How XML Sitemaps Helps SEO: Everything You Need To Know
A well-built XML sitemap should act as a flowchart that leads search engine crawlers to your most significant pages. Everyone working on SEO might tell you that sitemaps are great for your SEO, but only a few can really explain why!
Understanding XML Sitemaps
In a nutshell, XML sitemaps are files on your website that describe and list all of your pages in a specific hierarchy. Files can include anything such as pages, PDFs, images or video files.
Think of it as a map that Google uses to efficiently scour through your site to understand exactly how your website is structured, essentially trying to find where everything is located.
You can also have a sitemap for every content type on your website. This includes:
- Image sitemap for image subject, licensing, and file type
- Video sitemap for video running time, file size, category, and age rating
- News sitemap for article publication date, title, and category
Do I Need an XML Sitemap?
Without a sitemap, you can get away if your website already has excellent linking or navigation, and Google can easily crawl through it. That said, a sitemap can be helpful for huge websites with complex internal linking structures and hundreds or thousands of pages.
If your website is relatively new and has hundreds of multimedia content in it, Google may need a sitemap to index those pages appropriately.
Benefits of Having an XML Sitemap
Here are some of the primary advantages of having a sitemap for your site:
Help Google Decipher Canonical URLs
Having a sitemap on your site can help minimise canonical issues with Google. With it, search crawlers can find which is the primary URL and which are canonical links.
We still recommend considering a 301 redirect, but implementing a sitemap along with it should better streamline the process.
Notify Search Crawlers About Page Updates
Search engine crawlers can scour your site efficiently. But keep in mind that it won’t notice any changes you make instantly.
With a sitemap, you can inform Google about the changes as soon as possible and have them indexed faster than without an XML sitemap.
Progressive Development and Planning
Sitemaps don’t significantly impact your SEO as a whole. But it helps streamline small but functional components that collectively influence your search ranking.
As sitemap programs are becoming more intuitive and crawler-friendly, you must implement one early on with your website’s growth.
Types of XML Sitemaps
At this point, you should already know that sitemaps come in many types. Here are the crucial ones that your website will need:
1. XML Sitemap Index
If you have a significantly large and complex website, a single XML sitemap might not cut it, primarily due to its limitation in size.
You can always try to compress your sitemap, but unzipping them will still violate the size and length limits, leaving your sitemap uncrawlable.
In that case, you can split several URLs into different XML sitemaps and combine them into a single XML sitemap index.
2. XML Image Sitemap
An XML image sitemap should include the image title, alt text, link, and other information such as public license and date of publication.
However, images on today’s websites are practically included in the page content, so search crawlers can index them with the URL.
Using a schema.org/ImageObject markup on all images on your pages should also help search engines recognise the correct attribute.
3. XML Video Sitemap
If you have several video files on your website, you might need an XML video sitemap. This should include the file name, title, description, and other information relevant to the video and indexing.
XML Sitemap Best Practices
To make sure your business leverages XML sitemaps for indexing and SEO, take the time to follow these best practices that we recommend:
- Only include pages in XML sitemaps that are crucial for SEO
- Compress sitemaps and use sitemap index files when needed
- Always use hreflang tags for your sitemaps
- Reference XML sitemap indexes in your website’s robots.txt
- Only use image and video sitemap if they help drive your brand KPIs
- Fix errors and XML sitemap warnings as soon as they pop up
- Submit your XML sitemap to Google Search Console and similar webmaster tools.
XML sitemaps have a slight yet significant impact on any website’s SEO. Understanding how sitemaps help and why it’s essential to keep them organised can go a long way in keeping search engines in the loop around changes in your pages and content.