Search Engine Optimization with Google Sitemaps | WebReference

Search Engine Optimization with Google Sitemaps

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Search Engine Optimization with Google Sitemaps

By Matthew Coers

What is a Google Sitemap?

A Google Sitemap is a simple XML document that lists all the pages in your Web site, but the Google Sitemaps program is actually much more important than that. In fact, the Sitemaps program provides a little peek inside Google's mind ­ and it can tell you a lot about what Google thinks of your Web site!

Why Should You Use Google Sitemaps?

Until Google Sitemaps was released in the summer of 2005, optimizing a site for Google was a guessing game at best. A Web site's page might be deleted from the index, and the Webmaster had no idea why. Alternatively, a site's content could be scanned, but because of the peculiarities of the algorithm, the only pages that would rank well might be the "About Us" page, or the company's press releases.

As webmasters we were at the whim of Googlebot, the seemingly arbitrary algorithmic kingmaker that could make or break a website overnight through shifts in search engine positioning. There was no way to communicate with Google about a website ­ either to understand what was wrong with it, or to tell Google when something had been updated.

That all changed about a year ago when Google released Sitemaps, but the program really became useful in February of 2006 when Google updated it with a couple new tools.

So, what exactly is the Google Sitemaps program, and how can you use it to improve the position of your Web site? Well, there are essentially two reasons to use Google Sitemaps:

    1. Sitemaps provide you with a way to tell Google valuable information about your Web site

    2. You can use Sitemaps to learn what Google thinks about your Web site

What You Can Tell Google About Your Site

Believe it or not, Google wants to make sure that webmasters have a way of communicating important information about their sites. Although Googlebot does a decent job of finding and cataloging Web pages, it has very little ability to rate the relative importance of one page versus another. After all, many important pages on the Internet are not properly "optimized," and many of the people who couldn't care less about spending their time on linking campaigns create some of the best content.

Therefore, Google gives you the ability to tell them on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0 how important a given page is relative to all the others. Using this system, you might tell Google that your home page is a 1.0, each of your product sections is a 0.8, and each of your individual product pages is a 0.5. Pages like your company's address and contact information might only rate a 0.2.

You can also tell Google how often your pages are updated and the date that each page was last modified. For example, your home page might be updated every day, while a particular product page might only be updated on an annual basis.

What Google Can Tell You About Your Site

Having the ability to tell Google all this information is important, but you don't even need to create a sitemap file in order to enjoy some of the perks of having a Google Sitemaps account.

That's because even without a Sitemap file, you can still learn about any errors that Googlebot has found on your Web site. As you probably know, your site doesn't have to be "broken" for a robot to have trouble crawling its pages. Google Sitemaps will tell you about pages it was unable to crawl and links it was unable to follow. Therefore, you can see where these problems are and fix them before your pages get deleted from the index.

You can also get information on the types of searches people are using to find your Web site. Of course, most Web site analytics tools will give this information to you anyway, but if the tool you use doesn't have this feature, then it's always nice to get it for free from Google.

But the best part of the Sitemaps program is the Page analysis section that was added in February of 2006. This page gives you two lists of words. The first list contains the words that Googlebot associates with your Web site based on your site content. The second list contains words that Googlebot has found linking to your site!

Unfortunately, Google limits the number of words in each list to 20. As a consequence, the inbound links column is partly wasted by words such as "http", "www", and "com" ­ terms that apply equally to all Web sites (hey Google, how about suppressing those terms from the report?). That said, this list does provide you with a way to judge the effectiveness of your offsite optimization efforts.

When you compare these two lists, you can get an understanding of what Google thinks your Web site is about. If the words on your Site Content column are not really what you want Googlebot to think about your site, then you know you need to tweak your copy to make it more focused on your core competency.

If, on the other hand your inbound links don't contain any keywords that you want to rank well for, then perhaps you should focus your efforts in that direction.

Above all else, you really want these two lists to agree. You want your inbound linked words to match up to the site content words. This means that Google has a clear understanding of the focus of your Web site.


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Created: April 18, 2006
Revised: June 2, 2006

URL: http://webreference.com/programming/sitemaps/1