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Tonight I noticed that my site has fallen rather far from its #1 result in Google. So I went looking for the cause, and it seems to be my Sitemaps (both index and regular format) as they are returning:
Unsupported file format
Your Sitemap does not appear to be in a supported format. Please ensure it meets our Sitemap guidelines and resubmit.
For several years now my Sitemaps have been created automatically and submitted automatically to GWT. I have not modified my script in all that time. I looked at the Sitemaps themselves and the format is absolutely perfect Sitemap Protocol 0.9 format.
So I deleted them from GWT and resubmitted them. Same error as above.
Has something changed in the last few days with how GWT processes Sitemaps?
Here's an examplified Sitemap index:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
Thanks in advance for any advice you all can offer. I am in full-panic mode right now cause I've worked so hard to get my site to the #1 spot.
I'd suspect something about your server config has changed - such as MIME types, possibly? At any rate, something is affecting the indexing of your regular pages as well as your Sitemaps.
[edited by: tedster at 8:18 pm (utc) on Dec. 4, 2008]
ADDED: Ted, I just remembered to look at the Web crawl page of GWT. There are no crawl errors. All the ones I mentioned in the other thread you replied to are gone. So it would seem Google isn't having a problem crawling this site.
[edited by: GaryK at 4:03 pm (utc) on Dec. 4, 2008]
My sitemaps are still working fine.
I'm not sure it's related, but my site has started its rise back to--hopefully--the number one spot it used to reside at. Rather quickly too. Almost too fast to be related to just the sitemap issue. However, I haven't made any changes that could account for the change. Neither has my sysadmin. It doesn't appear my competitors have either.
Site was at #4 when I checked yesterday. At one time it wasn't even on page one.
I don't think there's enough evidence to state definitively that my error-throwing sitemap negatively affected rank, but it does seem to suggest that might be the case.
Sitemap works fine, site is at #1. Sitemap goes wonky, site drops like a rock. Sitemap returns, site starts a dramatic rise in the results.
So perhaps a sitemap in and of itself doesn't affect rank, but having one and then losing it might affect rank.