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What are XML Sitemaps and How to Use Them?

Date Thursday, 31 August 2017 , By: Adam Futcher , In: Digital Marketing

What are XML Sitemaps and How to Use Them?

An XML sitemap is a useful tool for SEO when used correctly. It acts as a map to all the important pages on a website, and helps guide the search engines to this content for indexing.

The quicker and easier it is for Google to access your pages, the faster and more likely it is they will index them for users to find in the search results. This article is a guide into XML sitemaps, and how your SEO can benefit from using them.


What is an XML Sitemap?

In short, an XML sitemap is an XML file that lists links of the URLs of a site, along with additional information such as the date a page was last modified and its crawl priority. It helps guide Google to the pages listed, and gives an understanding of a site’s structure.

Although these links don’t pass page rank, they are useful for getting pages found and indexed by search engines. For example, there may be pages on a site that have no internal links to them, which a webmaster still wishes to be available as search engine landing pages. These pages would be otherwise hard to find by Google without the XML sitemap.

It should be noted that these sitemaps act as a guide only for the search engines. Just because a URL is included in an XML sitemap, this does not guarantee indexation. This is entirely down to the discretion of Google.

An XML sitemap will look something like this.

XML Sitemap


XML Sitemap Pros & Cons

On first thoughts, an XML sitemap seems to be a no brainer to use with your site. However, there are some pros and cons to consider before going ahead and creating a sitemap.


Benefits of Using XML Sitemaps

  • Pages can be more discoverable by search engines – especially those which are not otherwise linked to on the website for whatever reason.
  • Priority information can be passed to search engines – the optional priority tag indicates how important a page is compared to the rest of the pages. Search engines can use this information to decide which order to crawl a site’s pages in.
  • Search engines can be updated when pages are modified – other optional tags include the date a page was last modified, and the change frequency of a page. This helps search engines know where to look for updated content and give an idea of how often they should check the pages to find fresh content.
  • Google Search Console shows useful information – when you have submitted a sitemap to Google Search console, you can access data showing how many of the pages included in the sitemap have been indexed.

Google Search Console XML Sitemap Report


Downfalls of Using XML Sitemaps

  • Natural indexation issues can be masked – sitemaps can get pages indexed that may not have been indexed from a natural crawl. If a page wasn’t good enough to be indexed naturally, it is unlikely to rank well. If indexing of the site was left to natural indexing, you would be able to identify this unindexed page as one that needs improving, whether this be in terms of links to the page, or content on the page itself.
  • Can become out of date – a non-dynamic sitemap that has been created manually can become outdated quickly, especially on larger sites. Any new important URLs could be missing and old deleted URLs could still remain in the sitemap. This can be avoided through the use of dynamic sitemaps (more on these later).

Do All Websites Need An XML Sitemap?

Google’s guidelines state that XML sitemaps are beneficial for:

  • Really large websites
  • Websites with large archives
  • New websites with just a few external links to them
  • Websites which use rich media content

Although XML sitemaps will prove valuable for these types of sites, these are not the only kinds of sites that should consider using them.

XML sitemaps can be beneficial to every website, new or old, large or small. Whatever the website, if it’s intended to be found by users in search engines, then you’ll want the search engines to be able to easily find the important pages and know when they were last updated.


Which Pages Should be Included in an XML Sitemap?

You shouldn’t necessarily include all of your website’s pages within an XML sitemap. It is important to consider which pages should or shouldn’t be included.

Websites tend to be made up of 2 types of pages:

  1. Utility pages – pages that are useful to users, but not what you’d want to be a search landing page.
  2. Search landing pages – high quality, optimised pages that you intend users to discover within the search engine results and click through to your site.

You should go through all the pages on your site, and decide which of these page types they fall into. Consider the page’s quality, would you want this as a search landing page? Or is it more of a utility page that’s not important for bringing in search traffic?

The utility type pages should not be included within the XML sitemap. These could be thank you pages after completing a form, or privacy policy pages for instance.

Search landing pages that you wish visitors to come to from search engine results should be included within the XML sitemap. For instance, service pages, product pages, homepage etc.

It’s important to remember that just because a page is not included within the XML sitemap, doesn’t mean Google will not find and index that page. If you really don’t want a page to be indexed, then you should add the “noindex,follow” attribute to the page.


Dynamic XML Sitemaps

Dynamic XML sitemaps should be used to avoid having to manually update a static sitemap every time a page is added or removed from the site.

Dynamic sitemaps will automatically be updated with new URLs or deletion of URLs, and the modified date will be updated if any changes are made on a page.

There are many plugins out there for creating a dynamic sitemap for your WordPress or Joomla website. You can simply set up which page types you want included within the sitemap, and easily manage included and excluded URLs.


How Does Google Discover Your XML Sitemap?

Once you’ve created and set up your XML sitemap, it is important that Google can then discover this. The best method is to login to your Google Search Console and submit your sitemap URL by following the steps below.


How to Submit an XML Sitemap in Google Search Console

  1. Login to Google Search Console
  2. Click on the relevant property
  3. Click on the ‘Sitemaps’ button in the Dashboard
  4. Click ‘Add/Test Sitemap’ button
  5. Enter the URL of your sitemap
  6. Click ‘Submit’ (you can click ‘Test’ first to make sure there’s no issues).

Alternatively, you can add the XML sitemap into your robots.txt file, where Google will discover it. To do this, insert the following line anywhere in the robots.txt file:

Sitemap: http://www.your-domain.com/sitemap.xml


XML sitemaps are useful in helping search engines find and index your site’s important pages. Make sure you include the relevant pages, be consistent with your meta robots and inclusion of URLs within your sitemap, and don’t forget to tell Google about your XML sitemap.

Adam Futcher

By: Adam Futcher

Adam has been a part of Blue Frontier since 2013, working in the SEO and digital marketing team. He has enjoyed developing his skills and expertise in this area, helping clients drive valuable online traffic to their businesses.