An XML sitemap is a file that you upload to your website that lists all of the web pages on your site. The purpose of an XML sitemap is to help Google and other search engines understand your site’s structure and the pages within it. Web crawlers like Google’s “Googlebot” use this file to better crawl your site and access your site’s content. XML sitemaps are recommended and beneficial for SEO success.
- Your Site is Indexed Faster by Search Engines – Having an XML sitemap in place helps Google locate your web pages more easily, and therefore index your content faster. Rather than having Google crawl and find your pages on its own, the XML sitemap file acts as a guide and tells Google which pages are important and should be paid attention to on your site.
- Helps Search Engines Find Your Money-Making Pages – Google has a crawl budget for websites. Once Google’s crawlers have spent a certain amount of time crawling your site, or have crawled a certain number of pages, they will stop crawling your site. If search engines like Google don’t have any guidance on which pages are important to you, they will crawl all pages they can find until they reach their crawl budget. As a result, they may end up crawling pages that drive zero visits to your site, and run out of crawl space before reaching your traffic-driving, revenue-generating pages. Make the most of your crawl budget by regularly generating an XML sitemap to give Google guidance on which pages are important to you and your visitors.
- Tells Search Engines when Pages on Your Site Change – As pages on your site are updated, removed, or new content is launched, XML sitemaps alert search engines to these changes. As a result, Google, Bing, and other search engines can more quickly index your content and showcase your site’s changes in the search results. For example, if you launch a new product on your site, the XML sitemap file lets search engines know about the new product more quickly, and can often result in your content showing up in the organic search results faster.
- Improves Organic Search Rankings and Traffic – With Google indexing your site faster and paying attention to the pages that matter, there is a much greater potential for improved rankings and organic traffic to your site.
Steps to Create an XML Sitemap
Build the XML Sitemap File:
- Make a list of URLs – Figure out which pages on your site should be included in the XML sitemap. Your sitemap can contain up to 50,000 URLs, but should not exceed this number. If you have over 50,000 pages on your site, or the sitemap file becomes larger than 10MB, you will need to create more than one XML sitemap. If this is the case, you will need to list each of your sitemap files within a main sitemap index file.
- Only Include Live URLs – Your XML sitemap should only contain pages with HTTP status codes of 200 “OK.” Error pages or dead pages, like pages with 404 “Not Found” or 410 “Gone” statuses should not be included in your XML sitemap.
- Only Include the Canonical Version of Each Page – As you compile the list of URLs for your sitemap, double check that you are using the canonical version of each page. It is common for online shopping sites to have duplicate versions of a page, where the same content can be found on multiple URLs. For example, if a user is looking specifically for blue socks, a dynamic URL based on the user’s search preferences and filters might generate https://www.example.com/products/socks&color=blue, but the canonical version of the URL is https://www.example.com/products/socks/blue. Listing the canonical version in your XML sitemap tells Google which version of the page to pay attention to and rank in search results.
- Choose a Sitemap Format to Use – Google supports various sitemap formats, but the most commonly used sitemap format is XML. In addition to creating sitemaps for web pages, XML files can also be used to create sitemaps for video and image assets. You can generate your sitemap manually or use a third-party tool to build it for you.
Add the XML Sitemap to Your Site:
- Save the file extension in XML format (i.e. “sitemap.xml”).
- Upload the file to your website.
Submit the XML Sitemap to Search Engines:
- Use Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console to test your sitemap. Go to Crawl, and click on Sitemaps. From there, you can add, test, and submit a sitemap.
- Once you’ve tested the sitemap, submit it to Google.
- In addition to submitting your sitemap in Search Console, add it to your site’s robots.txt file to make sure search engine crawlers can find it.
Sitemaps should be updated on a regular basis to tell search engines when pages have changed, or new pages have been added to the site. As a best practice, XML sitemaps should be dynamically generated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the size of your site and how frequently your site is being updated.