Last week was a big one for Bing. The Mircosoft-owned search engine announced a substantial update that consisted primarily of three major changes.
Two of these refinements are distinctly user-centric, as they provide a new tile-based image search layout (similar to the interface of Windows 8 and Windows Phone devices) that comes with revamped “Friends Photo Search” functionality, as well. The other change consists of a series of autosuggest enhancements meant to improve the search experience for users by making autosuggestions faster and more intuitive with the addition of “ghosting” features, which include complimentary text where a user is typing that is already highlighted, so that searchers can either accept the suggestion or keep typing to have the ghosting text change based on additional information.
However, the third Bing update was made with webmasters in mind; it is a plugin that makes it considerably easier to create an XML sitemaps to submit to the search engine. This tool will be especially useful for those website owners that aren’t using a content management system (CMS) to develop XML sitemaps.
As you probably know, XML sitemaps allow webmasters to give search engines a comprehensive and, most importantly, accurate representation of their websites, thus letting them control what the search engines will index, at least in terms of priority. Webmasters can even inform Bing of new or updated content on their sites.
There are many benefits to utilizing sitemaps, the most obvious of which is that users will always have a full, updated list of all of the URLs on their site, plus a list of all the URLs that were recently modified. This makes it much easier for a search engine’s crawlers to prioritize all of a website’s various URLS, which will help keep bot traffic bandwidth down.
Bing’s Sitemap Plugin, which is an open source project that was made available through an Apache license, is compliant with sitemaps.org and runs on Microsoft IIS servers, as well as Linux/UNIX servers that run Apache. It can create two different types of sitemaps: The first is a comprehensive sitemap of all the URLs seen in server traffic, and the other is a sitemap that’s dedicated to storing URLs that have recently changed. Furthermore, the plugin doesn’t just generate a list of URLs; it also adds <lastmod> and <priority> tags and values to a sitemap based on a page’s popularity.
But among the most important aspects of the sitemap plugin is the amount of control that it gives to users. Webmasters that use the Bing plugin to create their sitemaps will be able to control exactly what gets added to it, and the plugin will be able to detect any Disallow and Allow directives inside a site’s robot.txt, thus allowing it to skip any URL patterns that shouldn’t be added. In addition, it provides greater control through various configuration files with rules that will augment pre-existing robots.txt Disallow directives, and webmasters will be given total control over selecting those query parameters that the plugin should honor and include in added URLS.
The Bing Sitemap Plugin can be configured to operate in four different site and server scenarios: 1. Single site on a single server, 2. Single site on multiple servers, 3. Multiple sites on a single server or 4. Multiple sites on multiple servers. When the plugin operates across multiple servers, it enables a merge process that generates a single, unified sitemap that can be distributed across all of them.
With the addition of the Bing Sitemap Plugin, the search engine has taken another step toward becoming more webmaster-friendly, which will be important if it ever hopes to take away market share from Google. What do you think about the new plugin? Will it convince you to focus more on optimizing your website specifically for Bing? Let us know in the comments.