Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft have all announced in their blogs that they’re teaming up to set a standard for sitemaps, those files that list all the pages on a Web site. It’s useful for a search engine to have all the listings in one place so that a site can be indexed without anything being missed. Though what I’m missing here is Ask.com; why aren’t they participating in this? At any rate the new protocol has been released under Creative Commons, so other search engines can pick up on it if they like.
Yahoo’s announcement of the cooperation’s at http://www.ysearchblog.com/archives/000380.html ; the site itself is http://www.sitemaps.org/ . Sitemaps.org contains information on the new protocol (that is, the format into which you must build your XML sitemap), a brief overview (with the caveat that just because you have a sitemap doesn’t mean you’ll get indexed) and an FAQ that covers implementation and technical issues (“Can I zip my Sitemaps or do they have to be gzipped?”)
Now, the idea of having to create and maintain an XML file to ensure that the search engines get everything ranks, to me, right up there with a root canal. Fortunately there are already several options available that will automate the process for you. If you use WordPress, visit Arne Brachhold’s site — he’s already updated his WordPress sitemap generator plugin to conform to the new standard. I can’t find an updated generator for Movable Type, unfortunately.
There are also platform-independent sitemap generators. The ones I looked at today had not yet updated in response to the new protocol, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time. XML Sitemaps is at http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/ (maximum 500 pages per sitemap), Sitemaps Pal is at http://www.sitemapspal.com/ , and Free Sitemap Generator’s at http://www.freesitemapgenerator.com/ . Note that Google also has its own sitemap generator, but a) it requires a certain amount of technical knowledge (it’s a Python script you install on your server) and b) its “last modified” note is sometime in April.