With sitemaps cross-hosting (or cross-submission), Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft cracked open the door for corporations to outsource search engine optimization.
How big a deal is this?
Not enough to make Robert Scoble cry. Or join the circus.
When SEL broke the news at SMX (described in excellent summary by Vanessa Fox of vanessfoxnude fame), I was hoping for a revolutionary change. Then I read the blog posts at the Google Webmaster Central, Yahoo Search and Live Search Webmaster Center blogs so you don't have to. (I'm just kidding all you search engine PR gals … and guy.)
Robots.txt ruined my night. I felt like I was decepticonned - hoping for the breakthrough that would make outsourcing SEO much easier for major corporations. Or an announcement that might provide guidance for SEOs to improve rankings for their clients.
SEW Experts SEM Crossfire columnist Chris Boggs ended the robots nightmare: "I think it's a big step forward in making it easier for companies to outsource, but the caveat is having full access to the robots.txt. Some industries such as banking and pharma may still have issues."
Still, we don't want to beat up on the search engines (unnecessarily). In the past, search engines required companies with multiple Web sites to have "one set of servers to rule them all."
In short, search engines required sitemaps to be on the same host and path as the URLs they contained. That meant the same server needed to host both sitemaps and site content.
Google, Yahoo and Live Search put aside their fierce competition for a moment to make life a little easier for Webmasters and SEOs by standardizing sitemaps in November 2006, when the Big Three formed Sitemaps.org.
SEW Experts By The Numbers columnist, Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, noted, "The announcement affects Web site owners who don't have the freedom to place a sitemaps file in the root directory of the domain. Historically, site owners without the ability to place a file in the root folder for their domain haven't been able to make use of sitemaps."
A cross-hosting sitemaps scenario or two?
"There are many scenarios. Shared hosting environments and people in large corporations who may be running subdomains of a much larger site," said Enge. "This now allows them to place the sitemaps file in a different location, even on another server or domain. The sitemaps file then needs to be pointed to by the robots.txt file for the original domain. The site owner will still need the ability to make that change."
Search Engine Watch, for example, has several domains and subdomains. Our main domain, searchenginewatch.com, features a few subdomains: blog.searchenginewatch.com, forums.searchenginewatch.com and jobs.searchenginewatch.com, for example.
Now we can host all our sitemaps in one location or subdomain: such as "notreally-oursitemaps.searchenginewatch.com."
So what does cross-hosting mean for the global SEO community?
"Ultimately this opens up the site maps protocol to a large number of site owners who couldn't make use of it before," said Enge. "The SEO impact really relates to that fact. SEOs may not have been able to use sitemaps on a site previously, due to the limitations of the prior implementation. Now those SEOs have the capability available to them."
"The impact of offsite hosting for sitemaps? It will make it easier for sitemap management by allowing site owners to manage multiple sitemaps in one location," explained Lee Odden of TopRank. "It will also make it easier for those with sites that use subdomains."
So bottom line: will SEOs be able to leverage cross-hosting to improve rankings for targeted keywords?
"As for impact on rankings, it's no different than the effect of making sitemap data available previously," said Odden. "Providing a list of URLs to search engines serves as a supplemental source of information to what their spiders would find in the wild."
Here's how it works:
"Search engines make no guarantee that providing URLs in a sitemap will increase the number of pages indexed - but they might," said Odden. "So in that regard, making it easier for sites that previously did not provide sitemaps, especially subdomains, may help them get more pages indexed, but I see no effect on actual rankings."
For the Google Guy's take on sitemaps, nofollow and other great tips, read the highest ranked Matt Cutts interview ever done (by Eric Enge).