Google Sitemaps: Are They Really Important for SEO?

Jun 16, 2008 - 7:17 am 12 by

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 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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