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."
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.
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!)
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