A few days ago, I found lurking in my inbox an email bearing the ominous news that the Google sitemap file for one of the sites I manage was "missing."

Oh, dear!

The email then helpfully offered a company's services to generate a sitemap for me, even directing me to a page on the company's site that would explain just what this allegedly incredibly complex code is and why I supposedly need one.

Being a curious sort, I visited the site. Clearly I must be in the wrong business. These folks charge hundreds of dollars to generate a sitemap for you. They charge separately for creating a "Google sitemap" and a "Yahoo sitemap" (nearly $400 if you want both). And they want five to 10 business days to get the file(s) back to you!

All this, when sitemaps.org spells out the XML file schema for a sitemap so you can create one yourself -- for free. I've looked at it; it isn't that complicated. Tedious to code manually, particularly if you have a large site? Absolutely, without a doubt. Probably well-nigh impossible for very large sites. But rocket science? Not so much.

If you don't want to do it by hand or if your site is too big to make hand-coding practical, there are plenty of free XML sitemap generators available online that will do the deed for you, untouched by human hands. (For those who are a bit more tech-savvy, Google even offers a sitemap generator script themselves.) And when these free sitemap generators do their thing, I promise you the turnaround time is a lot faster than five to 10 business days.

But you know? The main trouble I had with this particular email is that its core premise was bogus. The sitemap for the site in question isn't "missing." In fact, I never generated an XML sitemap for that site or any of the other sites I manage. On purpose, even.

Why?

Well, primarily because none of my sites need a Google sitemap. Their pages are already well indexed and spidered regularly for updates. And I've got better things to spend my efforts (or my employer's money) on than messing about creating and submitting unnecessary files.

Even if I did have indexing issues, I'm not sure creating an XML sitemap would be my first response. I mean, Google themselves note that simply submitting a sitemap does NOT guarantee your pages get indexed. So right off the bat, you can eliminate the argument that a sitemap is a sure-fire cure-all for incomplete indexing.

As you might expect, the company's website was full of dire warnings against using a free XML sitemap generator or trying to "roll your own," with ominous-sounding copy describing the alleged complexity of creating a sitemap and unspecified consequences of having a malformed XML file.

(Probably the biggest ramification I can imagine of having a "bad" sitemap is that the sitemap would be rejected for errors when you submit it through Google Webmaster Tools... at which point you'd simply be in the same shape you were in before you tried to submit it. O, the horror. O, the humanity. So then you fix the errors and resubmit. As I said before, not exactly rocket science.)

Of course, if your site has some of the problems Google lists on their About Sitemaps Webmasters help page, a sitemap may help make sure Google knows those pages exist. If that's the case, though, my personal opinion is you might be better off expending that effort on trying to solve the underlying problems rather than relying on a "sitemap crutch." I'm just saying.

Certainly, I recognize some sites do have ongoing structural problems that stand in the way of getting pages indexed, and for them a sitemap may be their best alternative. However, as already mentioned, a sitemap won't guarantee any pages get spidered or indexed. And it won't force already-indexed pages to rank any higher.

So if your site is already indexed, and updates are already getting picked up regularly, you really don't need an XML sitemap. And I bet if the customers of this company knew how cheap and easy it is to generate your own sitemap, and understood the limitations of what a sitemap can do for them, at least some of them wouldn't have signed up for this company's services.

Bottom line: if you think your site could benefit from having an XML sitemap (or if you just want one because all the Cool Kids are submitting them), then by all means, create and upload one. Just don't pay a lot of money to have one generated on your behalf. And don't count on an XML sitemap to magically solve all your page indexing issues (assuming you have any in the first place). Above all, don't expect it to have any effect on your rankings.

Oh, yeah, and one final hint: purchasing any kind of SEO-related services from somebody who spams your email is probably not the best idea. (But I bet you knew that already!)


December 17, 2008





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Comments(16)

You know, I've long asked myself what Google uses the XML sitemap for -- I don't believe personally it helps in any way, but I do it as a best practice, in case I might be wrong!

But why would Google allow site owners, who might be black hat, to prioritize pages for importance or even tell Google how often they are updated -- especially when they could lie about it?

I'm just not sure it's a necessary step.

I was forwarded this same email by about 5 of my clients. Complete spam that almost had some believing that I was missing some huge opportunity for them! Very annoying.

I agree, you should always try and find the underlying problem first. It could mean that your pages are setting off duplicate content bells, or you have some issues with keyword stuffing etc. Submitting a sitemap to Google is not going to solve these problems.

@Janet - I agree totally - I don't think it's a necessary step at all, and it annoys me when I run across companies that try to dupe unsuspecting clients into thinking it is.

@Dillon - Whew, so I wasn't the only one, then! The sad part is, the email probably worked with some prospective clients.

@Wes - Exactly! When you fix the underlying problem, you not only fix the existing pages, you reduce the potential problems for future pages, too. It's just good practice, I think.

Thank you all for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts! :)

It does seem like a whole new industry scam has sprung up around xml sitemaps, similar to those who want charge to submit you to 3000 search engines. Unfortunately, these guys make us all look bad.

I've found that submitting an xml sitemap is NOT the way to go. Instead, create a Google Webmaster Tools account, generate a verification tag and place it on your site to tell Google you have legitimate control of it.

After that is verified, wait for Googlebot to crawl the site, which should only tale a few days in most cases. Then, you can go into your account and learn what Google has found regarding your site. They give you great info you can't easily get elsewhere and you'll see if they are having problems accessing your pages.

Then, correct whatever problems you see. Check back again every few weeks or set up a Webmaster Tools feed on your home page to keep a closer eye on it.

In this way you can actually discover problems and correct them, rather than thinking (wrongly) that an xml site map will be a magic bullet for crawlability problems.

Great article, thanks for the information. In my view sitemaps are critical to getting your site listed in Google/Yahoo etc. correctly.

@James, uhm... no offense intended... but you seem to have totally missed my point. XML sitemaps are not at ALL critical in any way to getting your site listed in the search engines.

There is another problem with sitemaps...

They tell your competition exactly what keywords you are ranking and optimizing for.

Great post.

Robert The Wholesale Products Guy

Excellent post.

We tell our clients, as you point out, that an XML site map should not be employed because there are pages on the site that aren’t getting indexed for technical reasons. Rather the technical issues should be addressed to get these pages indexed via the regular search engine crawl.

We believe that because of the importance of Link Popularity (Pagerank, etc) pages that are only available via an XML site map will probably not rank well for competitive keyword phrases.

Any feedback on from others about there experience with this?

Also, at an SEMNE meeting last summer, I asked Dan Crow, Google’s Product Manager for Crawl Systems “since there may be no links to these pages from other sites or links that Google can follow from the main site then it follows that the PageRank of these files will be low. Since PageRank is such and important variable in Google rankings how well could these files do in the search results?”

Dan said that it was indeed an issue that Google is aware of and that we can expect it to be addressed, probably later this year (2008).

Has anyone heard anything new on this or seen any evidence of changes in rankings for files only accessible to Google from an xml site map?

Well, i still believe Sitemaps are helpful. And we dont have to struggle to create sitemaps. There are nearly hundred free tools available on net that can create sitemap for you in 10 Seconds and within a minute, it will be up.

So if google is asking for it, and it takes just 5 minutes to finish it, what is harm to do that?
In my opinion, it gives google better visibility to your site. And pages are indexed faster than by regular crawling, and in the meantime, buy submitting it, google helps you to find some type of site errors.

So it actually saves time rather than consuming time to find lot of errors in your website that can google tell you.

I agree I don't think sitemaps help with indexing. I do use them on new sites, however, because I figure what does it hurt. And those free services usually work fine. And if they don't Google will tell you within an hour if there is a problem. Charging 400 is a great racket.

Hi. Thanks for article.I use for my sites Sitemap Writer Pro.I tried different software for creating the sitemap. This powerful webtool generates the sitemap for your website in just seconds. Mayor search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask, MSN, Moreover) are able to index and read my sitemaps without any problems.

I have four blogs on google. The first three I just typed in atom.xml in the submit sitemap area in the webmaster tools. they worked fine. My fourth blog it keeps rejecting the sitemap but I am still getting traffic to the blog.

From my experience, I can say that creating a sitemap.xml won't have any impact in your ranking whatsoever, believe me nothing at all.

What i do believe is that like any sitemap (html / xml / etc) it helps search engines know how the website's structure is. Then let them decide what pages they should index or not.

As some sort of conclusion, I think is worth making one, not a brainer but it helps let crawlers navigate through out the pages you want them to see.

If it doesn't necessarily hurt rankings, why not just listen to what Google has to say? If they say submit an XML sitemap I'm going to go ahead and do it. THe last thing I would want is to find out that a good page within a site isn't indexed because I decided not to conform for the search engines I want to rank highly in.

How do these people sleep at night, charging $400 for a sitemap?!

I agree that sitemaps don't do much for SEO, but for small sites they only take a couple of minutes to make so I tend to do them as best practice, particularly if its a new site and the pages haven't been indexed yet.

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Search Engine Guide > Diane Aull > XML Sitemaps Are Not All That