What are sitemaps in SEO?
Why are sitemaps important?
Are sitemaps important for SEO?
If you’re asking these questions and looking for answers, you’re in the right place.
Today, we’re talking all about sitemaps and how they affect SEO. Read on to learn how to use XML sitemaps to boost SEO.
What Are Sitemaps in SEO?
In technical terms, a sitemap is an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) file that lists a website’s content along with metadata about each page so that search engines can efficiently crawl the site. Search engines also evaluate the relationship between the content indexed in an XML sitemap.
Now, in layman’s terms, a sitemap is a file that generates a list of your essential web pages and crucial information about each (i.e., when each page was last updated). Sitemaps are your website’s digital roadmap, enabling search engines like Google to find and crawl all of your most important web pages.
Do I Need a Sitemap?
If your website is structured correctly, meaning all essential pages are accessible through some form of navigation, search engines can discover most of your site. However, a sitemap can improve your search engine optimization (SEO) and benefit larger, more complex websites.
Here are some instances when Google recommends submitting a sitemap:
- Your site is large (over 500 pages).
- Your site is not well linked.
- Your site is new and doesn’t have many external links.
- Your site has lots of rich media content (e.g., videos, images).
- Your site is shown in Google News.
Even if your site doesn’t fit any of the conditions above, we recommend that all websites submit a sitemap as an SEO best practice.
Okay, so now you know a little more about sitemaps. But why are they so important? And are sitemaps important for SEO?
Why Are Sitemaps Important?
Sitemaps are valuable because they help search engines:
- Understand the structure of your site
- Locate its active web pages to rank them properly
That second factor is why sitemaps are important, especially for SEO. Without a sitemap, Google won’t be able to effectively crawl your site and rank your pages for appropriate terms—a huge blow to any organization looking for organic traffic.
So, site maps are important for any business interested in SEO. However, there are also two different types of sitemaps in SEO that you should know about.
Types of Sitemaps in SEO: XML vs. HTML Sitemap
When it comes to sitemaps, there are two different kinds: HTML and XML sitemaps. Below is some more in-depth information about each.
1. XML Sitemaps
XML sitemaps make a website’s information “machine-readable.” They help guide search engine bots to a website’s URLs for indexing. XML sitemaps are text files marked with tags that identify different types of data (e.g., priority, lastmod).
To access a website’s XML sitemap, simply add “/sitemap.xml” after the root domain (e.g., example.com/sitemap.xml).
If you’re planning to use an XML sitemap, it’s important that you also know the limitations and benefits of XML sitemaps.
Limitations of XML Sitemaps
- Page indexing is not guaranteed. XML sitemaps recommend that bots crawl and index certain pages, but there’s no guarantee that every page will be indexed or even crawled.
- Link authority is not passed. The URLs crawled in XML sitemaps don’t pass link authority. Meaning, if a bot only finds a URL in the XML sitemap, search engines are unlikely to rank it.
- Maximum of 50,000 URLs. If you have more than 50k URLs, then you’ll need to generate multiple XML sitemaps (e.g., sitemap-index-articles.xml).
Don’t let these limitations turn you off to the importance of including an XML sitemap on your website! Bots need to read your website as much as people do, and XML sitemaps help them do just that.
Benefits of XML Sitemaps
You want search engines to find and crawl the most recent version of your web pages so that they can be indexed appropriately. However, just because Googlebot crawled your website doesn’t mean that every page will be indexed. Certain pages should be excluded, such as ‘no-index’ and login pages.
Here are five benefits of XML sitemaps:
- Lists all of your website’s most important URLs.
- Helps Google understand your website’s structure.
- Discovers page errors so you can fix them immediately.
- Provides inside information about your website via Google Webmaster Control.
- Passes tiered information to search engines, enabling bots to prioritize specific web pages.
XML sitemaps are a great way to get pages crawled, indexed, and ranking for search terms on search engines. But how do they differ from HTLM sitemaps?
2. HTML Sitemaps
In contrast to XML sitemaps, HTML sitemaps are meant to guide website visitors. HTML sitemaps can usually be found in the footer of a website, displaying all of the site’s web pages for easy navigation.
Ideally, you don’t want your top-level website navigation to have too many options, overwhelming visitors. Therefore, the web pages not included in your header navigation go in your HTML sitemap found at the bottom of your website.
HTML sitemaps used to be more helpful for SEO purposes because they gave bots a shortcut to page links, passing link authority, and therefore boosting rankings. But today, most HTML sitemaps simply replicate the header navigation found at the top of a website, which doesn’t provide much additional value.
However, there are still some benefits to including an HTML sitemap in addition to an XML sitemap:
- Creates more internal links on your website.
- Analytics may show that visitors do use HTML sitemaps.
- Extensive navigation menus are not always accessible to search engines.
- Primary site navigation can’t always include links to every web page, which is a missed opportunity.
- Certain pages may be important but would otherwise be lost in a navigation structure without an HTML sitemap.
So, when it comes to SEO and XML vs. HTML sitemaps, is one better than the other?
What is the Best Sitemap for SEO?
Between XML sitemaps and HTML sitemaps, there isn’t necessarily one that’s the “best sitemap for SEO.” Each one is helpful in its own regard, and both should be implemented on your website.
However, if you’re twisting our arm and we had to choose, we’d say XML sitemaps are the best sitemap for SEO. Why? Because XML sitemaps are built for bots, which index content on your site for search engines.
How to Create an XML Sitemap in Google Search Console
First, you need to submit your sitemap to Google through Google Search Console. Here’s how to do that:
- Login to Google Search Console.
- Select the property in the drop-down that needs a sitemap.
- In the left sidebar under “Index” select “Sitemaps.”
- Under “Add a new sitemap” enter the website’s domain name (e.g., https://veivos.com) followed by /sitemap.xml.
- Click “Submit.”
You should see “Submitted Sitemaps” show up immediately under the bar where you entered the website’s domain name. If the “Status” displays “Success” in green, you’re good to go!
However, if you received an error message, it’s best to reach out to an SEO firm like Veivos to troubleshoot the issue.
How to Use XML Sitemaps to Boost SEO
Sitemaps aren’t necessarily something to be “used,” but they do help search engine crawlers index your site faster. Here are some final tips to help you use XML sitemaps to your advantage:
- Only include SEO-relevant pages. An XML sitemap should only include the URLs that you believe are the most relevant and important to the website that you want to be crawled and indexed by search engines.
- Leverage sitemap reporting. Use reporting to identify errors and warnings, analyze trends, and discover how “valid” pages are performing.
- Fix all known errors and warnings. Google Search Console clearly lists what pages are causing errors, which likely result from conflicting robots directives, and give you some direction on how to fix them.
Can search engines find your site without a sitemap? Yes, but by including an XML sitemap on your website, you’re indicating that you have quality landing pages that you’d like to be indexed.
If you want to learn more about how to use XML sitemaps to boost your SEO, contact us!
Here at Veivos, we’re a search engine marketing (SEM) firm that’s all about helping businesses get the most out of their website. One of our favorite phrases is: “Your website is your best salesperson, so make sure it’s working for you!” However, most companies don’t implement SEO best practices and miss out on organic traffic and valuable leads—their website isn’t working for them.
Do you want to leverage your website to connect with more customers/clients and increase sales?
Schedule a quick 20-minute call with us today to learn more about how an SEO strategy can help you rank on Google and outperform your competitors.