Google Sitemaps Becomes Google Webmaster Central; Preferred Domain Tool Launched

Google Sitemaps has gained a new name along with new features. Google Webmaster Central is the new name of the former Google Sitemaps service, which now has evolved into a central place for Google to provide help information, statistics, reports and tools to help webmasters.

Google Sitemaps launched last year primarily as a way for site owners to submit lists of URLs to be crawled. Since that time, it has steadily gained features that took it beyond being a submission tool. It has offered the ability to view stats on how people are finding your site, verify robots.txt files and much more.

I've actually just come from Google's office in Kirkland, Washington, which is home to the Google Sitemaps team. Here's a rundown on some of the new features offered within the Google Sitemaps / Webmaster Tools component of Google Webmaster Central.

  • Preferred domain: Is your site available with and without a www prefix? Until now, the recommendation was to do a 301 permanent redirect of one to the other. But some people can't easily do this. Now sitemaps has a preferred domain tool that lets you pick which you prefer. Make your choice, and Google will list the domain you choose. Behind the scenes, Google will understand the two domains are one and the same for purposes of things like link calculations. Keep in mind that Google says it will take some time before the changes are visible. Also keep in mind that you'll still need to do 301 redirection for other search engines. Still, I'm thrilled to see Google has move ahead with yet another suggestion I've wanted, as have many others.
  • Crawl Rate: A small percentage of webmasters will see a new alpha feature under the Tools menu called "crawl rate." This will allow site owners to tell Google to crawl them at a particular speed: Fastest, Faster, Normal, Slower, Slowest. Feel like Google is hammering your server and slowing it down? Choose Slower or Slowest. Got a super server and want to help Google? Tell it that it can crawl you faster or fastest. Then it will crawl you more quickly and move on to other sites. And, if you've got so many pages that Google doesn't seem to be getting them all in the usual time it crawls, using a higher setting gives you a chance of getting more pages in. Note that Google says that many sites are already getting comprehensively crawled at a normal setting. "Ninety nine percent of website owners don't need to change this," said Amanda Teal, a software engineer on the Google Webmaster Central team. "This is for the tiny percentage of site owners who contact us with issues."
  • Summary Page Changes: The summary page has new icons and colors to try and highlight good things and bad things are going on with your site.
  • Better Crawl Error Reporting: The crawl error reporting feature now shows a full rundown on all errors that have happened over the past two weeks, and you can filter them by date, making it easy to see what errors have happened since your last check.
  • Manage Site Verification: This is a new tab that shows you all methods that have been used to verify a site you control. Huh? Let's say you manage a site, but others have access to it as well. You verify the site using your own Google Sitemaps account, but two other people in your company who can also insert meta tags or place files on your server as verify the site in their own names. This new page helps you understand that these other people have also verified. There's also a way to reverify all accounts associated with a site, even if you didn't originally do the verification. This  is handy to wipe out verifications others may have done, if they are no longer associated with your company or site. For example, say one of those other people has left your company. Do you still want them having access to your stats? Probably not. The reverify feature lets you see exactly how they verified your site in their account. You control the site, so wipe out the verification file or meta tag. Then do a reverify. This will their access to stats from your site immediately, since the file or meta tag originally used can't be found.
  • Improved Sitemap Error Reporting: If one of your sitemaps has a problem, such as a missing XML tag or formatting problem, these errors are now better explained and reported.

There are a number of other changes and tweaks, as well. Google has a post with more here, and there's further info you'll find when exploring Google Webmaster Central.