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