side note, this isn’t the first time Google has made information less accessible on the web.

Webmaster Tools link data: Bing gets it almost perfect

Bing provides a useful data export of up to 20,000 incoming links to a site, in the form of Target page, Source URL and Anchor Text. A scroll-bar in the Bing Webmaster Tools interface makes it is possible to view the overall number of links over time. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to view nor export a subset of links based on discovery date which would allow a site to review just the newest incoming links. Reviews can help catch typical scenarios such as when people link to the “wrong” page in a site, such as the home page, when it would make more sense for all involved for the link bring users directly to a more specific page in the site, known in the trade as deep linking. Bing also offers the possibility to view and export up to 20,000 incoming links to any given page.

As with Google Webmaster Tools, those looking for competitive link data or for link data on more than 20,000 inbound links will have to look elsewhere.

Bing offers more historical data

Google Webmaster Tools only provides the last 35 days (5 weeks or so) of historical data compared to Bing’s 6 months of data for time-based reports, a regression from the 6 months of data Google previously offered.

Bing makes data export almost painless

Bing allows direct export of data simply by entering the appropriate URL in a browser tab, as long as a user is already signed into Bing Webmaster Tools from within the same browser. This feature, described in Bing’s documentation, inspired the creation of Antezeta’s Bing Webmaster Tools data download tool, described in the following paragraph.

The folks at Google go one step further, sort of. A Google Webmaster Tools API was released in 2008, but to this day it is woefully, and most likely deliberately, incomplete – data liberation, yes, at least for crawl, sitemaps and keywords data, but the data marketers really need, link data, is conspicuous for its absence. Google has also obstructed the possibility of directly accessing data export links within a browser by appending a continually changing “security token” to each link – so Google forces even logged in users to tediously navigate each submenu, tab and check-button to download today’s data, on a site-by-site basis. Google does not allow us to provide a quick links tool to export Webmaster Tools data easily, as we have done for Bing.

Antezeta Bing Webmaster Tools data download tool

We’ve built an interface to quickly export Bing’s Webmaster Tools data, a poor man’s Bing Webmaster Tools API, if you will, inspired by Microsoft Webmaster Tools documentation. The primary requirement is that a user first log into Bing Webmaster Tools, using another tab in the same browser. Several tool settings allow customization of three data export parameters. By default, Bing will export data for all of the sites a user has authenticated in Bing Webmaster Tools. However, some data sets are only available if a specific authenticated URL has been specified; in any case it is often most beneficial to review data on a site-by-site basis. In Bing Webmaster Tools, as with Google Webmaster Tools, an authenticated URL can be a domain, sub-domain or a folder on a domain. A few data sets contain data relative to a time interval which must be specified. Currently, the reporting date range may be a minimum of a week and a maximum of 6 months. Two additional options control the presentation of exported data. The first option determines if the data should be displayed in the browser for quick viewing or should be saved as a file. The second option, a “market” code for language and in some cases country or region, determines the language of the data column headings and the date format used in the export file name (m-d-yyyy, dd-mm-yyyy,, etc.). Not that we should look a gift horse in the mouth, but the current data heading translations could use a little review. Some data column headings haven’t yet been translated (Last Crawled and URLs Submitted in the sitemaps data set) while others could be improved (e.g few Italians would translate the word link as collegamento, it is usually left as link).

A few notes on our Bing Webmaster Tools Data Download Tool

Browser version: the tool requires a modern standards-compliant browser. Internet Explorer has historically been standards adverse. Internet Explorer users might consider updating to a current cross-platform browser like Firefox or Chrome if they encounter problems.

Translations: the tool is currently available in English, Italian and German. It will be translated into additional languages if volunteers are willing to provide and maintain translations for the necessary text strings. If you want to volunteer to translate the tool into your language, please contact us.

Warranty: As a free tool, there are no warranties provided. Use at your own risk. Please contact us if you do encounter bugs. You can also leave a comment below if you have suggestions for improvements.

Training: we provide SEO Training for those who want to better understand how to put this data to good use. We will be offering a specific course on Search Engine Sitemaps and Webmaster Tools in the near future, contact us for more details.

RIP, Yahoo Site Explorer link data?

Yahoo’s soon to be late Site Explorer made a splash with SEO practitioners, and no doubt a few academics, on its release on September 29, 2005, thanks to an emphasis on search engine index information: pages indexed and inbound link data, including an option to save backlink data for any site, competitors included. Veteran SEO practitioners may remember that Bing, at the time MSN Live Search, offered three distinct operators, link:, linkdomain: and LinkfromDomain: to provide link graph reporting for any site. But what Bing gave, Bing took away. Microsoft paid lip service to restoring these operators when it launched Live Search Webmaster Tools (the earlier name for Bing Webmaster Tools), but the data available was now restricted to one’s own sites, as with Google. Yahoo remained the primary transparent search engine, continuing to provide data about its known link graph for any website. While integration of Yahoo backlink reporting for any site is a clear opportunity for Bing to distinguish itself from Google, it seems unlikely that Bing will rise to the occasion, but hope springs eternal.

Bing Webmaster Tools & Yahoo Site Explorer key milestones

Bing iconYahoo iconDateWhat
Yahoo icon2005-09-29Yahoo Site Explorer makes its debut – provides page and backlink benchmarking data for all indexed sites
Bing iconYahoo icon2006-11-15Bing and Yahoo make commitment to support Sitemaps
Bing icon2007-11-14Bing Webmaster Tools launches as Live Search Webmaster Tools
Bing icon2010-07-21Second major version of Bing Webmaster Tools launches; due to unfortunate Silverlight requirement, support for Linux and many Mac browsers is broken.
Bing icon2010-08-17Bing adds data export feature to version 2.
Bing icon2011-06-08Bing Webmaster Tools major version 3 is launched
Yahoo icon2011-07-08Yahoo announces Site Explorer closure
Bing iconYahoo icon2011-08-16Bing Webmaster Tools integrates traffic data from properties
Yahoo iconto be announcedYahoo closes Yahoo Site Explorer after complete transition to Bing search technology.

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About Sean Carlos

Sean Carlos is a digital marketing consultant & teacher, assisting companies with their Search (SEO + SEA = SEM), Social Media & Digital Media Analytics strategies. Sean first worked with text indexing in 1990 in a project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since then he worked for Hewlett-Packard Consulting and later as IT Manager of a real estate website before founding Antezeta in 2006. Sean is an official instructor of the Digital Analytics Association and collaborates with the Bocconi University. He is Chairman of the SMX Search and Social Media Conference, 12 & 13 November in Milan. He is also a co-author of the Treccani encyclopedic dictionary of computer science, ICT & digital media. Born in Providence, RI, USA, Sean received Honors in Physics from Bates College, Maine. He speaks English, Italian and German.