Just been reading this discussion over at Sphinn and thought I’d add a quick blog post about the value of XML sitemaps, which are essentially the poor SEO’s solution to indexing.
So what’s the deal then?
For those who don’t know, Google allows you to add sitemaps via Google Webmaster Tools – basically you give G a big list of all the URLs that make up your site so they can do their thing and start ranking them number 1 for every term you possibly want.
Well, not really. While Google WMT does offer some nice toys to play with, the whole “indexing your site” is essentially fool’s gold.
The problem being…
…if Google can’t index your site the old fashioned way, then there’s no real point in taking the quick fix solution.
Most small to medium sites will rarely see problems with indexing (unless things are just really wrong), but for big sites (100k+ pages), there can be small pockets of content that just don’t get indexed.
Why is this the case?
A few issues combine to create problems with deep indexing for big sites – Google crawls the site in chunks and allocates a quota to the indexing cycle. If your site structure is poor then Google doesn’t find a few pages here and there. Even if your site structure is solid, if you don’t have the overall PageRank, Google may just choose not to index 100% deep into your site (the theory being that the content is too low quality to bother indexing).
And where do XML sitemaps come in?
Well a few SEOs will use XML sitemaps as a bandaid solution to any indexing problems. Sometimes a false victory is better than none at all, I guess! The problem is that XML sitemaps don’t really solve any problems at all – they just mask them, and frankly make the SEO job that bit harder for the next SEO who will inevitably come in to replace the first one!
It’s easy to use Google results to identify problems with a new client site – the site: command used well can identify pages that aren’t indexed and that knowledge leads on to identifying problem areas in the site that then can be tackled. But if the site: command shows 100% pages indexed, then you need to figure out where the problem is without the extra little bit of data. Not impossible, but that little bit more difficult, particularly with larger sites.
So should I avoid using Google Sitemaps?
Not all, there’s some use to the data you get from WMT. Just don’t use sitemaps to get your site indexed unless you are 100% sure there are no internal issues that are preventing indexing. If there are, then deal with those first.
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