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It’s that time of year again, aromas of spruce trees, turkey and brandy soaked puddings caress cold noses, blinking lights adorn our streets & houses, lofty voices send carols spilling from warmly lit churches and bloggers sit hunched over keyboards, tinsel reflecting in their monitors as they fervently hammer away posting end of year lists.

Here at Receptional, we decided to get into the the traditional Christmas spirit, jump on the yuletide bandwagon and compile a list of our own. So, without further ado, prepare to countdown with us the snappily named Top Five Most Common SEO Issues as Seen by Receptional in 2011.

Every day this week we’ll be posting a common SEO problem that we’ve encountered time and time again. Unless a website has already been properly optimised for organic search, I can almost guarantee it will suffer from at least one of these issues.

We start the countdown today at number five

Der Der Der Dun-Dun-Dun, Der Der Dun Duuuuuuuun

And it’s a new entry, and one that might raise an eyebrow or two…

XML Sitemaps

It has long been a staple practise of SEOs to lament webmasters for not including a sitemap, and indeed the logic makes sense, why not use every available opportunity to slap Google in the face with your content?

If you have a news website with very frequently changing content, part of your business model is getting your content out there before others. In this case, there can be an argument for using a sitemap. Also, if your site suffers from serious technical issues, a sitemap may be the only means of your content getting indexed. That of course is a separate issue and the technical problems need to be addressed if the site has any chance of ranking anyway.

Aside from these exceptions, the notion that every website should have an XML sitemap is flawed, and don’t let an SEO tell you otherwise!

XML Sitemap

Just an example, we practise what we preach and do not have a sitemap on receptional.com!

 

If a search engine knows that your website exists, it should be able to navigate your entire website and discover all of the links (and content) that exists (in the same way that a website visitor would). In this case, a sitemap should not therefore be required.

Furthermore, if a sitemap is used where technical issues are not present, there is a real possibility that it could be doing more harm than good. Creating a custom sitemap for a website runs the risk of presenting search engines with outdated URLs, omitted URLs, poorly prioritised URLs and generally adversely affecting crawl behaviour. Ultimately this will negatively influence the natural crawl behaviour of the search engines.

Then there’s the maintenance. Even if a webmaster manages to produce an error-free sitemap, he or she then must remember to frequently update it, before (as we’ve seen on multiple occasions) it sits there behind the scenes, merrily promoting low quality URLs and discontinued product pages over important, top level content.

 

Old map

Are you mapping outdated content? Image via caveman_92223 on Flickr

 

Now in theory, if said webmaster or perhaps a marketing agency manages to create this perfect sitemap, and then manages to create a perfect maintenance process – perhaps even automating it, there may be an argument to use it. The bottom line is, we’ve never seen a sitemap that didn’t contain errors.

Moreover, working on such a sitemap is just a monumental waste of time, time that could be spent on more useful techniques that actually have some impact. Your agency’s opinion may differ here, and I’m sure they’ll say something along the lines of “Sitemaps are a key component of our value-added, outside-the-box SEM-SEO-CRO strategy” and proceed to argue the case for charging you the time.

We have long held the stance that any XML sitemap does not help boost your organic rankings performance, rather more often than not it could be having a detrimental effect.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on sitemaps, and I wonder how many agencies side with us on this issue? Leave your comments below, and look out for tomorrows exciting instalment when we unveil number 4 in The Top Five Most Common SEO Issues as Seen by Receptional in 2011.