In “Spurned by Google, ignored by all”, WordPressMU guru, Donncha O’Caoimh reported that his Google PageRank and traffic has dropped appreciatively.
I don’t know if it’s connected but on Monday I noticed that my Google sitemap contained an error. [One] URL wasn’t encoded properly and threw the error. It was easily fixed but traffic hasn’t increased yet.If you use the Google Sitemap WordPress Plugin and Ultimate Tag Warrior you may also be using the plugin [Google Sitemap UTW Tag WordPress Plugin] that adds your site’s tags onto the sitemap. I installed it last weekend here and on my photoblog and didn’t notice this known issue, “Your tag name must not contain an ampersand ‘&’ – if it does, please rename tag without an ampersand – Reported by Jilly”. It’s easily fixed with a urlencode() but I disabled the plugin until traffic gets back to normal.
Would a broken sitemap cause traffic to drop so alarmingly or is it something else?
As Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and other search engines become more dependent upon XML sitemap files rather than the old-fashioned crawl through links on your web pages, we must take care to check our sitemap generators to ensure they are working.
Do you check your sitemap regularly? How do you check your sitemap? How would you even know there was anything wrong with your sitemap?
A sitemap is an XML file with instructions to search engines on how to cruise through your site. Don’t confuse a sitemap with a site map – your site’s table of contents page. Similar but completely different, and spelled differently, too.
In the past, search engines were reliant upon a good site navigation system of links to move from one page to another, gathering information with their web crawlers. Unfortunately, sometimes pages and even whole categories were missed, becoming lost orphans without search engine coverage.
With an updated sitemap file stored in the root directory of your site, search engines use it as a road map to find every page on your site. This creates improved collection, and speeds up the process as all the intrasite links are in one file. Search engine web crawlers don’t have to “search” for them.
Sitemaps are not the only way to attract a search engine’s attention. Pings alert a search engine to updated information, handing out an invitation to visit your blog. When they arrive, they check for the sitemap atlas. If it isn’t there, they will still pass through your doors. If it is, their visit may be shorter.
There are different tools available for creating XML sitemaps. Some are do-it-yourself, online programs, and others are add-ons or plugins for your blog. Be aware that many of these free online sitemap generators will only examine a limited number of pages from a site. Typically, they are restricted to 300-1000 web pages, though some are not. According to Wikipedia’s information on Google Sitemaps, the Google sitemap itself has a limit of 50,000 pages per sitemap.
Sitemap generators include:
- Arne Brachhold’s Google Sitemap Generator for WordPress
- XML Sitemaps Generator
- Google Sitemap Generator
- Sitemap Doc
- Neurotic Web – Google Site Map Generator
- Resource SEO – Sitemap Tool
- phpSitemapNG Google Sitemap Generator
- Pingoat – Google Sitemap Generator
- Google’s List of Third Party Sitemap Generators and Tools
A sitemap is not a “one time thing”. WordPress Plugins and add-ons to your blog will automatically generate a new sitemap each time you publish a new post or edit a post to make changes, adding the new information to the sitemap.
During the updating process, errors can happen. Since there is no way, other than closely monitoring your search engine traffic levels, to give you a clue that there’s something wrong with your sitemap, consider adding a regularly scheduled sitemap validation test to your blog maintenance calendar to make sure the sitemap is still working for you.
To validate your XML sitemap, here are some free online sitemap validators:
- KBCafe – Sitemap Validator
- Validome – Sitemap Validator
- Smart IT Consulting – Free Google Sitemap XML Validator and Submitter
Why not test your Google XML Sitemap today, just to make sure it’s working.
Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on Lorelle on WordPress, and is a long time support volunteer for WordPress. Lorelle travels too much and reports about life on the road in Taking Your Camera on the Road and covers family history and genealogy on Lorelle’s Family History, and writes for too many blogs, ezines, and magazines.
The author of Lorelle on WordPress and the fast-selling book, Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, as well as several other blogs, Lorelle VanFossen has been blogging for over 15 years, covering blogging, WordPress, travel, nature and travel photography, web design, web theory and development extensively as web technologies developed.