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Google Updates Ping and Lastmod

In a recent post by the Google Search Central team, they announced that at the end of the year, they would depreciate the ping command and also suggested websites do a better job of updating their lastmost element. What does this mean for hreflang and for Hreflang Builder?

Depreciation of Ping

For Hreflang Builder, we used the Ping function to notify Google that a new hreflang Index XML sitemap was posted, which would trigger them to fetch it. That was the benefit of the element we could send a notice when updated vs. Google returning at random intervals. They will still pick up the XML sitemaps as long as they are listed in your robots.txt or submitted via Google Search Console.

On a broader note, the ping command was a great feature of many content management systems as it would “ping” search engines whenever a page was added or updated. That will no longer happen, meaning new content may not get detected as fast. New content will only be detected during a crawl or a revisit to the XML sitemaps without the ping function.

Hreflang Builder will remove this option from the system on January 1st. This means it will be essential to ensure the index sitemap or the individual sitemaps are added to either your robots.txt or in Google Search Console. We suggest that clients add many new products to create an additional XML sitemap for new pages so that it will always have a new checksum value prompting search engines to revisit more frequently. Alternatively, we will add a feature to our hreflang XML creation to add new URLs closer to the top of the XML sitemaps to ensure they are discoverable quicker.

Importance of Lastmod Element

Google seemed a bit snarky in their comments on the lastmod element, indicating that it should represent a significant modification to the page vs. something insignificant, like text in the footer. The lastmod element has been an optional item in XML sitemaps, with many content management systems leaving it out or just adding the current date to the file.

Hreflang Builder users can add the lastmod to their hreflang XML sitemap. If we import your CMS-generated XML sitemaps, we pull the date from that source and add it to the database. If you don’t have a date in the XML sitemap or if you are importing from an SEO diagnostic tool, then we currently do not have a way to add the actual last modified date from the server. If you select add last mod it will take today’s date, which may cause issues with Google. We are looking at the API calls to the SEO tools to see if they pass the lastmod or lastmodified header, and we can use it.

I have been advocating at conferences for years to break up sitemaps and have a dedicated sitemap for new pages to include new pages for Google to index continually. If they are lumped in with the old sitemaps and the checksum, it does not change there is no need for them to be revisited.

Why is Google Making these changes?

In the article, they are pretty transparent that they are just not helpful. As noted, most pings are submitting spam or updates that are not updates but something to trigger the ping.

Bill Hunt
Bill Hunt
Bill Hunt is the President and primary architect of Hreflang Builder, with over 25 years of Search Marketing experience working with multinational companies.