In today’s digitally-dominated world, the Extensible Markup Language, also known as XML, plays a critical role in web development. It is useful for storing and transmitting data over the Internet, thus useful for managing your company’s information flow. You might have heard about XML sitemaps in passing, but according to numerous SEO specialists, many clients are still unfamiliar with what they are.
Knowing how to create and maintain an XML sitemap is an important but often overlooked SEO strategy. An XML sitemap can be a powerful instrument, but, like any power tool, it should be used correctly and strategically to maximize the benefits. Check this guide out to learn more about XML sitemaps and how they can help boost your SEO efforts.
What Are Sitemaps?
Sitemaps are important tools used in website development. They are files containing a list of all the URLs on your website, acting as a map to let search engines know about your material and how to find it. Think of it as a basic directory or guide that contains information about your web pages and their respective content.
Search engines will crawl a sitemap to discover and identify all material relevant to a given search query. The pages inside the directory are organized in a systematic hierarchical sequence, with the most relevant pages at the top and the least relevant ones placed lower down the list.
How do Sitemaps Help Websites?
A well-constructed sitemap can make your site more user-friendly and make it easier for visitors to check out different pages. It helps optimize your website effectively and make it more consistent since it allows users to see all the parts of the website and connections at one glance.
You can compare a sitemap to a skeleton that has to be built upon. For a long time now, sitemaps have been a critical part of web design and development since they help provide users with more accurate search results based on their queries.
With increasing competition in the online place, site optimization is key to standing out in the market. Naturally, visitors are less likely to increase in your website if your pages do not appear on their search engine results page (SERP), so you have to take the extra step to make this happen.
Even if your website is performing relatively well, creating and submitting a sitemap is still one of the best website optimization practices to guarantee that all of your web pages are crawled by the bots and indexed in the SERPs as swiftly and accurately as possible. It helps maintain a healthy and positive bounce rate, which refers to the percentage of visitors that come to the site, then exit rather than seeing additional pages on the same site.
Types of Sitemaps
The two main types of sitemaps are known as XML and HTML. The primary difference between the two is that XML sitemaps are more web-focused while HTML sitemaps are more user-focused. XML sitemaps are essentially just text files that contain your webpages and relevant information about them to help search engines crawl your site.
On the other hand, HTML sitemaps help users understand the structure of your site and navigate through all of the subpages. An HTML sitemap lists all your main pages, their respective content, and any accessible links. It is generally found in the footer and can be designed with CSS to match your website’s theme.
XML sitemaps have a specific design in that they are never seen by the end-user and are only used to notify a search engine of the following: the content within a page on a website, how frequently the content of the pages is modified, and the overall impact of the pages in relation to one another.
XML sitemaps can provide search engines with crucial data, including:
- Latest date when content was modified
- Frequency with which each page is refreshed
- Importance of each page in comparison with one another
XML sitemaps come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For online content like videos and images, you will encounter two main types:
- Sitemap Index File
A sitemap index file is a sitemap for your sitemaps. You can specify the location of a sitemap file as well as the date it was last updated.
- Sitemap File
A sitemap file is a collection of URLs that Googlebot scan. The sitemap file also includes information such as the latest changed date, the frequency with which the material is updated, and the priority on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0.
How do XML Sitemaps Aid in Web Crawling?
XML sitemaps focus more on the technical SEO side, but even if they are not shown to users, they are just as important as HTML sitemaps. They ensure that search engines can crawl your website effectively and index all the relevant pages since you are providing a list of all the URLs to check out.
A bot will crawl through known web pages. It will then proceed to the hyperlinks found on those pages, and the process will go on and on, in an attempt to locate all relevant material on the Internet. Crawlers may use the attributes in XML sitemaps to get more information about each URL. Thus, by providing a proper XML sitemap, you can ensure that the key pages of your website become visible to users online.
To make sure Google sees your XML sitemap as early as possible, make sure to submit yours in Google Search Console. You can find this under the “Sitemaps” section, which will tell you if Google has processed your sitemap and indexed all the URLs in the file.
Advantages of an XML Sitemap
Having an XML sitemap on your website gives search engines extra information about your pages and their content. This includes pages that search engines would not have been able to find. On your XML sitemap, you can easily include tags that prioritize which of your pages are most important or relevant, allowing bots to better understand what to display to users.
An effective XML sitemap can ultimately help you boost your search rankings. Having one will be especially beneficial if:
- You have a website with a complex structure and multiple internal links
- Your website is brand new or you have a few external connections
- Your website is well-designed and has archived content
- Your website has dynamic pages, which is particularly common for eCommerce sites
Is SEO Enough on Its Own?
SEO is one of the most used digital marketing strategies today, but with the intense competition in the Internet today, you need to consider all aspects of your site to outperform the others. As a result, using sitemaps in conjunction with SEO has become common practice to improve search engine rankings.
XML sitemaps are highly flexible that you can submit precise information about the pages to be scanned by search engines. You can decide which pages to include, adjust the hierarchy or priority of the content on your site, and provide additional information to help crawlers identify the most relevant pages based on user queries.
When creating your sitemap, make sure you also comprehend information like keyword searches since this will allow you to produce more specific and targeted content for your audience. Doing this will increase your chances of ranking higher and better.
How Can XML Sitemaps Boost SEO?
While XML sitemaps are not commonly recognized as an SEO technique, they help guarantee that a website is correctly listed in SERPs. Many times, business owners do not realize that their site is not ranking well because it is not properly indexed or crawled. It is where an XML sitemap comes in.
If you think about it, there are millions of websites for search engines to look through, so without a sitemap, it is highly likely that some or most of your pages will be missed. Fortunately, XML sitemaps are highly recognized by most prominent search engines, allowing for the submission of a single file, which can then be updated as needed when the website changes.
When utilizing a single XML sitemap, it is recommended that you update it at least once a day if you make frequent changes to your website. Any time you make changes, your team should also notify Google to ensure that it processes the modifications correctly and reflects changes in the SERPs.
Ultimately, optimized XML sitemaps are advantageous to both the website designer and the user. Users are given information on the most relevant websites that fit their search query, and the websites are made available to them as soon as they make the search, thanks to the search engine’s crawlers.
With all that said, you may want to consider checking up on your website to see if you are already using sitemaps. If not, now would be the best time to create one and optimize it properly to help your site rank better. Again, this is a critical tool in web design, so you should not ignore or overlook it.