A SEJ reader sent in the following question:
Is it a must to create a sitemap for your site and submit it to Google? Can it harm?
This is an often asked question, surprisingly. Webmaster forums keep discussing horror stories how their site traffic dropped after they created a sitemap and submitted it to Google Webmaster Tools. So here I am giving a list of frequently asked sitemap-related questions to cover all this FUD.
Is a sitemap a must for a newly launched site?
No, decent link structure and well-formed semantic structure should come in the first place.
Does a Sitemap help in indexing new sites?
The only role of a sitemap is to discover new sites and new URLs. This doesn’t mean Google will spider or index them. However there have been rumors that sitemaps might help in faster crawling and indexing and even in long-tail ranking.
If a page is not included in a sitemap, will that encourage Google to devalue it or even drop out of index?
No, a sitemap only gives Google additional information on an URL structure; it doesn’t mean Google will crawl only your sitemap once you submit it to your Webmaster tools.
Are there still any tricks to speed up indexing with a sitemap?
It’s might be up for debate, but higher <changefreq> settings might help the site in faster indexing and better rankings.
What format is preferable if I want to submit my Sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools?
If you have less than 5000 URLs in your sitemap, both compressed and non-compressed formats will do.
Do I need to include any other type of content (e.g. image or video files) to my sitemap.
The general rule of thumb is to keep specific content that can be ranked. That said, as you don’t (and can’t) expect images to be ranked in general search, don’t include them in your general sitemap. It is wise to use different sitemap format for other types of search results:
- Geo Sitemap to help make your content searchable in Google Earth and on Google Maps.
- Video Sitemaps to help Google find and rank your videos in Google Video Search.
- Mobile Sitemaps intended for mobile search index.
- News Sitemap intended for Google News Search.
Can sitemaps be harmful to your site?
Rumor has it, after adding a sitemap to Webmaster Tools, you might see more pages in index but much less traffic.
Besides, sitemaps are reported to make scrapers’ life easier by providing a clear website structure. What’s more, some free sitemap generators seem to be saving and then using the generated data.
Conclusion? I for one have never had any bad experience with sitemaps (though I keep reading about it now and then and agree there is probably no smoke without the fire). On the other hand, I haven’t seen any major effect either. Still I don’t think Google is so evil that it offers a tool and than turns it for bad (call me naive).