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Sitemap (n): A file placed on your web server, in XML format, to alert search engines to a website’s existing pages. Submitted manually to search engines using Webmaster Tools.

I just made up that definition, but it is also deceptive. I’ve been in web development for about 5 years, and I still hate sitemaps. At least, I did. I do sometimes.

Sitemaps can be incredibly helpful for websites, especially new websites, when trying to be discovered and ranked by search engines. They can be easy or terribly difficult to create, depending on the size, scope, and format of your website. I’ll cover this in a later post.

Basic Sitemaps for Beginners

Sitemaps for indexing, and therefore SEO, purposes are created in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) format. To learn more about the format for XML sitemaps, read this article on Sitemaps.org, the first result when you search “xml sitemap format”, and a surprisingly good resource for beginning.

A sitemap can, and possibly should, be generated every time you update your website by adding a new content page or blog post. Sitemaps should be placed in the root folder of your domain (so if your website is http://littlebluewidgets.com, your sitemap path should read http://littlebluewidgets.com/sitemap.xml).

Now, this is not an error-proof way of telling the search engines that you have a sitemap or that they should look for it. After all, if they have not yet found your site, a sitemap simply being placed in your root folder is not going to do you any good. You should use the search engine webmaster tools.

Webmaster Tools

Both Google and Bing have been nice enough to provide webmasters (and SEOs) with Webmaster Tools. Google’s is found here and Bing’s is found here. You must register your website with each tool and then place the given code into your site’s header (or use Yoast SEO for WordPress to do it automatically on your WordPress blog). Wait a few minutes (I usually wait a couple hours) and then verify your site.

Once inside, find the Sitemaps area where you can submit the path of your sitemap on your website.

Google

To find the sitemaps area in Google, simply log into your Webmaster account and click your website. Once the Dashboard appears, click “Submit a Sitemap”, which is found in the lower right-hand corner of the page.

Click "Submit A Sitemap" to move to the Sitemaps page

When you move to the Sitemaps window, click the “Submit A Sitemap” button and the below window will appear:

Google Sitemaps Window

Click "Submit A Sitemap" and enter your sitemap path

If you have entered the correct path, you should see a green check mark under the Status column.

Now on to Bing!

Bing

Submitting a sitemap to Bing is a bit trickier. Once you sign into Bing Webmaster Tools and select your website, you will land on the Dashboard page. Click the “Crawl” section, which is just to the right of “Dashboard” on the top navigation.

Bing Dashboard Screenshot

Click "Crawl" to move to the next step.

Once in the Crawl section, click “Sitemaps” on the left side of the screen:

Bing Crawl Webmaster Tools

Click "Sitemaps" to progress to the next step

Then click “Add Sitemap” and the following screen will appear:

Sitemaps for Beginners

Enter your sitemap path into this box

As long as your sitemap is in its proper place and you designate the correct path, you should see “Success” under the “Status” column.

Conclusion

I have taken you through the steps to submit your sitemap to the main search engines, Google and Bing. I highly recommend that you use a website CMS or blogging platform that allows you to automatically generate and submit your sitemap to the search engines.

I personally use Yoast SEO for WordPress, which I use to update the sitemap (I’ll be doing so directly after this post goes live) and ping Google and Bing to alert them that I have updated my website. This increases the likelihood of your new content being indexed.

Questions? Comments? Leave them in the Comments section!

Do you ever long for the days of 1950′s or 1960′s America, where most Americans lived in small towns, walked to the corner store for groceries, knew their neighbors across the white picket fence, and used word-of-mouth as their gauge for knowing where to eat and who to do business with? I think we’re heading back this way with the advent of brands and, in my work circle, brand SEO.

A Bit of Explanation

A lot of talk in SEO circles recently has revolved around domain and author authority. Bing’s Director recently said on SEOmoz’s White Board Friday that they are taking author authority into account as a ranking signal. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Anti-Spam team, has also said that author and domain authority are ranking factors for GOOG’s SERPs.

The recent talk I just referred to is brands. More namely, the increased importance of brands on the Internet, of recognizeable, established brands that have earned the right to speak in their specific space. When I talk about smartphones, what brand come to mind? When I mention MP3s, what brand? How about tablet computers? What makes this brand stand out? Yes, they make great products (I’m writing this post on one), but what else?

Why Are Brands Good?

My answer to the above questions? Transparency. Openness. No, I am not talking about throwing all possible ideas out into public for everyone to see. I’m talking about Steve Jobs responding to customer emails (even if they’re not always nice). I’m talking about Bing’s Director, Stefan Weitz, talking to Rand Fishkin on White Board Friday. Shoot, I’m even talking about SEOmoz’s TAGFEE code of conduct.

Brands encourage openness. Personal openness, fiscal openness, corporate openness (treating employees well comes to mind). Over the past decade, and especially the last 3 years, America has been rocked by corporate scandal after corporate scandal. Enron. The 2008 US recession. Circuit City. Obviously the idea that corporations should keep all expense sheets, CEO salaries, and employee bonuses behind closed doors has not worked.

How Might Brand SEO Look?

Brand SEO will also have to involve transparency from the practitioners. I think that as established physical brands increasingly move to the online space (and there is talk that they should not), they should be more concerned than JCPenney was about their marketing professionals and online reputation. This will involve a greater push by the internal marketing execs to have more oversight over their contractors and consultants, which in the end will provide a more robust ethical approach to search, business, and marketing.

How will the details of brand SEO be different from current day? Maybe they will not differ significantly, but I would bet that the practice of buying links will become less widespread, as more SEO professionals seek to be white-hat because of the increased exposure, which we have seen in recent weeks, when the dark-arts practitioners are caught. I think linkbuilding will become more of an art, requiring skilled writers and PR professionals, which will also cause SEOs to become more well-rounded than currently (which is saying something).

Concluding Thoughts

I love working in SEO. I get frustrated when I have to keep things secret, when I have to try to cover someone’s unwillingness to be transparent about their business. I think using brand recognition and authority, and thus author authority and recognition, as ranking signals will make our lives, and search results, better because some voices, the trusted voices, will count more than others. We can no longer trust a number (PageRank) because it can be tricked.

We once again have to trust people. Yes, we trust that these people have not been paid by someone to endorse a product, and also have to trust that even if they have been, they would not agree to the money unless they truly believed in the product. We are returning to the spirit of the days when we would call Mom when wonding where we should eat, instead of stopping a stranger on the street to ask their input, which is essentially what we have been doing with many search engine results.

Long live brands, I say. These are exciting times.

I set up a WordPress.com blog account around the beginning of January because I had heard increasingly more about WordPress since I began my job in the Search Engine Optimization industry. I wanted to create a personal portfolio website that I could use my developing SEO skills on, as well as publishing my writing about SEO, Social Media, and Book Publishing.

I quickly realized that WordPress.com was not for me, because you had to pay for every upgrade, to edit the CSS, to use a custom domain name (that I had already bought elsewhere), and to add plugins and widgets. It was not to be.

I decided to migrate my website to WordPress.org. Here’s what happened, and also how you can solve the problems.

Migrating to WordPress.com when your domain name is already assigned to WordPress.com

First, WordPress offers a great 5-minute Installation Guide that is pretty accurate and helpful. I suggest reading it first and reading the rest of this post if it does not help you.

After I signed up with Bluehost as my hosting provider and installed WordPress using SimpleScripts, I changed the nameservers over at my domain host (GoDaddy) to point to the WordPress nameservers (note: if you have multiple domains, make sure that you change the correct one. My first mistake.) When I went to load my new site, however, I was still accessing my old WordPress.com site instead of the new WordPress.org installation.

Here are the steps I took to solve the issue

First, I deleted the domain name from my WordPress.com account. I had already set it up to forward to my WordPress.com URL. Even after I deleted the domain from WordPress.com, it still took about 30 minutes to propogate. I chose to take a shower.

Second, I uninstalled and reinstalled WordPress on Bluehost using SimpleScripts. They actually make it very easy. One note: Unless you want them to automatically generate you an account access username and password combination, click “Advanced Settings” and set your own.

Third, I set my GoDaddy nameservers back to the default. Once that change took effect, I was able to change them to the Bluehost default nameservers (ns1.bluehost.com and ns2.bluehost.com).

What I Learned

Don’t skip steps. Pay attention to what you are doing. No seriously. If your changes are not taking effect, backtrack everything you have done, short of paying for your host and domain name again, and start over. If your domain name is assigned to a WordPress.com account, delete it from your WordPress.com account without forwarding it before you change nameservers

Questions: Have you encountered these issues before? What did you do to correct? What advice would you offer to someone self-hosting a website for the first time?