Google Sitemaps provides better, fresher crawls of Web pages

Free beta service helps you find and fix problems that hurt your search rankings

Web analytics products such as ClickTracks and HitsLink indicate how sites fare in search rankings, but they do little to help fix poor-performing Web properties. Google Sitemaps fills that void.

Currently in beta, Google Sitemaps allows you submit URLs to the Google index and inform Google when these pages change. Certainly, having Google index deep pages benefits many organizations; e-tailers, for example, could increase revenue because potential buyers find items that might ordinarily fall into an indexing crevasse.

Google Sitemaps is complemented by Sitemap Generator, a Python script for creating sitemap files. These contain the actual list of URLs in XML. Google also accepts sitemap files in OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting) or text.

Sitemap Generator performed well in my tests. It works by scanning URL lists, access logs, or directory paths. Moreover, pages you submit can be for traditional Web sites plus those that serve content for mobile devices. Flexibility aside, Generator runs on the Web server and requires that you control it though a CLI -- a scenario some IT departments will not allow. However, Google lists various utilities and code snippets (many free) that could be used for building sitemaps remotely.

Sitemaps provides very helpful reports. I displayed the top queries on Google that returned pages from my site. Additionally, I saw how many of those results directed traffic to my site. Another report lists common words in your site content.

Equally helpful are troubleshooting reports, including the percentage of pages that were crawled successfully and pages that the Googlebot could not access. Turning to the robots .txt analysis, I quickly discovered that a certain section of my site was inadvertently blocked. Even better: You can simulate changes to the robots.txt file, see how Google crawlers will react, and make sure there are no errors before changing the robots.txt file on your site.

Similarly, Sitemaps’ error report lists pages and the specific problem Googlebot encountered. Fixing these issues -- such as broken redirects -- can quickly increase your crawl coverage.

Google Sitemaps Beta is available for free.