Google Sitemaps

sitemapI am pleased to announce another great new feature for the v.4.0 gallery sites: Google Sitemaps! You can find this in the admin control panel under Settings > Sitemap. In this post I will first explain a little about what a sitemap is, and then I’ll explain how to use the new feature.

A sitemap is basically an XML-formatted file that lists all of the pages on your website. Google and other search engines have spiders, which are automated programs that periodically crawl through your website to evaluate and index the various pages for their search engines. The spiders can only index pages that they can find through links on your site (or from other sites). This is where the sitemap comes in handy, because it makes it easy for the spiders to see ALL your pages, even if some of them are buried deep in your site or not linked at all.

A sitemap won’t improve your pages’ rankings in the search engines, but they can help to increase the number of your pages that are indexed in the search engines. Another potential benefit is that the sitemap will list all your photos, along with the corresponding title, location, and caption information. This could be beneficial for image search results because it’s telling the spiders the specific information about each image – something that spiders have a hard time doing themselves since they cannot “see” the photos like we humans do.

Here’s how to start using this feature. The sitemap feature is set up to function manually; in other words, you have to select to generate the sitemap for the first time, and each successive time. You can do this in the admin control panel by going to Settings > Sitemap.

The first thing you should do is to determine which pages you do NOT want to be included in the sitemap (or indexed by search engines). These might include galleries that are hidden (such as homepage slideshow galleries, or personal galleries), pages that aren’t relevant (such as the “Missing Page” page), or pages for products that aren’t currently available. You can select all the pages that you want to be excluded, then save.

Once you’ve set your excluded pages, you can then generate the sitemap with the Generate Sitemap button on the top of that page. When you do that, the program will automatically compile all your non-excluded pages from the database (including galleries, photos, non-print products, searches, and misc pages) and will create the sitemap.xml file. It will also link that sitemap.xml file within the robots.txt file so that the search engine spiders know to read it.

Because the sitemap generation is manually triggered, you must do this whenever you want to update the sitemap file. You might ask: why not make the sitemap automatically update whenever photos, galleries, or pages are added? Because in real life usage, things don’t usually happen that cleanly. For example, you might create a new gallery then upload 10 photos to it at once. You will then probably go back and modify each photo to fill in the correct caption and URL info, and you might go back and modify the gallery to add more text and change the formatting. You might not even make the new gallery live until it’s all polished and ready to go. So, we don’t want to jump the gun and update the sitemap when new content isn’t ready for the public yet. That’s why the sitemap updates are manually triggered.

In no instance will a sitemap be detrimental to your search result or page rankings, so you don’t have to worry about updating it all the time. Mainly you’ll just want to update it after you add a gallery or a big batch of photos.

The WideRange Galleries websites are already very search engine friendly, and the various galleries, photos, and pages are already very easily navigable by search engine spiders. Nevertheless, the sitemap will ensure that ALL pages get indexed, and may prove further beneficial for image indexing as well.