If you’re going to a place you’ve never visited before, a map can make it easier for you to navigate or find your way around.
That said, did you know that search engines, as smart and powerful they may be, also rely on maps to find the right content to show to a user? And that map points search engines in the right direction is called an XML (Extensible Markup Language) sitemap.
Understanding An XML Sitemap
Just like how a geographical map can help you find places and navigate the real world, an XML sitemap is a file listing all URLs of a website and is written in a specific format that guides search engine crawlers to all the pages that you want to be indexed.
You can even set a high XML sitemap priority to key web pages to increase the chances of being indexed by web crawlers and rank higher in search results, based on relevancy.
Think of a sitemap as a comprehensive table of contents for search engines, allowing them to differentiate between web pages, understand your website hierarchy and easily navigate your website.
XML Sitemap Vs HTML Sitemaps
Most people confuse an XML sitemap with an HTML version. Both sitemaps help in the organization of your website content. However, they differ in purpose.
An XML sitemap is specifically built for search engines with the main purpose of improving SEO by ensuring that web crawlers can easily find and index your web pages and content.
Meanwhile, HTML sitemaps are generally created for users. An HTML sitemap can help a user find a page they’re looking for and improve the user experience.
The Benefits Of An XML Sitemap
#1 Faster Indexing
As mentioned before, creating an XML sitemap can help search engines to locate your web pages more easily, and thus, index your content faster.
Instead of having web crawlers find your web pages on their own, an XML sitemap can act as a guide, showing search engines which web pages are important and should be paid the most attention to on your website.
This makes it easier for web crawlers to find relevant and valuable content instead of checking all content on your website.
#2 Make The Most Out Of Crawl Budget
Search engines use their resources wisely. They allocate a certain budget of a web crawler’s time to a website. Once a crawler spent a certain amount of time crawling your website, they’ll stop crawling your website.
That said, if you have a large site with hundreds or thousands of URLs, you want to guide search engines on which pages are most important or recently updated instead of letting them crawl the entire site wasting crawl budget.
For instance, if you recently updated a few pages on your site, an XML sitemap can tell crawlers to focus their efforts on this fresh content.
#3 Improved Search Rankings
Connecting the two previous points, as search engines index your website faster and focus more on pages that matter most, there’s a much greater potential for improving your search rankings.
#4 Notify Search Engines Of Any Update On-Site
An XML sitemap can help alert search engines when a web page on your website is updated or whenever new content is published. This allows search engines to quickly index your content and show changes in your website in the search results.
For instance, if you’re selling a new product on your website, an XML sitemap notifies search engines about the new product allowing crawlers to quickly index it and show it up in search results.
Does All Website Need An XML Sitemap?
The short answer is yes. A more complicated one is that it depends. For some websites, an XML sitemap is a must, while others don’t need it at all.
Here’s a general guideline on whether or not you need an XML sitemap.
You need an XML sitemap if:
- Your website is really large
- You have a new website with a few external links
- Your website has a large archive of isolated content pages or doesn’t have proper link building
- Your website uses a large amount of media content or is used in Google News.
You don’t need an XML sitemap if:
- You have a small website of fewer than 500 pages
- You have good internal linking between pages
- Your website is hosted in simple hosting services such as Wix or Blogger
- Your website uses light media files or doesn’t occur in news pages.
That’s it! As you can see, an XML sitemap is an important element that will guide search engines throughout your web pages. Most websites should invest time in creating an XML website to ensure proper discovery and indexing of web content for possible higher ranking in search results.