Google has announced the deprecation of the sitemaps “ping” endpoint, a decision that will significantly impact the way webmasters communicate updates to their websites with search engines. The change, set to take effect by the end of 2023, comes as a result of internal brainstorming by Google and other search engines like Bing, which found that unauthenticated sitemap submissions were not very useful and often led to spam.
The Sitemaps Protocol: A Brief History
Introduced in 2005, the Sitemaps Protocol was designed to aid search engines in discovering new URLs and scheduling crawls of already discovered URLs. The protocol has remained largely unchanged for over 15 years, and despite its popularity, some aspects of it have become less practical in the modern internet landscape.
One such aspect is the “ping” endpoint. This feature allowed webmasters to notify search engines when their sitemap was updated, prompting the search engines’ bots to crawl the website again to update their records. However, this system was found to be flawed, with the vast majority of the submissions leading to spam.
The End of the Ping Endpoint
With the deprecation of the ping endpoint, HTTP requests (“pings”) to the deprecated REST endpoint will result in a 404 error. This means that any existing code or plugins that use this endpoint will not cause problems for Google Search, but they also won’t serve any SEO purposes.
lastmod Element Instead.
In place of the ping endpoint, Google is encouraging the use of the
lastmod element in sitemaps. This element, which indicates the last date a page was modified, has been useful in many cases and is now being used as a signal for scheduling crawls to previously discovered URLs.
To illustrate, let’s look at an example of how to implement the
lastmod element in your sitemap:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"> <url> <loc>http://www.example.com/</loc> <lastmod>2023-07-01</lastmod> <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> <priority>0.8</priority> </url> <!-- more URLs can be added here --> </urlset>
In this example, the
lastmod tag is used to indicate the last time the content at the given URL was modified. The date must be in the W3C Datetime format, which is “YYYY-MM-DD”. This sitemap file should be located in the root directory of your website, for example:
lastmod element to be effective, it needs to be in a supported date format and must consistently match reality. If a page hasn’t changed in several years, but the
lastmod element indicates a recent change, search engines may eventually stop trusting the last modified date of your pages.
The Future of SEO
The deprecation of the ping endpoint is a significant change, but it’s not cause for panic. Webmasters like you; have half a year to adapt, and even if you do use the sitemap ping endpoint, it won’t harm your rankings, as long as you continue to deliver valuable content and communicate honestly with both your audience and search engines.
Remember, the basic premises guiding how search engines will evaluate your content haven’t changed. As long as you format your
lastmod tags properly and are honest about substantial content changes, you should be fine.
The biggest difference is that you now have more sophisticated control, because you’re no longer pinging search engines about one change through the sitemap but several through tags. This shift from one system to another gives you the opportunity to communicate more effectively with search engines and ensure your content is accurately represented in search results.
The deprecation of the sitemaps ping endpoint is a significant development in the SEO world. It’s a reminder of the constant evolution of search engine algorithms and the need for webmasters to stay updated with these changes. By understanding these changes and adapting accordingly, you can ensure that your SEO strategy remains effective and your website continues to rank well in search results.