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Preview: Inside Google Sitemaps

Inside Google Sitemaps

Your source for product news and developments

Updated: 2014-09-30T23:08:31.505-07:00


New name better reflects our commitment to communicate with you


We're surrounded by moving boxes and construction dust. To better reflect our goal to provide tools and information to keep you, the webmasters, informed and help you increase your crawl coverage and visibility on Google, we're renaming Google Sitemaps to Google webmaster tools. The Sitemaps protocol remains unchanged and Sitemaps submission mechanisms and reporting is still available from the Sitemaps tab. We're also renaming our blog and Google Group to be more broadly focused on webmaster topics.

You can find handy links to all the tools, the new blog, Google Group, help center and more from our newly launched Google webmaster central. Join us at the blog's new location at where you'll learn about all the exciting things we're planning. Oh, and please don't forget to update your bookmarks and feed!

BlogHer Tips


Yesterday's post was about how BlogHer attendees (and anyone else) can ensure that their web pages get indexed in Google. Here are more tips:
  • If you want to keep Google from indexing some pages of your site, you can use a robots.txt file, a simple text file that you place in the root of your site. We provide detailed information about creating a robots.txt file. You can also use the robots.txt analysis tool in Google Sitemaps to make sure that your file blocks and allows the pages you intend.
  • If Google has indexed content that you don't want to appear in search results, you have two options:
    • If you want to keep the content on your site, you can block that page with a robots.txt file and then request that we remove the page from our index;
    • If you remove the content from your site (for instance, you decide that you revealed information that is too personal and you edit your blog post), you can request a cache removal.
  • Good content keeps visitors coming back and compels other sites to link to you. In addition to blog posts, you can provide othe types of content, such as video. A number of video hosting sites are available including YouTube, Yahoo! Video, and our very own Google Video. At the conference, some attendees were asking about copyright, and to answer that question, you retain all rights to any content you upload to Google Video.
  • If you're interested in running ads on your site, take a look at AdSense. The ads are related to what you're talking about that day on your blog -- and you can control what ads display.

Time to verify


Very soon, we'll be doing one of our periodic checks of verified sites. As our documentation notes, we do this to make sure that the verification HTML file or meta tag still exists. If we don't find the file or tag during this check, the account will no longer show that site as verified, and you'll no longer have access to diagnostics and statistics. If you find that a site that previously verified no longer is, simply click the "Verify" link on the My Sites page and upload the file or meta tag again.

Back from BlogHer


I just got back from BlogHer, a conference primarily for women about the technical and community aspects of blogging. As a woman who blogs, I had a wonderful time. As a woman who blogs about topics of interest to site owners, I gained some new perspectives.These bloggers tend to already put into practice a lot of the things we tell site owners who ask how to get more of their context indexed and make it easier to find through Google searches. As group, they: Provide unique perspectives and content on topicsThink about their visitors, making sure the sites meet their visitors' needsGive visitors reasons to come back, and other sites reasons to link to them (they update content regularly, and most offer in-depth information, such as tutorials, reviews, or in-depth explanations). The panelists understood visitor awareness. They told the crowd to look closely at their sites to determine how unique they were from other sites out there. They talked about getting visitors to care. This thoughtfulness leads to great sites, which in turn can lead to great search results.Given all of the dedication these bloggers put into their sites, they are of course interested in attracting visitors. Some want the joy of sharing; others are interested in making money from their writing. Here are a few tips to help make your site easier to find, whatever your motivation:1) High-quality links from other sites help bring visitors to your site and can help your site get indexed and well-ranked in Google. The number one question asked at this conference was "What is your site?" People want to know so they can go read it, and if they like it, link to it. But the number one answer to this question was the name of the site, not the URL. Bloggers had T-shirts of their sites available, and many of those didn't have URLs. Tell people your URL so they can find you, read you, and link to you!2) Make sure Google can crawl your site. We use an automated system (called "Googlebot") to visit pages on the web, determine their contents, and index them. Sometimes, Googlebot isn't able to view pages of a site, and therefore can't index those pages. There are two primary things you can do to check your site. a. Read our webmaster guidelines to learn about how we crawl sites and what can make that easier. b. Sign up for a Google Sitemaps account to see a list of errors we encountered when we tried to crawl your site. This way you can find out if we can't reach your site, and why. Once you sign up for a Google Sitemaps account and add your site URL, you need to verify site ownership before you can see diagnostic information. To do this, simply click the Verify link and follow the steps outlined on the Verify page.You can verify site ownership in one of two ways: Upload an HTML file with a specific name to your site Add a tag to your site's home page Once you verify site ownership, you can see other details about your site in addition to errors. For instance, you can see what visitors are searching for when they click in the Google search results. You can see this for visitors searching our web index as well as blogsearch. You can also see what searches visitors do to find your images.You can also see what words other sites use to link to you (which helps explain why your site might show up for searches that you think are unrelated to your site).3) Submit an RSS feed of your site to quickly tell us about all of your pages, so we know to crawl and index them.[...]

Support for Polish


Google Sitemaps has added support for Polish. If you already use Google in Polish, you should see the Sitemaps user interface in Polish automatically. Otherwise, you can click the Preferences link from the Google home page and choose Polish from the interface list.

The webmaster help center is also now available in Polish. This includes all the content in the help center, including our webmaster guidelines. Simply choose "Polish" from the Change Language menu. We also have a Polish Google Group for discussing Sitemaps and other webmaster issues.

More control over titles too


Yesterday we told you that you can use a meta tag to ask us not to use descriptions of your site from the Open Directory Project (ODP) when we generate snippets. Some of you have asked if this meta tag prevents us from using the title from the ODP as well. Yes, this meta tag does apply to both the title and description from the ODP.

Also, as noted in our webmaster help center, you can combine parameters in the meta tag. So, for instance, you could use the following meta tag:

More control over page snippets


The way we generate the descriptions (snippets) that appear under a page in the search results is completely automated. The process uses both the content on a page as well as references to it that appear on other sites.

One source we use to generate snippets is the Open Directory Project, or ODP. Some site owners want to be to able to request not using the ODP for generating snippets, and we're happy to let you all know we've added support for this. All you have to do is add a meta tag to your pages.

To direct all search engines that support the meta tag not to use ODP information for the page's description, use the following:

Note that not all search engines may support this meta tag, so check with each for more information.

To direct Google specifically from using this information to describe a page, use the following:

For more information, visit the webmaster help center.

Once you add this meta tag to your pages, it may take some time for changes to your snippets to appear. Once we've recrawled your pages and refreshed our index, you should see updated snippets.

Tips for Non-U.S. Sites


If you're planning to be at Search Engine Strategies Miami next Monday and Tuesday, stop by and say hi at the Google booth. I'll be there answering any questions you may have about Sitemaps. This event is all about the Latin American market, so here's some information you might find helpful if your site is in Latin America or elsewhere.

If you want your site to show up for country-restricted searches, make sure it uses a country-specific domain (such as If you use a domain that isn't country specific (such as .com), make sure that the IP address of the site is located in that country.

If you want to know what visitors from different countries are searching for, take a look at the query stats in Sitemaps. This lets you see the difference in searches for each location, as well as what languages visitors use to type in their queries.


Yahoo! Merchants get Sitemaps


Yahoo! has announced that it is integrating Sitemaps into Y! Merchant stores. Starting today, Yahoo! merchants can automatically create a Sitemap file for their stores and share information about their site with Google and other search engines to improve their visibility online. With this integration, Yahoo! merchants can also easily verify ownership of their stores -- so they can create a Google Sitemaps account and benefit from the additional reports and tools that show them Google's view of their site.

Get more from the latest release


In response to your requests, our latest release expands some of the features of Google Sitemaps. Here’s a roundup of what’s new.Increased crawl errorsPreviously, we showed you up to 10 URLs for each error type. We now show all URLs we’ve had trouble crawling. We’ve also put 404 (not found) errors in a separate table from other HTTP errors.Just choose an error type and either browse the table using the Next and Previous links or download the entire table as a CSV file.Expanded query statsQuery stats show you the top 20 search queries that brought up your site in the Google search results (both when users clicked on your site in the results and when they didn’t), along with the average top position of your site for that query. Previously, you could view aggregate data across all properties and countries, as well as mobile-specific queries.Now, you can view data for individual properties and countries as well. For instance, you can see the search queries from users searching Google Images in Germany that returned your site in the results. You’ll only see properties and countries for which your site has data.Site owners can also view aggregate information for all properties and languages. Properties include Images, Froogle, Groups, Blog search, Base, and Local. More than 100 countries are available. Previously, query stats were available for sites that were located at the top-level domain (for instance, These stats are now also available for sites located in a subfolder (for instance, number of common wordsOn the Page analysis page, we’ve expanded the list of words we show in the report of common words on your site and in external links to your site from 20 to 75 and we've removed http and www from the words we list.Increased limit of sites and Sitemaps that can be added to an accountIn response to requests, we’ve raised the number of sites and Sitemaps that site owners can add to a Google Sitemaps account from 200 to 500 — a direct result of a request from a Google Group member.robots.txt analysis tool additionOur robots.txt analysis tool is a great way to ensure that the robots.txt file on the site blocks and allows only what’s intended. We’ve added the ability to test against the new Adsbot-Google user agent, which crawls AdWords landing pages for quality evaluation. We only use this bot if you use Google AdWords to advertise your site. You can find out more about this user agent in the AdWords help center.We want to know what you thinkWe are constantly looking to improve Google Sitemaps and appreciate the feedback we get from our Google Group, other places online, and at conferences. But we know that we don’t get to hear from everyone that way. And so, to gather more feedback, we’ve added a rating tool to each feature in Sitemaps. Tell us if you love the feature, would like us to improve it, or if you don’t find it useful. Simply click your choice beside each feature.[...]

Webmaster help center updates


We recently updated our webmaster help center . Two new sections that you may find particularly useful are:
  • Using a robots.txt file
  • Understanding HTTP status codes
Using a robots.txt file
We've added a new section of help topics in the How Google crawls my site section. These topics include information on:
Understanding HTTP status codes
This section explains HTTP status codes that your server might return when we request a page of your site. We display HTTP status codes in several places in Google Sitemaps (such as on the robots.txt analysis page and on the crawl errors page) and some site owners have asked us to provide more information about what these mean.

The Sitemaps Google Group


If you use Sitemaps, you should check our our Google Group. The Sitemaps team monitors this community to learn about any issues Sitemaps regulars may be having, as well as about feature requests and suggestions for enhancements. In addition, the members are great about helping each other out. If you do post a question or issue to the Group, please include your site URL (and Sitemap URL if your question is about a Sitemap) and any error message you received. This enables other Group members to help you more quickly and helps the Sitemaps team troubleshoot issues. We greatly appreciate the Group discussions and use the feedback to make Sitemaps better.

Thanks for your participation and input!

Another update on the site: operator


We've fixed the issue with the trailing slash in site: operator queries. Queries for and should now return the same set of results.

An update on the site: operator


We've fixed the issue with site: queries for domains with punctuation in them. We are still working on site: operator queries for domains that include a trailing slash at the end (such as ), so you may get better results for now by omitting the trailing slash in your queries. The Index Stats page of Google Sitemaps no longer uses the trailing slash for its queries, so you should see correct results when using this page.

Thanks for your feedback and patience.

Live in our hometown


We had a great time at Search Engine Watch Live Seattle last week, answering questions and getting feedback. We even got to meet one of our Google Group members! We wanted to share some of the questions we answered for those who couldn't be there.

When I do a link: search, the results don't include all the links to my site. How can I tell you about the other links?
A search using the link: operator returns only a sampling of pages that link to a site. It doesn't include the full list we know about. We find links to your site through our regular crawling mechanisms, so there's no need to tell us separately. Keep in mind that our algorithms can distinguish natural links from unnatural links.

Natural links are links to your site that develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors. Unnatural links are links to your site placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines. Some of these types of links are covered in our webmaster guidelines:

  • Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
  • Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines.

In general, linking to web spammers and "bad neighborhoods" can harm your site's indexing and ranking. And while links from these sites won't harm your site, they won't help your indexing or ranking. Only natural links add value and are helpful for indexing and ranking your site.

My site participates in an affiliate program. What tips can you provide?
Google's goal is to provide relevant and useful results to searchers. Make sure that your site provides unique content that adds value beyond an affiliate link or the content provided as part of the program. We talk about this in our webmaster guidelines as well:

  • Avoid "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
  • If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.

Look at your site and determine what you can offer that will make searchers want to visit and what can distinguish it from other sites in the same affiliate program. And while we expanded on the information in our guidelines specifically because so many people asked us about their affiliate sites, this information is true for all sites. If there's no added value to users, then it's unlikely that search engines will find added value either.

A few questions from our Google Group


In this post, we thought we'd answer a couple of the questions we've been seeing in the Google Group lately.

Why do I have to add my Sitemap file to my Google Sitemaps account? Can't I just link to it from my site?
There are several reasons we ask you to add the Sitemap file. Here are a couple of them:
  • If you aren't yet indexed, submitting a Sitemap file lets us know about your site--you can proactively tell us about it rather than wait for us to find it.
  • When you add your Sitemap file to your Google Sitemaps account, we can let you know if the file has any errors, and then you can resubmit the file once you've fixed the errors.
My site is indexed using both the www and non-www versions of the domain. How can I fix this?
This can happen when both versions of the domain (for instance, and point to the same physical location, and links to your site use both versions of the URL. To tell us which version you want the content indexed under, we recommend you do a 301 redirect from one version to the other. If your site runs on an Apache server, you can do this using an .htaccess file. You can also use a script. Do a Google search for [301 redirect] for more information on how to set this up for your site. Note that once you implement the 301 redirect, it may take some time for Googlebot to recrawl the pages, follow the redirects, and adjust the index.

If your pages are listed under both versions of the domain, don't use our URL removal tool to remove one version of the pages. Since the pages are at the same physical location for both versions of the domain, using the URL removal tool will remove both versions from the index.

We also suggest you link to other pages of your site using absolute, rather than relative, links with the version of the domain you want to be indexed under. For instance, from your home page, rather than link to products.html, link to . And whenever possible, make sure that other sites are linking to you using the version of the domain name that you prefer.

Issues with the site: operator query


We'd like to give you all a quick update on some of the issues you have been seeing when you do a site: search to see how many pages of your site are in the index. We've been refreshing our supplemental results (you can read more about that in Matt Cutts' blog post) and this refresh has involved some serious changes under the hood. Unfortunately, with change of this scale, there sometimes are bugs. In this case, we found a few bugs that affected the site: operator. Some particular ones you may have noticed are that the following types of queries don't return the correct number of results:

  • site: queries where you type in a trailing slash (such as
  • site: queries for a domain with punctuation (such as site:

We've got fixes for all of these rolling out in the next few days. They didn't come out sooner because we've been testing them thoroughly, making sure you don't get any unexpected surprises.

This bug doesn't involve any pages being dropped from the index. It's the site: operator that isn't working properly. We're freezing all refreshes of the supplemental results until these issues are fixed, and things should be back to normal in a few days. We'll keep you posted when all fixes have been made.

In the meantime, site: queries without the trailing slash may provide a better result (such as If you are checking your site using the Index Stats page of Google Sitemaps, note that it uses the trailing slash in the query, so you may see incorrect results until this bug is fixed.

Thanks for your patience as we resolve this issue.

https verification


Recently, we told you that we were working on making verification of site ownership available for https sites. This is now available, so if you have an https site, you can now verify site ownership and see statistics and diagnostic information.

More about meta tag verification


As we mentioned last week, we've added a new option for verifying site ownership. This method requires that you place a specific tag in the source code of your home page. Many features are available only to site owners and we want as many webmasters as possible to have access. Most site owners who can't upload files or specify names for files should be able to use this new method to verify. For instance, if you use Blogger, you can verify using this option.To verify using the tag, simply click the Verify link for your site, choose Add a meta tag as the verification option, and then copy the tag provided to the section of your home page.This tag looks like this:You must place this meta tag:On the home page of your site (sometimes called the index page or root page).In the source code for that page.In the first section of the page, before the first section.You can't place this tag inside of another tag in the head section.For instance, this is correct:TitleThe meta tag inside the style section is incorrect:Title...The meta tag inside the body section is incorrect:titleThe meta tag on a page with no head section is incorrect:...Below are some questions you might have about verification.I have a blog, and anyone can post comments. If they post this meta tag int a comment, can they can claim ownership of my site?No. We look for this meta tag in the home page of your site, only in the first section and before the first . If your home page is editable (for instance, your site is a wiki-like site or a blog with comments or has a guest book), someone can add this meta tag to the editable section of your page, but cannot claim that they own it.So, how do you generate these cryptic tags anyway?The unique string is generated by base-64 encoding the SHA256 hash of a string that is composed of the email address of the proposed owner of the site (for instance, and the domain name of the site (for instance, this unique string, can someone determine my email address or identity?Short answer, no. Long answer, we use a hashing scheme to compute the contents of the meta tag. Hashes cannot be "decrypted" back into the message.Can the meta tag contents be cracked through a dictionary attack?To reduce the risk of dictionary attacks, we use a random sequence of bytes (called salt) as a seed to the hash function. This makes dictionary attacks much more difficult. Can someone determine if the same webmaster own multiple sites?We use the domain name of your site (for instance, ) to compute the unique string. Based on the contents of the tag, someone can determine if a webmaster owns different sites on the same domain, but not if the webmaster owns sites on different domains. For instance, someone can determine if the same webmaster owns and http://subdomain.example[...]

Updated robots.txt status


Thanks to our users for alerting us to an issue with incorrectly reporting that sites and Sitemaps were being blocked by robots.txt files. We have resolved this issue. If you were unable to add a site or Sitemap because of this issue, you should now be able to add them.

If Sitemaps was reporting that your home page was blocked by robots.txt, you should soon see an updated status. Thanks for your patience as we refresh the display of this data.

If we were incorrectly reporting that your robots.txt file was blocking your Sitemap, you will see an updated status the next time we download your Sitemap.

Thanks as always for your valuable feedback.

A whole new look and a lot more


If you log in to Sitemaps today, you'll notice some changes. We've revamped the interface based on your feedback to make your account easier to use. There's more below on the facelift, but first, here are details about the new features we've added.Since the Google Sitemaps program is built on the idea of two-way communication between Google and webmasters we hope this update gives you as much information as possible to help you debug your site and help ensure it is crawled and indexed as effectively as possible.New verification methodMany features of Sitemaps are available only to site owners. Some of you aren't able to use our existing verification method, so we asked for your feedback on an alternate method of verification that uses a meta tag on the root page of your site. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so we've added this method as an option.To verify ownership of your site using this method, simply click the Verify link for your site, choose Add a META tag as the verification option, and then copy the tag provided to the section of your home page. Once you've done that, select the checkbox and click Verify. We'll post something soon with more details about this.Indexing snapshotThe new Summary page provides a quick snapshot about the state of your site, including: If site is in the index When Googlebot last accessed the home page If some pages of the site are partially indexed If the home page is currently inaccessible If Googlebot has encountered a large number of errors when trying to crawl the site Notification of violations of the webmaster guidelinesWe may use the summary page to tell you if a site has violated the webmaster guidelines so you can correct the problems and request reinclusion.Reinclusion request formThe reinclusion request form is available once you sign in to Sitemaps. Simply sign in, click the link, and fill out the form. This form is also available from the Summary page for sites that show violations. Remember, if your site hasn't violated the webmaster guidelines, there's no need to submit a reinclusion request.Spam reportThe spam report form is available once you sign in to Sitemaps. This form is already available outside of Sitemaps, but we wanted to make it available inside as well for two reasons: so that all tools you need for the Google index are available in one place, and because reports that come from within Sitemaps are from users who are signed in, so your report may receive more in-depth consideration.New webmaster help centerWe've launched a new help center for webmasters as a central place for comprehensive information. It includes the webmaster guidelines and details on Googlebot, crawling, indexing, and ranking--plus information about using Sitemaps. It includes all of the information that was previously located at, as well as much of the information that was located in the Sitemaps documentation. Over time, we'll be adding more information to the help center to answer any questions you might have.Throughout your Sitemaps account, you'll notice a [?] link in places where additional information is available. Simply click the link to access the help center.More about our new lookWe want Google Sitemaps to be easy to use for everyone. You may notice that a few things have moved around. For instance:Adding a SitemapTo add a Sitemap, first add the site. Then, click the Add a Sitemap link beside the site on the My Sites page. To add more Sitemaps for that site, just access the Sitemaps t[...]

Back from Pubcon


We had a great time meeting with webmasters and talking about Sitemaps at Pubcon in Boston. We value feedback and suggestions, and appreciate our Google Group posters. But it's great to be able to talk to webmasters in person too. For those of you who couldn't be there for in-person conversation, here's a recap of the top three questions we were asked.

What's the best way to go about changing domain names?
We've done two blog posts about this that you might find helpful:
Do you have any advice for using a robots.txt file?
We have lots of advice! And if you are thinking of creating a robots.txt file for your site or modifying your existing one, be sure to check out the Sitemaps robots.txt analysis tool so you can test how Googlebot will see your file.

Can you look at my site and tell me how to get better ranking and indexing?
I sat in on the Organic Site Reviews panel, where the panelists were giving out lots of great advice about this. Check out my guest post in Matt Cutts' blog for the highlights.

Thanks to everyone who came up to say hello. And thanks for all the great questions and feedback.

Join us for lunch!


If you're planning to be at PubCon in Boston this week, join us for lunch with Googlers on Tuesday at 12:50. We'll be talking about how to get the most from your Sitemaps account and answering your questions. Hope to see you there!

More third-party tools


We've just updated our list of third-party tools that support Sitemaps. Check it out if you're looking to create a Sitemap.

We appreciate the support of the Sitemaps community and all the hard work that has gone into development of these tools.

Using the lastmod attribute


With our recent infrastructure changes, we've made some minor changes in how we process the lastmod attribute. If you omit the time portion, it defaults to midnight UTC (00:00:00Z). If you specify a time, but omit the timezone, you'll get an invalid date error. You'll also get an invalid date error if you specify an invalid date or time (like February 80th) or the date isn't in the correct format. You'll no longer see errors associated with future dates.

Dates must use W3C Datetime encoding, although you can omit the time portion. For instance, the following are both valid:
  • 2005-02-21
  • 2005-02-21T18:00:15+00:00