I recently did an experiment where I used Ask.com as my main search engine. While the Ask.com SERPs have the best organization of the major search engines, the actual organic search results from Ask.com are not good.
Because of the less-than-ideal organic search results, webmasters and SEOs don’t take Ask.com seriously. Ask.com doesn’t bring traffic so SEOs don’t even mention it when talking about major search engines. This is bad for Ask.com. Search engines need the active support of webmasters. Webmasters give search engines free coverage and links. Links are (obviously) good for traffic. For example, Yahoo.com pages frequently come up in the Google SERPs.
One way that Ask.com could start getting positive coverage and links from webmasters and SEOs is to offer genuinely useful webmaster tools.
If it weren’t for Yahoo’s SiteExplorer tools I would rarely ever visit Yahoo.com. If it weren’t for MSN Live’s ip: and linkfromdomain: queries I would probably never visit MSN. If Ask.com wants to be mentioned in the same sentence as Google.com, Yahoo.com, and MSN/live.com, they need to offer webmaster tools.
Search engines have a lot of data about the Web because of their constant crawling of the Web. Webmasters want that data but we don’t have the resources to crawl the entire Web on a regular basis.
I don’t know exactly what tools that Ask.com could offer, but MSN’s ip: and linkfromdomain: queries were useful innovations.
Maybe Ask.com could develop a backlink checker that works better than SiteExplorer. How about a backlink checker that would generate a graph of backlinks over time?
Ask.com might be worried about people reverse-engineering the algorithm through webmaster tools, but I doubt that most SEOs would bother. The benefit for Ask.com would be that by providing better webmaster tools than the other search engines, they would gain webmaster loyalty, free media coverage, and free IBLs.
Are there any webmaster tools that you think Ask.com could develop to gain webmaster loyalty?