In the recently concluded Google’s January 2023 edition of the SEO Office-hours Hangout Q&A Session, Google Search Advocate John Mueller, and Analyst Gary Illyes took turns on answering queries related to websites publishing news articles. They also offered tips on the use of lastmod tags and using separate sitemaps and how websites can benefit from it. A lastmod tag stores information about the last time a story was updated or modified, and using it can help Google stay updated with the latest news pieces, thereby showing it in the search results. As far as using separate sitemaps, one for the news and one for the website in general, is not recommended. Having said that, it won’t cause problems, but help solve any either. What tips were offered on both the issues is something that we shall look into now. Let’s have a look at what our Google stalwarts had to say about questions at hand.
How and when to use a lastmod tag?
Here’s what one of the viewers, Michael, asked:
“The lastmod in a sitemap XML file for a news article, should that be the date of the last article update or the last comment?”
And here’s what John had to say about it:
“Since the site map file is all about finding the right moment to crawl a page based on its changes, the lastmod date should reflect the date when the content has significantly changed enough to merit being re-crawled.
If comments are a critical part of your page, then using that date is fine. Ultimately, this is a decision that you can make. For the date of the article itself, I’d recommend looking at our guidelines on using dates on a page.
In particular, make sure that you use the dates on a page consistently and that you structure data, including the time zone, within the markup.”
In summary, the lastmod tag should reflect the date when the article has gone through significant changes to warrant a re-crawl of the page. But if comments are an important part of the page, using the date for when the last comment was made is also acceptable. Doing so may make Google change the publication date altogether to make the page appear more recent and updated so that people would want to click on it.
But should you use a separate sitemap for news?
Here’s what one of the viewers, Helen, asked:
“Do you recommend to have news sitemap and general sitemap in the same website? Any issue if the news sitemap and general sitemap contain the same URL?”
And here’s what Gary Illyes had to say about it:
“You can have just one site map, a traditional web sitemap as defined by sitemaps.org, and then add the news extension to the URLs that need it. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to remove the news extension from URLs that are older than 30 days. For this reason it’s usually simpler to have a separate sitemap for news and for web.
Just remove the URLs altogether from the news site map when they become too old for news. Including the URLs in both site maps, while not very nice, will not cause any issues for you.”
In summary, while it is possible to have just one sitemap with the news extension added to the URL, it is both simpler and recommended to have two different sitemaps for news and general content. And that having sitemaps with duplicate URLs, though will not cause any problems, is usually not recommended. You can listen to Illyes’ and Mueller’s full response at the 01:20 minute mark, and perhaps stick around for the rest of the discussion for some other valuable insights.
Source: Search Engine Journal