Content syndication has made it necessary for all webmasters to maintain a good XML sitemap as a reliable way of establishing your website as the first source of any syndicated content. In the past, when life was simple and search engines nowhere near as complicated as they are today, most of us never bothered much about XML sitemaps. However, over time it has become quite apparent that XML sitemaps are very beneficial to technical SEO.
What functions do XML sitemaps serve?
XML sitemaps basically communicate with search engines, alerting them of new or altered content in your site. They do this very fast, ensuring that any new content posted on your website is indexed in the shortest time possible. If you are a content publisher, you need to alert Google that you are the original publisher of any new content you post on your site primarily because of one reason; the Panda update.
Panda and the question of duplicate and syndicated content
It has almost become common practice for publishers to syndicate their original content on other relevant websites. Similarly, more and more publishers are now seeing their content being curated in other sites without having entered into an official syndication agreement with the “content curators”, if we may call them that.
It is so unfortunate that the term and practice of content curation is not clearly defined anywhere. For instance, in a Google search for a certain article, I came across more than 47 copies of the same article in different websites, which were not actually authorized copies.
What publishers need to know is that the stakes are quite high with Google when you allow your content to be syndicated whether with your permission or not. If you remember it right, one of the key things addressed by the Panda algorithm update was the elimination of duplicated content from the SERPs. This actually means if your site is not seen as the original publisher of the content in question, then you’ll probably be the one missing from the search engine results, regardless of whether you are the true owner of the content or not. It’s such a sad state of affairs, but there are ways to ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
The easiest and most effective way of establishing your stake as the original owner of any content you post on your site is by the use of XML sitemaps.
How does XML sitemaps establish you as the content originator?
From a theoretical point of view, when you post original content, the XML sitemap alerts Google immediately of new content in your site, giving you the first indexed timestamp for the content. Having the earliest timestamp establishes you as the content originator. Consider a person who does not use XML site maps. By the time Google has indexed their new content, syndicating sites will have curated the content and already indexed by Google as the original publishers. You need XML sitemaps in this age of syndicated content and Panda.
Using XML sitemaps
The first step is obviously to create your site’s XML sitemap. There are good content management systems that automatically generate XML sitemaps. If you use WordPress, you may need to install the Yoast SEO Plugin because WordPress does not come with built-in capability to generate sitemaps. Ensure that you have the latest version of Yoast SEO plugin. You can also use tools such as xml-sitemaps.com to create XML sitemaps if you do not use WordPress or any other CMS that auto-generates XML sitemaps. However, you will have to regularly update the sitemap manually to ensure all the information it provides is accurate and updated.
For owners of large websites, you will be required to have a sitemap index. This is because search engines generally index the initial 50,000 URLs in any sitemap. With over 50,000 URLs in your site, you will have to bundle several sitemaps together using a sitemap index. You can learn more about this at sitemaps.org.
Once you have created your sitemaps, the next thing will be to register them with the top search engines. You can register sitemaps and RSS feeds at Google and Bing via Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools. This step helps the search engines to locate your sitemap for faster indexing of new content every time the sitemap is updated. Google and Bing will receive a signal about the new content you have either created or updated in your site before the content curators find it.
Submitting a sitemap to either Google or Bing is quite simple. For Google, go to Google Webmaster Tools and select “Sitemaps” just under “Crawl”, then click the red button marked “Add/Test Sitemap.” You can then simply enter your sitemap’s URL and click the submit button.
The process is almost the same with Bing. Log in to its webmaster tools, go to “Configure My Site”, choose “Sitemaps”, paste your sitemap URL in the box labeled “Submit a Sitemap” and then simply click submit.
Registering sitemaps with Google furthermore helps you identify sitemap errors as they will be clearly shown in Google Webmaster Tools. There are also sitemaps for mobile, video, and image content.