Google has had a feature out for some time which allows webmasters to create a sitemap file to help Google’s crawlers find and index content.
It sounds like a great idea. After all, it’s much easier to feed the crawler the content then hope it finds it on it’s own.
But is a Google sitemap worthwhile? Is it even necessary?
When the Google Sitemap program first started my thought was “That’s kinda cool but what’s the real benefit?”
So, I thought I’d try it out and submit sitemaps for a few sites that I own.
When Google Sitemaps first came out it was very difficult to figure out what all the entries meant as well as how to actually create the sitemap.
Sure, it was XML based, and I could plainly see what they expected but when you have a large site, how do you go about creating this?
Then Google came out with http://www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps/docs/en/sitemap-generator.html, a sitemap generator which is a program intended to help you create a sitemap for your site. This does help speed up the process but unless you are a developer it is a little difficult to implement.
Also, you need access to your server to run the script required to generate the sitemap. If you are unsure you should check with your web host to see if you have terminal access to execute Python scripts.
Personally, I’ve never tried the Google Sitemapper tool but I have used others. For example, on my personal blog which uses Moveable Type, I found a blog post which shows How to build a Movable Type Google sitemap template http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/archives/2005/06/google_sitemaps.html. And I’ve used Xenu and an Excel spreadsheet http://forums.digitalpoint.com/showthread.php?p=199253 which works great as well.
Now that the sitemap creation is covered, let’s get into the question at hand. Is a Google sitemap really worth the effort?
A few months ago I would have said no, but lately Google has been adding features that make me think otherwise.
For example, if you’ve gone through the verification process (which is really just placing a blank HTML file on the site and having Google find it) and ensured your 404 errors are properly configured you can get access to a wealth of additional intel.
One such feature is the “Top Search Queries.” This tells you which queries were used when your pages appeared in the search results but may not have been clicked on.
In other words, these are actual searcher queries that were performed on Google where your site may have appeared but not had click-through’s.
From a keyword research point of view, this is a huge advantage to you. By monitoring your sitemap stats you can easily see some of the terms people are using and perhaps determine what you need to do to rank higher for those terms so you too can get the clicks that your competitors are receiving.
If you don’t have ready access to log analysis or other stats, the Google sitemap can also tell you what terms actually drove traffic to your site.
In other words, these were searches performed on Google that actually generated clicks for your site.
There’s also a wealth of other information. For example, “Crawl Stats” shows you how Googlebot sees your site, errors generated by it, and even a PageRank distribution chart detailing how well PageRank is distributed.
So, if you are like me and wondering if a Google sitemap is worth it I’d say yes, it is. The information provided, while mostly technical, can help you troubleshoot problems as well as provide ideas to help you improve your positioning.