Search Engines Unite On Unified Sitemaps System

In alphabetical order, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have agreed to all support
a unified system of submitting web pages through feeds to their crawlers. Called
Sitemaps, taking its name from the precursor system that Google
launched last
year, all three search engines will now support the method.

More about Sitemaps is to be provided through the new
Sitemaps.org site. As part of the
announcement, the existing sitemaps protocol from Google gets a version upgrade
to Sitemaps 0.9. However, no actual changes to the system have taken place. The
new version number was simply done to reflect the protocol moving from an
exclusive Google system to one that all three search engines now support.

Anyone already using Google Sitemaps needn’t do anything different. The only
change is now those sitemaps will be read by Microsoft and Yahoo, as well. More
information will either be posted at the Sitemaps.org site or see these sections
from each of the search engines, which I expect to be updated soon:

Other search engines are also invited to use the system — it has
specifically been placed as open property through Creative Commons so that
others can make use of it. FYI, Ask isn’t part of this announcement because it
wasn’t invited by the other three to take part, which I find unfortunate. Then
again, among all four, Ask is the only one that doesn’t already accept
submissions in some way.

How can others contribute to its development? That remains to be worked out.
So far, there’s a working committee involving the three major search engines
named. They say they are open to participation from other search engines, as
well as content owners, to see the system grow and develop. I expect we’ll find
more structure to this emerging soon. At the moment, the key work has been in
getting all three to agree to support the existing standard.

How about unification around other search standards, such as improving the
robots.txt system of blocking pages.
Again, this is something the search engines (specifically Google and Yahoo when
I spoke to them), say they’re interested in. So fingers crossed, we’ll see more
of this down the line.

Overall, I’m thrilled. It took
nearly a decade
for the search engines to go from unifying around standards for blocking
spidering and making page description to agreeing on the
nofollow
attribute
for links in January 2005. A wait of nearly two years for the next
unified move is a long time, but far less than 10 and progress that’s very
welcomed. I applaud the three search engines for all coming together and look
forward to more to come.

(Postscript: Announcements are up now from
Yahoo,

Microsoft
and

Google
)

Below is more from the press release. Sorry I can’t do a longer post about
the system, but I’m also busy attending the PubCon
conference
, where the announcement has happened.

Las Vegas, November 16, 2006 – In the first joint and open initiative to
improve the Web crawl process for search engines, Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft
today announced support for Sitemaps 0.90 (www.sitemaps.org), a free and easy
way for webmasters to notify search engines about their websites and be
indexed more comprehensively and efficiently, resulting in better
representation in search indices. For users, Sitemaps enables higher quality,
fresher search results. An initiative initially driven by Yahoo! and Google,
Sitemaps builds upon the pioneering Sitemaps 0.84, released by Google in June
of 2005, which is now being adopted by Yahoo! and Microsoft to offer a single
protocol to enhance Web crawling efforts.

Together, the sponsoring companies will continue to collaborate on the
Sitemaps protocol and publish enhancements on a jointly maintained website
www.sitemaps.org, which provides all of the details about the Sitemaps
protocol.

How Sitemaps Work

A Sitemap is an XML file that can be made available on a website and acts
as a marker for search engines to crawl certain pages. It is an easy way for
webmasters to make their sites more search engine friendly. It does this by
conveniently allowing webmasters to list all of their URLs along with optional
metadata, such as the last time the page changed, to improve how search
engines crawl and index their websites.

Sitemaps enhance the current model of Web crawling by allowing webmasters
to list all their Web pages to improve comprehensiveness, notify search
engines of changes or new pages to help freshness, and identify unchanged
pages to prevent unnecessary crawling and save bandwidth. Webmasters can now
universally submit their content in a uniform manner. Any webmaster can submit
their Sitemap to any search engine which has adopted the protocol.

The Sitemaps protocol used by Google has been widely adopted by many Web
properties, including sites from the Wikimedia Foundation and the New York
Times Company. Any company that manages dynamic content and a lot of web pages
can benefit from Sitemaps. For example, if a company that utilizes a content
management system (CMS) to deliver custom web content – (i.e., pricing,
availability and promotional offers) – to thousands of URLs places a Sitemap
file on its web servers, search engine crawlers will be able discover what
pages are present and which have recently changed and to crawl them
accordingly. By using Sitemaps, new links can reach search engine users more
rapidly by informing search engine “spiders” and helping them to crawl more
pages and discover new content faster. This can also drive online traffic and
make search engine marketing more effective by delivering better results to
users.

For companies looking to improve user experience while keeping costs low,
Sitemaps also helps make more efficient use of bandwidth. Sitemaps can help
search engines find a company’s newest content more efficiently and avoid the
need to revisit unchanged pages. Sitemaps can list what is new on a site and
quickly guide crawlers to that new content.

“At industry conferences, webmasters have asked for open standards just
like this,” said Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Watch. “This
is a great development for the whole community and addresses a real need of
webmasters in a very convenient fashion. I believe it will lead to greater
collaboration in the industry for common standards, including those based
around robots.txt, a file that gives Web crawlers direction when they visit a
website.”

"Announcing industry supported Sitemaps is an important milestone for all
of us because it will help webmasters and search engines get the most relevant
information to users faster. Sitemaps address the challenges of a growing and
dynamic Web by letting webmasters and search engines talk to each other,
enabling a better web crawl and better results," said Narayanan Shivakumar,
Distinguished Entrepreneur with Google. "Our initial efforts have provided
webmasters with useful information about their sites, and the information
we’ve received in turn has improved the quality of Google’s search.”

“The launch of Sitemaps is significant because it allows for a single, easy
way for websites to provide content and metadata to search engines," said Tim
Mayer, senior director of product management, Yahoo Search. "Sitemaps helps
webmasters surface content that is typically difficult for crawlers to
discover, leading to a more comprehensive search experience for users.”

“The quality of your index is predicated by the quality of your sources and
Windows Live Search is happy to be working with Google and Yahoo! on Sitemaps
to not only help webmasters, but also help consumers by delivering more
relevant search results so they can find what they’re looking for faster,”
said Ken Moss, General Manager of Windows Live Search at Microsoft.

The protocol will be available at sitemaps.org, and the companies plan to
have Yahoo Small Business host the site. Any site owner can create and upload
an XML Sitemap and submit the URL of the file to participating search engines.

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