XML Sitemaps and SEO: What You Need To Know

Several summers ago, my husband and I flew to Germany for a 9-day vacation. We had flown all night and once we landed in Frankfort, our plan was to rent a car and drive to catch a prepaid river cruise on the Danube River. The car we had reserved had a GPS, so we were all set to make the tight connection. As we drove out of the airport, it hit us. The GPS wasn’t working properly. We had no road map or directions. How were we going to get to our destination without a map?

When it comes to your website, you will want to make it as easy as possible for search engines to not only find your website, but to index your site pages as well. One way of encouraging them to index your website is to create and share an XML Sitemap. In this article, we will be covering what an XML Sitemap is, why you might consider having one and how to create one.

What are XML Sitemaps?

An XML Sitemap is a specialized XML file that contains the various URLS of a website to help the search engines more intelligently crawl a site. XML is an acronym for Extensible Markup Language, a markup language for encoding documents in a machine readable format. According to Google, “Sitemaps are a way to tell Google about pages on your site we might not otherwise discover.” Sitemaps contain information about each URL including:

  • When the URL was last updated
  • How often the web page generally changes
  • How important it is in relation to the other pages of the site.

XML Sitemaps are supported by a number of search engines including Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.

It is important to note that an XML Sitemap is different from an HTML Sitemap. An HTML Sitemap is for human visitors and is a list of website URLs in a site similar to the table of contents of a book. For an example, please see: HTML Sitemap example. Below is an example of an XML Sitemap.

XML Sitemap example

XML Sitemap example

Why Would You Use an XML Sitemap?

XML Sitemaps actually made the list of 36 SEO Myths from Chris Smith, Rand Fishkin, and Eric Enge. Essentially, an XML Sitemap will not boost your Google rankings. A URL will not be given super powers or link juice simply because you have included it in your site’s XML Sitemap. It will, however, help Google – and other search engines discover the pages in your website.

According to Google, an XML Sitemap is helpful for the following:

  • Websites that have dynamic content.
  • Websites that have pages that aren’t easily discovered by Googlebot during the crawl process
  • Websites that are new and have a few links.
  • Websites that have a large archive of content pages that are not well linked to each other, or are not linked at all.

Google also states that the search engine giant does not guarantee that it will crawl or index all of the URLs in your website. It does state that it will use the data to learn about a website’s structure, which subsequently helps to improve crawl scheduling to “do a better job crawling your website in the future.” Finally, Google states,

In most cases, webmasters will benefit from Sitemap submission, and in no case will you be penalized for it.

How to Create an XML Sitemap

There are a large number of programs, plugins, tools and services to help you create XML Sitemaps. We will briefly cover two different options.

  1. XML-Sitemaps.com – This is a free online Sitemap Generator that will allow you to manually create a Sitemap.xml up to 500 web pages. The downside to a manually created sitemap is that you will need to generate a new one each time you add a page to your site.
  2. WordPress SEO by Yoast – One of our favorite plugins, WordPress SEO by Yoast provides the ability to auto generate XML Sitemaps. The beauty of Yoast’s Sitemap generator is that it actually “communicates” with the rest of the plugin. If you “noindex” a page or post, it will get excluded from the Sitemaps. To make certain that XML Sitemaps are enabled within the plugin.
    • Be sure that the box is checked next to: Check this box to enable XML sitemap functionality
    • Click the “Save Changes” button.
    • Locate the Sitemaps after the text, “You can find your XML Sitemap here”. Please see the example below.

XML sitemap WordPress SEO

Summary

XML Sitemaps are useful to help make sure that the URLs of a website are available for search engines to spider and index. They are like maps to help search engines discover the pages in your website – the ultimate destination.

If you are wondering, my husband and I were able to get the GPS – our “map” working properly in English. We made it to the river cruise just in time.

Final Question: Do you use an XML Sitemap(s) and if not, will you consider creating one?

22 comments

  1. Thank you for this information, Robin. I work with Squarespace sites and they include an XML sitemap. For those who use Squarespace: “A site map is automatically generated for your Squarespace site. Our site map lists each URL on your site, as well as the metadata of images added to your site for SEO-friendly indexing.”

    • I’m glad to hear that you found this helpful, Beverley. There has been some confusion about XML Sitemaps and I thought it would be a great topic to share. Please let me know how it goes with your new website.

  2. Hi, Robin! Thank you for a great tip! I am currently studying SEO but I have someone that maintains the website for me. Glad I have an XML sitemap and I’m also using yeost. I’m new to the technical world and I’m glad to read such powerful information, though I must confess, I don’t understand more of it. Lol! Pardon me for that. I am slowly learning and I decided to learn SEO first rather than the coding part. :)

  3. Great information Robin. I was just wondering if my site had a Sitemap and telling myself” I’m sure Robin includes that in the webdesigns!” when Voila!, saw the example. Thanks for using my site as an example. It is so important to know why those of us who are not qualified on developing websites must hire professionals, isn’t it?
    There is so much misinformation out there when any mortal is trying to buy a domain to ensure they’ll be able to use it for their business. We are bombarded with Ads on create a FREE website or start from $5.00 or just any bargain that’s TOO good to be true and they make you believe that you’d be able to do this without any help. So glad to have professionals like you to help and to enlighten us about what we pay for too.
    Thanks again!
    Veronica Solorzano Athanasiou recently posted..How to find the drive to a winning Social Media strategyMy Profile

    • I’m glad to hear that you like this information, Veronica. Thank you for always being there to let me use your website as an example. You are right. There are so many ads bombarding us all with free websites, cheap guaranteed top placements on the search engines and so much more. Like the common cliche states, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

  4. As I was reading this, Robin, I realize how disengaged I’ve become regarding the inner workings of my site … because I’ve handed it over to a trusted web person. (This is radical for someone who was deeply engaged in SEO back when it was all black hat stuff in the 1990s; we ran a “guarantee you’ll land above the fold on the first page of 10 search engines” for law firms.) Thanks for the heads up!
    Sharon O’Day recently posted..Financial Independence: A Quick and Dirty Path to FreedomMy Profile

  5. Well said Robin! I recently had a prospect tell me that an SEO company claimed a sitemap increased their SEO just because they have one. I am never surprised by the lack of ability to clearly communicate. Being an optimist, I have to believe they communicated and were not clear on what it was actually doing. But, I have seen worse indiscretions, lol…

    • Unfortunately, I have heard the same thing, Don. I’ve seen it published on the Internet as well. Hopefully, we can get the word out and help to dispel the misinformation.