September 15, 2010
Google has implemented a cutting edge method of crawling web sites for its search engine index. This unprecedented method of indexing web pages is known as Google Sitemaps, and it is quickly growing in popularity among webmasters and SEO agents and managers due to its ability to get an entire web site indexed quickly and to pick up errors in the links coming into and out of a web site.
Google Sitemaps consists of placing the URLs of your pages along with important information regarding how Google should index them into an XML document. This information is then read by the Google Spider and the pages are normally indexed quite quickly, assuming that they are coherent to Google’s standards for indexing pages (and also assuming that the sitemaps conform to Google’s Sitemap Criteria which will be explained a little later).
There are two primary types of Google Sitemaps. The first is a list of pages in a website and the second is a list of sitemaps in the website. Google has limited the number of URLs in its sitemaps to fifty thousand URLs. This may sound like a lot, but for some of the more intricate web sites, fifty thousand URLs may not even make a dent in what they want indexed.
This led to the advent of the Google Sitemap index file which can index up to one thousand sitemaps. If you do the math, this means that you could have one thousand sitemaps with up to fifty thousand URLs in each sitemap which allows for fifty million URLs to be placed in your Google Sitemap scheme. But wait, there’s more. Who ever said that you can’t have an index of indexes? You could actually make an index of a thousand index files which are all indexes of a thousand index files. Basically, there is no limit to the number of URLs that you can hold in your Google sitemaps.
Now that you understand the power of the Google Sitemap you’re probably asking yourself how to create and implement a Google Sitemap. The first step is to simply create your sitemaps. Here are the templates which are also available at http://www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps/ .
For a sitemap file use the following format:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
Everything here is pretty self-explanatory with the exception of the changefreq and the priority aspects. The changefreq asks how often you think the page will change on average. The possible values for the changefreq option are: always, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and never. The priority aspect basically just asks how important the particular page is in your website. The value can be anywhere between 0.0 and 1.0. If you decide not to specify a priority it will default to 0.5.
To create a sitemap index file follow the following format:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
This is all pretty straight forward but it leads me to my next point. You notice that the file names all end in .gz. Google allows you to compress your sitemaps so that they take up less of your disk space when you place them on your site and less of your bandwidth when Google downloads them (which it seems to do approximately once every 9 hours or so). You may only use .gz compression. If you try .zip, it won’t work.
Now all that you really have to do is submit your sitemap to Google. In order to do this you must go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps/login and log into your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account, you can create one. Once you log in you will be allowed to submit your sitemap into the Google index. At some point within about 24 hours of your submission, Google will give you the option to place a small HTML file onto your website so that it can confirm that you do, indeed, have access to editing the site. Once you have done this it will begin to provide you with statistics regarding your Google sitemap. (Note that even without this feature you can see when Google downloaded the sitemap last and what the status of the sitemap was at that time.)
How Google Sitemaps Fits Into Search Engine Optimization.
According to Google, the Sitemaps utility is free and will continue to be – yet it’s almost as good as the paid inclusion service offered by rival search engines. So how can you take advantage of this great service?
First of all, you should create a Google Account. Although you can still use Google Sitemaps without an account, you need one before you can use Google’s tools to check your site submissions. Once you do that and go to sitemaps.google.com, you’ll be guided through the process.
Google Sitemaps has a very helpful question and answer page that will give you the help you need – the answers to most questions people have can be found right there. Good luck!
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