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Is it Time for a Sitemap Cleanup?

Some prospective Los Angeles SEO clients come to us wondering why their rankings are suffering, despite the fact that they’ve seemingly done everything right. Often, in situations like this, the issue is almost always a relatively small human oversight that turns out to carry a lot of weight with search engines. When this is the case, one potential culprit could actually be the sitemap.

Having a “dirty” sitemap on one’s site can cause Google and Bing to lose trust in the entire domain; in fact, Duane Forrester from Bing explained that the search engine has “very little tolerance” for dirty sitemaps, and Eric Enge, formerly of Google, once said that the company had a “1% allowance for dirt in a sitemap.” The reason for this is that every time a bad sitemap is generated, it fills the search engines with bad URLs.

What constitutes a dirty sitemap? Namely, these two problems:

  • Too many bad URL redirects, such as 404, 302 and 500 errors
  • Numerous IP address-based URLs, as opposed to using the domain name (this looks like duplicate content to search engines)

How to Tell if Your Sitemap is Dirty

During a website audit, a good SEO company can determine if your sitemap needs a cleanup. In the meantime, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to gain insight into the viability of your sitemap. Using Webmaster Tools, you want to look for the indexed-to-submitted ratio of your website pages. Here is how to do it:

  • Go to Webmaster Tools
  • Go to Crawl > Sitemaps
  • This should reveal the number of pages you have submitted in the sitemap
  • It will also reveal the number of pages that are indexed

If your sitemap is clean, then the ratio that shows should be as close to 1:1 as possible. If it is not clean, you will see a low indexed-to-submitted ratio (meaning your number of indexed pages will be significantly lower than the number of pages submitted).

How to Clean up Your Sitemap

In addition to eliminating error pages, another goal for cleaning up a sitemap should be to only provide canonical URLs (aka “normalized” URLs). URL canonicalization is the process by which URLs are modified in a consistent manner, the point being to indicate the “preferred” version of a page (i.e., a product listing page) that is also featured on other URL.

This applies heavily to product listing pages because products can be listed on various URLs throughout a site, and the site owner does not want to be flagged for duplicate content. Indicating a canonical URL for each product listing shows Google which page you believe is the best one for searchers to view that specific product. You are essentially telling Google which page is the most important when it comes to that listing.

Here is an example of the code Google Webmaster Tools recommends for canonicalizing your pages:

<link rel="canonical" href="">

Hiring a Sitemap Cleaning Service

If you have performed the indexed-to-submitted page audit through Google Webmaster Tools, and believe that your sitemap is dirty because you noticed a bad indexed-to-submitted ratio, then a good SEO company can be a sitemap cleaning service. The Los Angeles SEO professionals at Crest Media can perform their own audits, and determine the precise cause of your low rankings. Then, they can canonicalize your pages as needed and eliminate all bad URLs from your sitemap.

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