Any professional SEO’er should submit an XML sitemap for each of their clients. A sitemap is like writing out directions for the search engines on how to crawl your pages. Sure, the search engines can find all the pages on their own, but with clear directions, they’ll be able to find and crawl more pages faster and easier.
Within your XML sitemap, you can set priority levels and frequency levels for each page of your site. The debate is, whether or not setting these levels actually helps increase your SEO traffic and rankings. This will be a two part series. Next week, I’ll dive into frequency levels in your sitemap. Let’s start with the priority levels.
Setting a priority level for each page of your sitemap should tell the search engines which pages are more important than others. By default, when you submit a sitemap to the search engines your homepage gets a priority level of 1, and all other pages get a priority level of .5.
You can change this to set certain pages importance factor over others. The priority level settings can go from 0 up to 1. (0.0, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7, 0.8, 0.9, 1.0).
Your homepage should typically have the highest priority level. However, if you have a main upper or left hand navigation, these pages may want a higher priority level than some other pages like a contact us page, or about us page. You could set the upper or left hand navigation pages to a priority level of .8, and all other pages you could leave at .5 or .6. In theory by doing this the search engines will spend more time crawling your most important pages over others.
However, according to sitemaps.org, submitting priority levels in your sitemap are not necessarily going to get more pages crawled or indexed higher in the search engines. It merely represents to the search engine crawlers which pages you deem most important, therefore when choosing one of two pages to crawl, the search engines will choose the one with the higher priority level over the other.
Another theory is that you could set your priority levels for all your pages around .8 to try and get more pages of your site crawled and indexed – although they may not all be ranked as high as if you were to only set a higher priority level on a few pages. Meaning, it may be easier to get a few pages ranked higher in the search engines than getting a bunch of pages ranked higher in the search engines.
According to Thomas Shultz, by setting priorities in your sitemap it’s likely that the search engines will crawl pages with a high priority level more often. For new websites, he says this will help determine which pages to crawl first and can also help determine which URL to show if multiple pages from a site match a search query.
Again, according to sitemaps.org, assigning a high priority level to all of the URL’s on your site isn’t necessarily going to help you due to the fact that it is only used to select between URL’s on your site.
Changing Your Priority Levels:
Changing your priority levels in your sitemap is relatively easy. It’s basically a tag within each URL listed in the sitemap. I use GSiteCrawler to run my sitemaps. It’s a free service that you can simply download, run the sitemap, remove pages if you choose, change information like priority levels and frequency, and generate a fully upload-able XML sitemap to the search engines.
The priority tag within your sitemap should look something like this: <priority>0.8</priority>. If you run your XML sitemap in GSiteCrawler, it will look something like this:
I use XML Notepad to edit my sitemaps. With this program, again it’s free, you can simply click on the line that you want to edit and edit it right there.
I think that for priority levels, it’s best to not ignore them and leave them to the default settings. I think we should be trying and testing everything to keep increasing our SEO traffic and rankings. Adjusting our priority levels within our sitemaps, and focusing on our most important pages, could increase how often our pages are crawled and indexed. If not, then you really don’t lose anything. Stay tuned next week for a how and why to set frequency levels in your sitemaps!