Imagine trying to find a treasure chest without a map or any instructions. Finding it would be pretty impossible, right?
In comparison, search engines, as powerful as they may be, can’t find the right content without a map. Fortunately, there’s a way for you to put a “map” in their hands and point them in the right direction, where the treasure trove of content and information is located.
Enter XML sitemaps.
Understanding XML Sitemap and Its Purpose
Short for Extensible Markup Language, an XML sitemap is a way of displaying information on a website. It is a literal “roadmap” that includes a complete listing of your website’s URLs, a detailed structure of your website, and what pages are included.
The main purpose of an XML sitemap is to guide search engine crawlers. These are like “treasure hunters” that look and index information on the web. They can read all kinds of data and information and are fast at it. However, it can still take a while before they can find a specific page on your site because of the sheer amount of content and information available online.
An XML sitemap can make it easier for web bots to see what’s on your site and crawl it. And when a crawler indexes your website, it has a stronger likelihood of ranking higher quickly.
A well-structured sitemap can do more than just that. It can also tell search engines when a page was last updated and how frequently it is updated, the relative importance of a page within a website, and how to search and index content that may be found hidden deep within your site’s structure. All of these make your website become more optimized for search engines and thus pushing it higher in search results.
XML Sitemaps Best Practices For SEO
Here are some of XML Sitemaps best practices for SEO:
1) Use Plugins And Tools For Sitemap Generation
Generating an XML sitemap is easy when you have the right plugins like Google XML Sitemaps or an XML sitemap generator tool.
If you have a WordPress website that uses Yoast SEO, you can easily enable XML sitemaps directly in the plugin. Otherwise, you can manually create a sitemap by following the XML sitemap code structure.
In general, your sitemap doesn’t have to be in an XML format. A text file with a new line separating URLs is enough. However, you still need to generate a complete XML sitemap if you want to implement a hreflang attribute. In this case, a specialized tool is a better option.
2) Send XML Sitemap To Google
Once you generated your sitemap, you can send it to Google via Google Search Console.
Before you submit your sitemap, double-check and test your sitemap content and remove any errors that prevent key web pages from being indexed by web crawlers.
Take note that submitting a sitemap will tell Google which pages you consider to be worthy of indexation and of the highest content quality. However, it still doesn’t guarantee that these pages will be indexed.
3) Prioritize Key Pages
In terms of web ranking, overall website quality is a key factor. That said, one of the best practices for sitemap optimization is to prioritize key pages. Setting sitemap priorities allows you to rank your web pages and give them a score between 1 and 0.1.
The pages that you provide a higher score tend to be crawled more often than those with a lower score.
You need to assign the higher scores to dynamic pages where the content is updated more frequently. For instance, if you have a blog page where you add content regularly, score these higher.
Meanwhile, pages like “about us” are static and are not frequently updated. Thus, they may get lower scores.
Don’t assign high scores to all your pages. While your think these pages are all valuable, search engines tend to be more objective. If your sitemap directs bots to thousands of low-quality, irrelevant pages, search engines will see these pages as a sign that your site is something that people won’t want to visit.
4) Avoid Making Too Large Sitemaps
While Bing and Google increased the size of accepted sitemap files from 10MB to 50MB and about 50,000 URLs per sitemap, it doesn’t mean that you should reach these maximum numbers.
A smaller sitemap means less strain on your server. This also makes it easier for bots to crawl and index your website and better control on your crawl budget.
If you have a large website, you want to split your pages into two or more sitemaps to make it easier for crawlers and your server.
For instance, an eCommerce website with 150,000 pages will have to create at least 4 separate sitemaps to handle all those pages.
5) Remove “Noindex” URLs From Your Sitemap
A Noindex URL is a link you don’t want search engines to index or crawl. These might be your utility pages that shouldn’t be showing up in search results but are still useful for your site.
If you don’t want these pages to be indexed, then there’s no point in adding these in your sitemap since they will be wasting your crawl budget. Plus, it gives a contradictory message to search engines.
If a page is in your sitemap, it should be something important that you want to be indexed. And, a Noindex tag will give the opposite message so that crawlers will have to pass by these pages. This creates inconsistency and confusion, and thus, should be avoided.
6) Determine If You Need A Sitemap
Not every website needs a sitemap.
In some cases, search engines can find and index web pages accurately even without a sitemap.
If your website is a one-page website, a portfolio, or an information-type website that you rarely update, then a sitemap isn’t needed.
However, for the more dynamic websites such as an eCommerce store or a blog website, then a sitemap is a great way to give data and information to search engines.
There you have it!
An XML sitemap is an important element to help search engines find you and put your brand in front of the right audience. So, make sure to follow the above tips to perfect the efficiency of your XML sitemap and make your website become SEO-friendlier!