Search Engine Optimization
A cursory search using the term Search Engine Optimization turned up the topic of sitemaps – and one link I followed went to a tutorial on www.seochat.com entitled, Put Your Site on the Map with Google Sitemaps (written by Dan Wellman).
I learned that sitemaps are simple xml files that basically lay out a map of your site – every distinct url/page of your site is listed in an xml document with some optional attributes that describe how frequently a page is updated, the last time you changed it and how important a page is to the site.
Google’s layout for a sitemap is as follows:
<? Xml version=”1.0” encoding=”utf-8” ?>
So the snippet of xml above basically says my site has a url/page called http://www.TheBestSiteInTheWorld.com/index.html and it was last changed on January 1, 1990, it’s never updated and its priority on that web site is nil.
Pretty simple to do – just rinse, lather and repeat for each page on your site. Wellman mentions that sitemaps are no guarantee of improving your page ranking beyond lottery odds, but it’s apparently a good method for helping search engines (especially google) index your site completely and get a better picture. And anything that accurately describes your presence to a search engine has to be good, right?
So once you whomp up a tidy batch of site describing xml, the next step is toddle off to all the search engines and submit the thing for their consumption.
Google is my first stop – because it’s Google, after all. The first step was logging in to my Google account and going to the section for web masters. I already submitted a site url so now the next step was submitting the sitemap. To do this Google makes you verify your authority by either uploading a uniquely named html page to the root of the site – if you have access to change files on the server then you the man.
The next step is making sure the sitemap is as close to root as possible in your site’s directory. Then use a form on Google’s web master pages to tell them the exact address of the file. I got a message saying it could take several hours for reports to be updated – whatever that meant. In any case I was off and running.
Next up, Yahoo. I had to do a Yahoo search on how to submit a url and sitemap so their process is not quite as intuitive or friendly as Google’s. Yahoo makes you create an account which is a standard practice. Submitting a url and sitemap was easy, but the confirmation page didn’t display in Opera so I had to switch to Internet Explorer to make sure the transaction was completed.
Yahoo also uses an authentication method for making sure you have the authority to speak for the site in question. Their authentication takes significantly longer to process than Google’s. Yahoo says to keep an authentication html page on the site’s root until Yahoo gets around to checking it out. In fact, over 24 hours after submitting the site for authentication Yahoo still hadn’t gotten around to it. Whatever – I’ll leave their verification file on the site and hope their bot grabs my sitemap at some point.
As it turns out MSN Search (or Live Search or whatever they call themselves this year) does not accept sitemaps. Which is fine – but they don’t explicitly STATE that they don’t accept sitemaps – so if you don’t know any better you’re left to slog thru all their webmaster links looking for something that doesn’t exist.
What’s left? Surely Yahoo, Google and MSN Live Search aren’t the only stars in the search engine universe. Wikipedia has an article listing all manner of search engines encompassing general search engines, open source search engines, regional, email, etc. I went to a few of the general search engines (Exalead, Gigablast, Wisenut and Snap). It was a good thing I didn’t have any expectations – basically I could submit a url to their index and that was it.
Google seems to be the only engine that offers a mechanism for measuring the effectiveness of your sitemap by letting you know how their bot views your site.
I think the next topic to tackle is key words and search terms. My wife hates that standard key word searches for her business turn up nothing.