Most Common SEO Issues 2011 Countdown – Number Five

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Respect to Joost, but I do agree with this blog post – quite often in the past I’ve seen clients cripple sites by putting up XML sitemaps where one was not needed – in one case it referred to a different site entirely!

    In WordPress its easy, but quite often agency clients have weird and wonderful CMS’ which can hardly handle a title tag change, let alone an XML sitemap. Its precisely why they hire an SEO agency in the first place, to help prioritise changes.

    So whilst yes, if you can maintain it and be trustful of it staying up to date an XML sitemap can be useful, for a lot of sites its just one more admin task to be added to a huge list which is unnecessary.

    XML sitemaps do however get more and more important the larger the website, which by the time you’re in the 10k pages mark, you should have automation helping with your tasks anyhow.

  2. Excuse me but: what nonsense. A good XML sitemap would be automated and does not contain errors. A good example? Mine. That’s generated by my free WordPress SEO plugin, which you can find here. So I don’t think your clients have a problem with XML Sitemaps, your clients have a problem with using the wrong kind of software for which generators like these are not readily and freely available.

    I agree that not every website needs a sitemap, but this site, and especially the blog, would definitely benefit from one.

  3. *perhaps* even automating it? Really? I’m the inhouse to a travelagency and our site has about 40K pages, 100K+ images and hundreds of pages are updated every day.

    My webdeveloper spent a whopping 2 days coding a cronjob that rewrites the XML’s daily, including URL’s, images, lastmod timestamp etc.

    It more than doubled the indexed pages, and the traffic from google images.

    Also, feeding the XML’s in webmastertools gives back a host of information on issues that might be going on that could be overlooked in a site this size.

  4. I think there’s a need to be clear about why sitemaps are listed here as a common issue. It isn’t:

    – Because it’s not possible to automate a sitemap effectively
    – Because sitemaps must necessarily contain errors or misleading information
    – Because no site can benefit from a sitemap

    Rather, the reason we are raising the issue of sitemaps is because in almost every case when we checka site’s sitemap, it contains errors, non-canonical URLs, missing URLs and misleading priorities.

    I’m happy to stick my neck out and say that a sitemap that (for instance) lists non-canonical URLs is worse than having no sitemap at all.

    What’s happened is that Google and variosu SEOs have pushed everybody – whether they have technical expertise or not – into the idea of a sitemap as a “must have” necessity of SEO. In my experience, that’s far from the case for a typical website.

    A typical website needs to sort out the basics long before they should be thinking of sitemaps. And when they are at the stage of thinking about sitemaps, there should be a clear reason why the sitemap is being created that can then be measured. And those reasons must not include the need to fix basic spiderability and canonicalisation issues. Otherwise your sitemap is hurting, not helping you.

  5. You are absolutely right, sitemap creates a good impact on the visitor. From that single page the visitors a handsome knowledge about the site, so they look for a sitemap page now a days.
    Now lets come to the context of SEO, through site we are forcing the search engine spider to crawl over all the desired links, without actually writing them all and also in every page……

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