Articles written in February, 2011

February 15 2011

How Can I Use Google Webmaster Tools for XML Sitemap Optimization?


Another useful instrument in Google Webmaster Tools is the Sitemap section in Site configuration>>Sitemaps:

Google Webmaster Tools XML Sitemaps Section  
          Figure 1 – Google Webmaster Tools “Sitemaps” Section

You can check your submitted XML Sitemaps in this section and identify which pages from them Google has managed to index. You can also tell if Google had trouble accessing the Sitemap by seeing if there is a checkmark in the “Status” field. That being said, why do we even want to do this? If a site is already “crawlable” in Google’s eyes, why do we need to perform this extra step?

A Sitemap is a true representation of a website’s structure in that it allows Google to access every page that you wish to have crawled, indexed and potentially be a target for search. It also helps augment Google’s crawling and indexing by allowing Google to crawl pages that they would not be able to access otherwise, such as JavaScript enabled links or links using Flash. Once all of the pages from your site that you want Google to know about are included in the Sitemap (50,000 maximum URLs in one Sitemap and 10MB uncompressed file size limit), upload it to the Sitemap section in Google Webmaster Tools by clicking on the “Submit a Sitemap” button:

Google Webmaster Tools  
              Figure 2 — “Submit a Sitemap” Button

Clicking on the above button reveals a field to enter the physical location of the XML Sitemap, which is usually in your website’s root directory, for instance:

Keep in mind that the specific numbers reported in the Sitemaps section of Webmaster Tools only apply to the URLs you submitted in your Sitemap(s), not the amount of pages you actually have in the index; there will always be a discrepancy between the “URLs submitted” and “URLs in web index”:

Google Webmaster Tools  
            Figure 3 – URLs in Web Index

In fact, it is rare that the number of URLs reported in both sections will be the same.   There could be discrepancies because of restrictions on a lot of files in your robots.txt or just duplicate pages that Google has decided not to index.
Just ensure that URLs in your Sitemap are the “canonical” URLs (www or non-www for example). If there are URLs you care about that aren’t in your Sitemap, just add them in and re-submit. Many times, web developers will add multiple pages to a site and forget to update their Sitemaps. This can be problematic if the new pages are not well interlinked on the site. Remember, your site can have the most optimized pages ever created, but all of your hard work will be in vain if Google doesn’t know about them!


February 14 2011

Google and the Power of Search


We all know Google is powerful, but just how powerful is search and how could it be helping your business?   Earlier this month Google posted a pretty neat video to YouTube detailing some of the data they found through their research during 2010. The video is short and worth watching, but some of the highlights are below:

  • 89% of consumers start holiday shopping online
  • Portable PC shoppers do an average of 14 searches during their shopping process
  • 60% of moms search for coupons/special offers online
  • Google provides the most dating site search referrals; 64% become members
  • 70% of TV, Music and Gaming fans visit sites on the Google Display Network daily
  • The Display Network also reaches more vehicle buyers than any other major portal
  • 75% of patients research symptoms online before discussing them with their doctor
  • 40% of travelers search for consumer reviews before booking their next trip

So what does this mean for marketers?  

First and foremost, if your audience is any of these mentioned above, you should at the very least be aware of your online presence. How does your site rank organically for important keywords? Are you running paid search ads through AdWords?   Keep in mind with any campaign you run, (whether it is Search Engine Optimization to help your website’s pages rank well or a paid search campaign where you pay to have a presence for certain keywords or to be on certain websites) you should be tracking your efforts closely. What are these visitors doing when they get to your website?   Are they spending time on your site or are they bouncing? Are they converting or completing the desired action?

There are so many questions to ask. You may not know the answers to all of them, but being aware of the power of search and how users are currently find your website is critical.   If you are in need of an analytics tool, Google Analytics is a great, free tool to help you analyze your site’s visitor behavior.

February 2 2011

Quick Guide to HTTP Status Codes for SEO Best Practices


There will always be times when webmasters need to change a website’s urls, temporarily point one page to another or take down a page (permanently or for routine maintenance). When encountered with these types of situations, many webmasters are unsure of how to handle the task at hand. As these issues are fairly common, we have compiled a bit of information about common HTTP status codes and their uses for you to refer to as needed.

200 OK
We’ll start with the basics. This HTTP status code indicates that the request was successful. You want this for all of your site’s pages (the ones that you want indexed).

301 Moved Permanently
If at any time a URL of a page changes (maybe from a site redesign or a new page has been created to replace an old one), it is recommended to use a 301 Moved Permanently redirect. This code tells search engines that the page should be permanently redirected to the new page. This also helps to make sure users are sent to the correct page.

302 Found
This code should only be used for temporary redirects. The word ‘temporary’ is key. There are very few instances where this type of redirect should be used, but unfortunately it is the easiest to implement, so when trying to implement permanent redirects, we often see that a 302 Found was implemented instead.   With this HTTP status code, Google will continue to crawl and index the original URL.

404 Not Found
A 404 Not Found status code means that the page does not exist. It could have existed in the past, but does not presently.   In most instances, websites will issue the generic 404 page when the requested page cannot be found. However, these pages do not have your site’s navigation and can’t help the user find the information they were originally looking for; this why it is always recommended to create a custom 404 page.  

503 Service Unavailable
Many of you have tired to go to a website and it is down; perhaps due to maintenance tasks taking place. The best thing to do in this situation is to return a 503 HTTP status code. This tells search engines that the site is only down temporarily. Similar to 404 pages, you should also create a custom message explaining when the site might be available again.

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