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SEO With Google Sitemaps



What is a Google Sitemap?

A Google Sitemap is a very simple XML document that lists all the pages in
your website, 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 website!

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 website'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 website? Well, there are essentially two
reasons to use Google Sitemaps:

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

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

What You Can Tell Google About Your Site


Believe it or not, Google is concerned about making sure webmasters have a
way of communicating information that is important about their sites.
Although Googlebot does a pretty 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 website. As you probably know, your
site doesn't have to be "broken" for a robot to have trouble crawling it's
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 website. Of course, most website 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 frëe 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 website
based on content on your site. 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 websites (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 website 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 website's 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 website.

Additional Benefits of the Sitemaps Program

Google has even started notifying Sitemaps-participating Webmasters if they
are breaking any of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. This can be very valuable
information if your site suddenly becomes de-listed on Google and you don't
know why.

Only Sitemaps participants can get this information, and it is only provided
at Google's discretion. In fact, Google will NOT notify you if you are
creating worthless websites that offer no original content, or if you are
creating thousands of doorway pages that are redirecting to other web sites.
Google doesn't want to give the spammers any clues as to how to improve
their techniques.

How Do You Get Started with Google Site Maps?

The first thing you must do is obtain a Google Account. If you already have
a Gmail, Adsense, or Adwords account, then you are all set. If not, you can
register an account by visiting the Google Accounts page.

Building your sitemap file is pretty easy to do if you are familiar with
XML, and if you aren't you can always use a third-party tool such as the
ones that are listed on Google's website. Google also has a "Sitemap
Generator" that you can download and install on your server, but unless you
are fairly adept at managing Python scripts, you should probably stick to
the third-party tools.

At any rate, once you have your Google Account and your Sitemap file built,
the rest is very easy. All you have to do is:

1. Log into your account

2. Type your website's URL into the "Add Site" box and clíck on "OK"

3. Clíck on the Manage Sites link for the website you are adding, and add
your sitemap file to your account.

Google Sitemaps - An Excellent SEO Tool

Google Sitemaps help Googlebot quickly find new content on your website.
They allow you to tell Google what's important, what's new, and what changes
often. The tools provided to webmasters through the program can play a vital
role in helping you understand how the search engines (especially Google)
view your website.

Using this information you can dramatically improve the position of your
website and quickly clear up any issues Google finds. You can also use the
tools provided by Google to gauge the effectiveness of your off-site
optimization efforts so you can better focus your time and energy on
activities that bring you the most success.
Matthew Coers

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