Google Sitemaps: Are They Really Important for SEO?

Jun 16, 2008 • 7:17 am | comments (11) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization
 

There are many SEOs spilt on the topic of the value in submitting a Sitemap to Google. In my opinion, it is clear that if a site has very poor navigation and on-page SEO, submitting a Sitemap might be your only alternative. But for well optimized sites, is there a benefit in submitting a Sitemap file to Google?

That is the topic of discussion in a Google Groups thread. Googler, JohnMu, gives us greater insight into how Google uses Sitemaps and why webmasters might want to consider submitting a Sitemap to Google. Here are my takeaways from the Google Groups thread.

  • Help with canonical URLs. For example, by submitting your / and not your /index.html page, Google might just figure that / is the main URL and it will help with those canonical issues for that case. Of course, a 301 redirect from /index.html to / would do the same and Google recommends that even with a sitemap file, you 301 redirect URLs like those.
  • The Last modification date field in the sitemap file can aid Google in quickly locating the actual change in the page. John at Google explained that Google might not have time to crawl all the pages you said changed, so if you specify the actual change in the Sitemap file, it will be easier for Google to pick up on those changes.
  • The Priority, Change frequency is a lot like the last mod date, said John. If you give Google data that "makes sense", i.e. don't list 100% of your pages as the most important page on your site, then it can be useful to Google.

Those are my takeways from John's post. But here are John's takeaways:

  • Yes, please send us Sitemap files, preferably sitemap.org XML files!
  • Work on good URLs & use them to double-check your site's navigation
  • Optional: Date or change frequency? depends on how you work.
  • Also optional: Priority

I have always been a believer that well on-page optimized sites do not require or even benefit much from Google Sitemaps. But at the same time, I also do believe that giving Google extra clues about your site does help. It is something you need to think about. On one hand, by giving Google a sitemap file with all the changes, and a list of your most important pages - you are also giving those details to your competitors. Yes, that Sitemap file is public for Google and for your competitors. It totally depends on your industry.

What do I recommend. Try it out for a few months and see if it works for you. FYI, Beu also covered this thread.

Forum discussion at Google Groups.

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Comments:

JohnMu (Google)

06/16/2008 12:30 pm

Hi Barry, thanks for posting about this subject! I added a note to the original thread regarding your comments and thought I'd just copy it in here as well :). Regarding: "On one hand, by giving Google a sitemap file with all the changes, and a list of your most important pages - you are also giving those details to your competitors. Yes, that Sitemap file is public for Google and for your competitors." There's a way to avoid that. Sure, if your Sitemap file is called /sitemap.xml or is listed in your robots.txt file, then other people are going to be able to view it. That said, they will also be able to crawl your site to find these URLs as well -- though they wouldn't know the "meta data". However, you can also keep your Sitemap files private: just use an obscure file name and submit the URLs directly to the search engines. For Google, you can use either Webmaster Tools ( http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=34575 ) or the "ping" HTTP request ( http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=34609 ). Note that if you only use the "ping" method, you will not be able to see any statistics regarding your Sitemap files in Webmaster Tools. In general, I would always submit it in Webmaster Tools and just use "ping" to keep us informed of updates. For the other search engines, you can generally also use a similar "ping" method. Some also support a direct submission through a similar dashboard for webmasters. Another item you mentioned is "I have always been a believer that well on-page optimized sites do not require or even benefit much from Google Sitemaps." Obviously most websites do not need Sitemap files -- otherwise we'd be doing a pretty bad job of crawling the web :-). However, good and "well-optimized" sites are often also fairly large and hopefully updated regularly. With a website like that, it can take a bit of time for us to discover new or changed content, so helping the search engines with a good Sitemap file really makes a lot of sense. Imagine if we had to recrawl big auction sites in order to discover all the new items ... Yikes!

Barry Schwartz

06/16/2008 12:33 pm

John, thanks so much for adding these details. Your post and hopefully the discussion here will make for a great resource for webmasters. Thanks again!

Andrew Shotland

06/16/2008 06:26 pm

I used to take the POV that sitemaps can hide crawlability problems a site has, but one day I woke up and realized that a) a lot of these issues are actually straightforward to detect and b) if the sitemap helps you easily overcome them why not use them?

Ezra N

06/20/2008 07:54 pm

The use of a site map to overcome crawlability issues is like shunning your responsibility to build a well-structured, easily-navigable site for your users. Fix the root problem...don't bandage it.

Rob Abdul

06/21/2008 09:33 am

Ezra N, I agree with your point in principle. However sometimes it is not that simple. For example I’ve got a Client asking for SEO services who’s site that cannot be indexed because of the his website/Content management system prevent its. In a situation like this I will create a sitemap manually to overcome the crawling problems.

Luxury Villas Zilic

03/29/2012 06:54 pm

My SEO expert has made sitemap http://www.luxuryhomegate.com as on site optimisation. So I think it must be important...

Dison Arnibal

09/10/2012 05:27 pm

There's a brilliant explanation here in this article why sitemaps are not that important, really: http://yoast.com/why-you-should-not-use-xml-sitemaps/ I'll try to remove my sitemaps too on my website http://www.outsourcinginphilippines.com

Dison Arnibal

09/10/2012 05:30 pm

Here's a brilliant explanation why sitemaps aren't that important in SEO: http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/017415.html

seyl

07/08/2013 07:49 am

hello! can I ask you something guys??? how to get this in SEO?

Steve

08/07/2013 12:23 pm

They are the sitelinks ... google automatically takes it from your site ....

ketul

04/02/2014 04:55 am

My site have sitemap in html format. So can i do directory submission for that. Is there any worse affect in my ranking?

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