Xmap Tip: Fire and Forget? Be Careful What You Wish For

Check the output of your automatic sitemap extension every once in a while, or you might regret the results.

Xmap does many things well, but thinking isn't one of them.Xmap automatically crawls your site in a limited fashion and generates sitemaps based on the settings, and extra plugins, you provide it. Unfortunately, it will probably never be a replacement for a human carefully clicking your website.

If you've thought about how Xmap crawls your site and structures its output, and noticed it seems similar to a certain native Joomla feature, you're correct -- SEF URLs and Xmap have a lot in common, both conceptually and functionally. The first similarity to know is this: just like the SEF URL system, Xmap isn't immediately at its best, or even automatically usable, without thoughtful attention.

First, Xmap doesn't automatically understand whatever quirks may exist in your ways of using Joomla -- which is to say, it understands the primary quirk we all must follow, that hidden menu entries which point to published content, might be SEF URL utility data, and might need to be included in a sitemap.

What this means is that Xmap will save you much time overall, and will prevent little formatting mistakes -- both of which are good news to you, whether you could have done it all by hand, or not -- but it's not a completely instantaneous, push-button process.

New users can make the mistake of configuring Xmap to read a main menu that looks perfect in the front end, because that's got to be enough, right? Who knows what sorts of data -- confidential link URLs, content titles and bodies of text -- various people have published to Google over the years, because of that assumption...

Following from the paradigm that Menu Manager is Joomla's primary saving grace, with respect to achieving true control over presentation and structure in all things, Xmap will behave itself to whatever extent your menus "correctly include" your site.

What do I mean by that? If you've ever had trouble with Joomla because certain articles seemed to be possessed by the homepage; or similarly, if you've ever achieved creating part of your site according to plan, but lost that page after a week of further development and had no idea how to make it reachable to users again; these are cases of avoiding Menu Manager to the detriment of your own control over the site. Xmap is another thing which will punish you for this avoidance of menus.

And, similar to punishing you for avoidance, it can also punish you for using Menu Manager as a place to take notes - occasionally, versions of Xmap have revealed the existence of links which should have been unpublished, secured, or trashed.

It's easy to think, "Well, this all sounds terrible, but remember: knowledge requirements are usually the trade-off costs we pay instead of money when we use open source tools. Once Xmap is configured only to work with specific menu structures, and your Menu Manager is tidy wherever Xmap is told to look, Xmap will finally become somewhat fire-and-forget; it is, however, one thing you should check each time you expand or rework any element of site navigation structure, such as adding new category pages, or any such thing. Generally, if you rightfully ask yourself "does this need a menu entry somewhere" and the answer is "probably," then it may be worth updating your Xmap configuration after the Menu Manager work is done.

A few more relevant pro tips, from what I've seen over the years:

  • Xmap is either reading a specific menu, or not; avoid mixed-security menus, and avoid preparing menus for new parts of sites before they launch.
  • If the perfect Xmap plugin doesn't exist for Component X's subfeatures, solve it with hidden menus as you would in SEF URL planning.
  • The HTML sitemap may be very ugly by default; you can give it a page class, and then add CSS to your template to style it.

    Xmap is a frequent source of excess category blog pages being indexed by Google; for example, my own blog's subcategories were not meant to be exposed as their own landing pages, but they are because of Xmap.