Search Engines Unite On Sitemaps Autodiscovery

Last November, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo united to support sitemaps, a standardized method of submitting web pages through feeds to the search engines. Today, the three are now joined by Ask.com in supporting the system and an extension of it called autodiscovery. This is where the major search engines will automatically locate your sitemaps file if the location is listed in a robots.txt file. Announcements are up from Google and Ask now Yahoo and Microsoft.

Information on how to create sitemaps files can be found at the Sitemaps.org site. Aside from the sitemaps XML formal, you can also provide RSS 2.0 or Atom 0.3 or 1.0 feeds. That’s handy for those with blogs that already generate these feeds.

Sitemaps XML files too complicated? Don’t run a blog? Note that the site has newly expanded information on how you can submit a simple list of URLs in a text file.

In the past, if you created a sitemaps file, you then had to manually tell the search engines where to find it. With today’s announcement, search engines will check your robots.txt file for a link to a sitemaps file, then get the file from that location. This is a big plus because all the major search engines regularly check robots.txt files as part of their ordinary crawling.

To add the location, just put a line like this anywhere in your robots.txt file:

Sitemap: LOCATION-OF-SITEMAPS-FILE

Replace the LOCATION-OF-SITEMAPS-FILE with the actual location. For example, if you ran a site at mywonderfulsite.com and had a sitemaps file called allmypages.xml in your top level, the reference would be like this:

Sitemap: http://mywonderfulsite.com/allmypages.xml

Have more than one sitemaps file? Ideally, you’d create a special “sitemaps index” file that links to all of them, then put a link to the sitemaps index file in your robots.txt file. If that sounds like too much work, you can have more than one sitemaps URL listed in the robots.txt file.

Aside from autodiscovery, you can also ping Google and Yahoo with the location of your file. The Sitemaps.org site has more instructions on this in general. For specifics:

  • Google: See here. Note that this pinging is different than the pinging Google also supports for blog search.
  • Yahoo: See here and here. Unlike Google, the same pinging system is used for both web and blog search, to my understanding.

Both Google and Yahoo also allow you to manually submit sitemaps files. In both cases, doing this via their Google Webmaster Central or Yahoo Site Explorer systems gives you access to specialized monitoring and reporting tools or information on how they crawl you.

For more about these tools, or how each individual search engine handles sitemaps files, please see the links below:

Keep in mind that Microsoft and Ask are still lacking references to sitemaps information, but I expect this will change over time.

For related coverage, see here and here on Techmeme.

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