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Rank Math WordPress Plugin Duplicate Sitemap Bug

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Rank Math WordPress Plugin Duplicate Sitemap Bug


Popular WordPress SEO plugin, Rank Math, has been found to have a bug that causes it to generate duplicate sitemap files. This strange bug in how sitemaps are generated is similar to one that affects Yoast, but the way Rank Math handles it is different.

Website Sitemap

A sitemap is an important part of search engine optimization. It tells search engines which pages have been newly added to a site and which pages have been updated.

The sitemap helps a search engine prioritize their website crawling by alerting it to new content that needs to be indexed.

Because of the importance of a sitemap for SEO, it is a good practice that sitemaps are generated correctly.

Google’s developer page about sitemaps says:

“A sitemap is a file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them.

Search engines like Google read this file to crawl your site more efficiently.

A sitemap tells Google which pages and files you think are important in your site, and also provides valuable information about these files. For example, when the page was last updated and any alternate language versions of the page.”

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Rank Math XML Sitemap Bug

Rank Math also generates multiple XML sitemaps. In fact, it generates possibly an infinite number of XML sitemaps.

For example, a site with a single sitemap for “posts” will generate the following duplicate sitemaps:

/post-sitemap.xml

/post-sitemap1.xml

But it won’t generate the zero numbered variant, /post-sitemap0.xml

The same is true for duplicate sitemaps generated for pages:

/page-sitemap.xml
/page-sitemap1.xml

And again, just like for the “posts” sitemaps, Rank Math does not generate the zero-numbered sitemap variant: /page-sitemap0.xml

Rank Math Generates Infinite Number of Sitemaps?

While Rank Math doesn’t generate the zero-numbered sitemap variant, Rank Math does generate what appears to be a near infinite amount of numbered XML sitemaps.

Ideally, Rank Math should generate a 404 response code for sitemaps that don’t exist.

But what appears to be happening is that instead of generating a 404 response message Rank Math is generating a 200 response code (meaning it’s a request for a valid web page) and then generating an empty XML sitemap.

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The following is  a URL that I tested to see what Rank Math generated:

https://rankmath.com/post-sitemap9.xml

This is what Rank Math shows:

Non-existent Site Map Generated by Rank Math

How many sitemaps will Rank Math generate?

Apparently, Rank Math may generate a lot of URLs, possibly an infinite amount of XML sitemap pages.

I was able to generate a blank sitemap with this URL:

https://rankmath.com/post-sitemap9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999.xml

What’s of interest about the above sitemap is that the server generates a 200 header response code to a browser when serving that XML site map.

The 200 response code means that there is no error.

I verified whether Rank Math generated a 200 response code via the HTTPStatus website.

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This shows that Rank Math generates a 200 response code for pages that do not exist:

Rank Math Header Response Code

Rank Math Sitemap Redirect Behavior

Other SEO plugins have a bug that creates a duplicate sitemap when the number zero is added to the end of a sitemap URL.

Rank Math however does not create a duplicate sitemap with the number zero.

When you make a request for the non-existent zero-numbered sitemap, the request triggers a redirect to the canonical sitemap.

A request for this non-existent sitemap:

/page-sitemap0.xml

Redirects to the canonical sitemap:

/page-sitemap.xml

But that is arguably not a correct way to handle a sitemap that does not exist.

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The correct server response should be to show a 404 Page Not Found Error Response message, because that’s what happened, the page was not found.

The Yoast SEO plugin responds in the correct manner by serving a 404 response code for XML sitemaps that don’t exist (except for the zero and 1-numbered variants).

I asked Rank Math about it and they explained that it’s not an issue at all.

Rank Math:

“This is similar to how WP core handles on-site search: you will receive HTTP 200 response for any arbitrary search query.

Unlike some sitemap plugins, Rank Math does not generate physical sitemap files in the server’s root directory.

Since these non-existent sitemap URLs are not present anywhere on the site, Google and other search engines will never crawl them, so this shouldn’t cause any issue from an SEO point of view.”

Rank Math Duplicate Site Map Bug

It’s interesting that Rank Math, like a few other SEO Plugins, has a duplicate site map bug.

When it comes to optimizing a website for search engines, the goal is to be as perfect as possible. Anything that makes a website less than perfect can be considered a flaw when perfection is the goal.

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Less than perfect optimization can lead to unforeseen consequences.

Yoast is aware of the problem and is said to be working on a fix. One would hope that the duplicate site map issue with Rank Math will also be fixed at some point.

Citation:

Read Google’s Web Page About Sitemaps

Learn about sitemaps

fbq('init', '1321385257908563');

fbq('track', 'PageView');

fbq('trackSingle', '1321385257908563', 'ViewContent', { content_name: 'rank-math-duplicate-site-map', content_category: 'news seo wp ' });





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How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)

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How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)

Creating and selling educational courses can be a lucrative business. But if you already have a product to sell, you can actually use courses as a marketing tool.

Back in 2017, about two years after joining Ahrefs, I decided to create a course on content marketing.

I had a very clear understanding of how an educational course would help me promote Ahrefs.

  • People like courses – Folks like Brian Dean and Glen Allsopp were selling theirs for $500 to $2,000 a pop (and rather successfully). So a free course of comparable quality was sure to get attention.
  • Courses allow for a deeper connection – You would basically be spending a few hours one on one with your students. And if you managed to win their trust, you’d get an opportunity to promote your product to them.

That was my raw thought process going into this venture.

And I absolutely didn’t expect that the lifespan of my course would be as interesting and nuanced as it turned out to be.

The lessons of my course have generated over 500K+ in total views, brought in mid-five-figures in revenue (without even trying), and turned out to be a very helpful resource for our various marketing purposes.

So here goes the story of my “Blogging for Business” course.

1. The creation

I won’t give you any tips on how to create a successful course (well, maybe just one). There are plenty of resources (courses?) on that topic already.

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All I want to say is that my own experience was quite grueling.

The 10 lessons of my course span some 40K words. I have never attempted the feat of writing a book, but I imagine creating such a lengthy course is as close as it gets.

Scripts of the course in Google Docs.

I spent a tremendous amount of time polishing each lesson. The course was going to be free, so it was critical that my content was riveting. If not, people would just bounce from it.

Paid courses are quite different in that sense. You pay money to watch them. So even if the content is boring at times, you’ll persevere anyway to ensure a return on your investment.

When I showed the draft version of the course to my friend, Ali Mese, he gave me a simple yet invaluable tip: “Break your lessons into smaller ones. Make each just three to four minutes long.”

How did I not think of this myself? 

Short, “snackable” lessons provide a better sense of completion and progress. You’re also more likely to finish a short lesson without getting distracted by something. 

I’m pretty sure that it is because of this simple tip that my course landed this Netflix comparison (i.e., best compliment ever):

2. The strategy

With the prices of similar courses ranging from $500 to $2,000, it was really tempting to make some profit with ours.

I think we had around 15,000 paying customers at Ahrefs at that time (and many more on the free plan). So if just 1% of them bought that course for $1K, that would be an easy $150K to pocket. And then we could keep upselling it to our future customers.

Alternatively, we thought about giving access to the course to our paying customers only. 

This might have boosted our sales, since the course was a cool addition to the Ahrefs subscription. 

And it could also improve user retention. The course was a great training resource for new employees, which our customers would lose access to if they canceled their Ahrefs subscription.

And yet, releasing it for free as a lead acquisition and lead nurturing play seemed to make a lot more sense than the other two options. So we stuck to that.

3. The waitlist

Teasing something to people before you let them get it seems like one of the fundamental rules of marketing.

  • Apple announces new products way before they’re available in stores. 
  • Movie studios publish trailers of upcoming movies months (sometimes years) before they hit the theaters. 
  • When you have a surprise for your significant other (or your kids), you can’t help but give them some hints before the reveal.

There’s something about “the wait” and the anticipation that we humans just love to experience.

So while I was toiling away and putting lessons of my course together, we launched a landing page to announce it and collect people’s emails.

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The landing page of the course.

In case someone hesitated to leave their email, we had two cool bonuses to nudge them:

  1. Access to the private Slack community
  2. Free two-week trial of Ahrefs

The latter appealed to freebie lovers so much that it soon “leaked” to Reddit and BlackHatWorld. In hindsight, this leak was actually a nice (unplanned) promo for the course.

4. The promotion

I don’t remember our exact promotion strategy. But I’m pretty sure it went something like this:

I also added a little “sharing loop” to the welcome email. I asked people to tell their friends about the course, justifying it with the fact that taking the course with others was more fun than doing it alone.

Welcome email with a "sharing loop."

I have no idea how effective that “growth hack” was, but there was no reason not to encourage sharing.

In total, we managed to get some 16,000 people on our waitlist by the day of the course launch.

5. The launch

On a set date, the following email went out to our waitlist:

Course launch email.

Did you notice the “note” saying that the videos were only available for free for 30 days? We did that to nudge people to watch them as soon as possible and not save them to the “Watch later” folder.

In retrospect, I wish we had used this angle from the very beginning: “FREE for 30 days. Then $799.”

This would’ve killed two birds with one stone: 

  1. Added an urgency to complete the course as soon as possible
  2. Made the course more desirable by assigning a specific (and rather high) monetary value to it

(If only we could be as smart about predicting the future as we are about reflecting on the past.) 

Once it was live, the course started to promote itself. I was seeing many super flattering tweets:

We then took the most prominent of those tweets and featured them on the course landing page for some social proof. (They’re still there, by the way.)

6. The paywall

Once the 30 days of free access ran out, we added a $799 paywall. And it didn’t take long for the first sale to arrive:

This early luck didn’t push us to focus on selling this course, though. We didn’t invest any effort into promoting it. It was just sitting passively in our Academy with a $799 price tag, and that was it.

And yet, despite the lack of promotion, that course was generating 8-10 sales every month—which were mostly coming from word of mouth.

A comment in TrafficThinkTank.
Eric Siu giving a shout-out about my course in TTT Slack.

Thanks to its hefty price, my course soon appeared on some popular websites with pirated courses. And we were actually glad that it did. Because that meant more people would learn about our content and product.

Then some people who were “late to the party” started asking me if I was ever going to reopen the course for free again. This actually seemed like a perfectly reasonable strategy at the time:

7. The giveaways

That $799 price tag also turned my free course into a pretty useful marketing tool. It was a perfect gift for all sorts of giveaways on Twitter, on podcasts, during live talks, and so on.

Giving away the course during a live talk.
Me giving away the course during a live talk.

And whenever we partnered with someone, they were super happy to get a few licenses of the course, which they could give out to their audience.

8. The relaunch

Despite my original plan to update and relaunch this course once a year, I got buried under other work and didn’t manage to find time for it.

And then the pandemic hit. 

That’s when we noticed a cool trend. Many companies were providing free access to their premium educational materials. This was done to support the “stay at home” narrative and help people learn new skills.

I think it was SQ who suggested that we should jump on that train with my “Blogging for Business” course. And so we did:

We couldn’t have hoped for a better timing for that relaunch. The buzz was absolutely insane. The announcement tweet alone has generated a staggering 278K+ impressions (not without some paid boosts, of course).

The statistics of the course announcement tweet.

We also went ahead and reposted that course on ProductHunt once again (because why not?).

All in all, that relaunch turned out to be even more successful than the original launch itself. 

In the course of their lifespan on Wistia, the 40 video lessons of my course generated a total of 372K plays.

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Play count from Wistia.

And this isn’t even the end of it.

9. The launch on YouTube

Because the course was now free, it no longer made sense to host it at Wistia. So we uploaded all lessons to YouTube and made them public.

To date, the 41 videos of my course have generated about 187K views on YouTube.

"Blogging for Business" course playlist.

It’s fair to mention that we had around 200,000 subscribers on our channel at the time of publishing my course there. A brand-new channel with no existing subscribers will likely generate fewer views.

10. The relaunch on YouTube [coming soon]

Here’s an interesting observation that both Sam and I made at around the same time. 

Many people were publishing their courses on YouTube as a single video spanning a few hours rather than cutting them into individual lessons like we did. And those long videos were generating millions of views!

Like these two, ranking at the top for “learn Python course,” which have 33M and 27M views, respectively:

"Learn python course" search on YouTube.

So we decided to run a test with Sam’s “SEO for Beginners” course. It was originally published on YouTube as 14 standalone video lessons and generated a total of 140K views.

Well, the “single video” version of that same course has blown it out of the water with over 1M views as of today.

I’m sure you can already tell where I’m going with this.

We’re soon going to republish my “Blogging for Business” course on YouTube as a single video. And hopefully, it will perform just as well.

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The end

So that’s the story of my “Blogging for Business” course. From the very beginning, it was planned as a promotional tool for Ahrefs. And judging by its performance, I guess it fulfilled its purpose rather successfully.

A screenshot of a Slack message.

Don’t get me wrong, though. 

The fact that my course was conceived as a promotional tool doesn’t mean that I didn’t pour my heart and soul into it. It was a perfectly genuine and honest attempt to create a super useful educational resource for content marketing newbies.

And I’m still hoping to work on the 2.0 version of it someday. In the past four years, I have accrued quite a bit more content marketing knowledge that I’m keen to share with everyone. So follow me on Twitter, and stay tuned.



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