One of many pings…

One of our favorite past clients, and one of our most loyal supporters, recently asked about pinging blogs:

“Do you find it beneficial to ping your blog? I have done it. I usually use pingoat, pingfarm and pingomatic. I didn’t see anything in your blog about it. Any thoughts?”

Thanks for the question, Carla. We do have some thoughts, as a matter of fact – lots!

Ping – The Go To Guy for Website Owners

If you’re used to IT lingo, it’s important to point out that this isn’t the same as pinging an IP address.
We’d like to introduce you to PING, your personal search engine notifier. PING, in this instance, stands for Packet InterNet (or Inter-Network) Groper. This utility is the go-to guy. Have you ever wondered how Feedburner, for instance, knows you have new content on the site to send out? Or how this RSS feed directory or that one knows your site has changed?

You send out a ping, he runs to the search engines or social bookmarking sites, and says, “Psst! There’s content over there!” Maybe he waves his hands in the air, jumping up and down to get their attention, whichever visual you prefer.

In other words, ping notifies the search engines, feed directories, social bookmarking sites, etc. that new content has been published. He invites their crawlers back for a read. Seconds later (a long time in Internet years), a bot from the site or search engine PING notified comes by for a visit to peruse the new content you put up.

New content crawled, newest page (potentially) indexed – et voila!

Why You Might Ping Your Site/Blog…

Google Crawl

Pinging is a way to help the spiders crawl your site faster. Not to say they don’t do their job, but some people, especially those with a short amount of patience, think it can be done better.

We often see Meta tags that try to tell the spiders when to come back to the site – i.e. how often they should visit. However, the “revisit-after” tag isn’t a command; it’s a suggestion. In fact, it’s a: “Hey. If you feel like – you know – maybe, sorta, kinda, paying attention to this sign that says ‘come back tomorrow’, would you maybe, sometime, possibly consider it?” Generally, this tag is just plain ignored.

Crawlers have a “how often”, a “how fast” and a “how deep” set of instructions when they visit your site. You can specify the rate you want the Googlebot to crawl your site (for example), but “how often” and “how deep” are up to the bot. All setting the rate does, is tell the bot how long you want it to wait between each page request. This setting is used to ensure the crawling doesn’t overwhelm your bandwidth.

As well, your site may not be set up in an efficient, “spider-friendly” manner (this is one of the reasons it’s a good idea to have a sitemap). Therefore, you might have some pages crawled and indexed, while others are left hanging out in the non-crawled, non-indexed ethereal NeverWhere.

The “revisit-after” Meta tag doesn’t work. You can’t tell crawlers to come back at a certain time. – And, since your site may or may not be crawler-friendly, you’re left with few options if you want your content crawled quickly and efficiently.

Before you start pinging, don’t forget a sitemap

This is an excellent time to mention sitemaps again. Having a sitemap on your site, as well as added to Google Webmaster Tools, helps in several ways:

  • Ensures that pages within the sitemap are indexed
  • Helps search engines better understand your site layout
  • Allows you to tell the search engines how often you plan to update your content

Most importantly, a sitemap provides a user-friendly experience that can help visitors with little time quickly find what they’re looking for. Of course, you can use an onsite search function, but what if they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for? A successful site owner always has to take these considerations into account.

Offer Help when you can

When to Ping

There’s nothing wrong with pinging search engines, social bookmarks and RSS feeds. However, there’s a caveat to that. You don’t want to ping these places every five minutes; it’s called spam-pinging, and if it has “spam” in the word, you know it’s not a good thing.

So when’s the best time to send a PING? The only time you really have a good reason to ping a site is when you’ve a) put up new content or b) changed content so much it might as well be new.

Pinging in WordPress

WordPress has a built in PING feature, which means you don’t have to worry about manual pinging. However, it’s also an over-eager feature.

WordPress automatically notifies popular Update Services that you’ve updated your blog by sending a XML-RPC ping each time you create or update a post. [our emphasis]

Sounds good, right? Except… the bolded part of the statement above is a problem. This means, every time you update a post – whether it’s a single update (make all changes and save) or several updates (make changes, save, make changes, save) -, each “Save” sends a PING.

Could you be spam-pinging through WordPress without knowing it?

If you publish every day and are someone who makes changes, then saves and makes more changes, the answer is… maybe. Fortunately, some plugins will help you cut down on the amount of times WordPress unnecessarily pings; other plugins can help you keep track of where your site is pinging (list of WordPress PING plugins here).

Crawled Doesn’t Mean Indexed

Before you jump on and start throwing pings around, understand that pinging doesn’t do anything for ranking; it’s not a short cut. It doesn’t guarantee ranking any more than crawling guarantees indexation. It doesn’t even guarantee traffic (unless you count bot traffic).

The only thing PING does is notify, so the crawlers will come. What happens then is up to your content and your site.

Jumping with your eyes closed

Therefore, before worrying about a ping, make sure your site and content is in good order. Make sure your current pages are being indexed; if they aren’t, deal with that issue first. Make sure your headlines are interesting and actionable, because they’ll be seen first – in the SERPs, in the RSS feeds and in the social bookmarks. Once you know everything is good, only then should you consider using PING.