I read questions about Google’s Sitemaps pretty regularly. Generally, they follow this general shape: “Should I use Google’s Sitemaps to get my site indexed/improve my rankings/escape the sandbox?” My answer is pretty much always the same: No. To put it simply, most people are just asking the wrong question. The value of Google’s Webmaster Central resources, and particularly the Sitemap protocol (which is now an accepted shared format for Google, Yahoo! and Live,) is information.

There are no automatic benefits to Sitemaps – this isn’t the infamous mass search engine submission of the late ’90’s. If you create a Sitemap and tell a search engine about it, they’ll happily crawl it. They’ll eagerly learn what you want to tell them about your site: what pages you consider most important, how frequently that page might be updated and when it was most recently updated. Having learned this, they might weight that factor in consider what pages to crawl and when. And, although I can’t say this with any authority, they won’t add your site to the Google Index just because you’ve submitted a Sitemap.

The Sitemap is more for you and your business than it is for Google. If you take a few minutes to look at the information that Google will give you about your site you can learn incredibly valuable information for your business.

What information can you learn from Google Sitemaps?

  1. Crawl Data.

    When was your site last visited? Does your site have pages included in Google’s Index? What kind of errors has the Googlebox found? Talk about troubleshooting – has your traffic dropped abruptly? Well, maybe you should log in to Sitemaps and see what’s up. They might even tell you whether you’ve violated their guidelines – in which case you can immediately correct the problem and beg forgivenessrequest reinclusion.

    Maybe you’ve caused the problem yourself: have you blocked Google from your site using your Robots.txt file? Whoops! Google will tell you, and even allow you to actively test different versions of robots.txt so you can determine what you need to change.

  2. Query Statistics.

    A search marketing campaign lives and fights on a diet of statistics. All of these statistics tell you valuable information: and Google is willing to provide you with a handful of very valuable information through the Webmaster Central console. If you’re interested in PageRank, for example, you can see how PageRank is distributed amongst your pages. And if you think that the trifold distribution graphs are too simplistic: well, PageRank is already a simplified system. Don’t worry about it.

    More importantly, you’ve got access to Query stats. What could possibly be more valuable than information from Google explicitly telling you a) what search terms have brought your site into the search results, b) what rank in the search results pages you had for that term, c) what search terms actually brought traffic to your site and d) what position in search results pages you had for those terms.

    Maybe you don’t know how these could be useful: but this is some of the most valuable information you’ll find anywhere. You’ll learn what terms are going to show your site; and you’ll learn what terms will actually bring traffic. You can download this information in a variety of formats and track it to keep a very close look on your site’s behavior. This can easily be the first indicator you’ll have that something is changing in your site’s indexing and ranking.

  3. Page Analysis

    You can easily find out what the most common words are in your site. Google tells you this; but there are many other ways of getting that informations. It is, however, much more difficult to learn what the most common words appear in the text of links pointing to your site. Google will supply that information. At the moment, at least, they aren’t giving rich statistics: just a list in no obvious order which states the most common terms found. Nonetheless, if you’re not finding a good match between common link texts and your site’s content, you might need to think about how to build more valuable links. It’s information, and you can use it.

But this is just a sample of what’s available from Google Webmaster Central: setting the speed with which your site will be crawled by Googlebot, choosing your domain suffix preference (www or non-www), joining the enhanced image search program: all possibilities from Webmaster Central. The service is changing rapidly – to follow Sitemaps updates you’ll want to stay tuned to the Google Webmaster Central Blog, where Vanessa Fox and her team provide news covering uses of Webmaster Central as well as new features and processes they’re offering.