In this blog post we look the XML sitemap, what is it and do we still need one?
A good XML sitemap acts as a roadmap of your website that leads Google to all your important pages.
Now an XML sitemap allows Google and BING to quickly find your website pages, even if your internal linking isn’t great.
So all of your pages should be linked by at least one other page on your website, this is called internal linking. This is how Google and BING crawl your website, if you have not been methodical in doing this then a sitemap will tell Google and BING that your website contains other pages.
However one myth is that having an XML sitemap helps get your pages indexed. Google and BING do not crawl your site just because you ask them to!
Google and BING will index pages if they have found them and if they consider them good enough quality to be indexed. Although it should be said that having a sitemap uploaded to Google Search Console or BING Webmaster tools does give the search engines a clue to what may be worthy of indexing.
OK what exactly is an XML sitemap?
Without going into too much technical detail the sitemap is an Extensible Markup Language (XML) document that lists all of the pages on your website.
Below is a small snippet of the XML sitemap that has been generated for my website (https://www.robertdicks.com).
Here we can see that inside the <url> tag we have a location <location> the last modified date <lastmod> and the priority <priority>.
<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″ xmlns:xsi=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance” xsi:schemaLocation=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd”>
Many CMS systems will create this for you, in this example I am using the YOAST SEO plugin for WordPress to generate my sitemap.
A brief history of the sitemap
In this post we are really looking at if we still need them? So why was the sitemap ever created in the first place if Google and BING are so good at indexing websites?
Google created the sitemap way back in 2005 to fix a problem. Content at that time wasn’t so easy to find as it is now.
So most of the problems that the sitemap was created for is no longer a problem! If your website still contains flash or java applets it is time to switch to HTML5. If they do contact me and we can look at bringing your website into the 21st century!
So given that Google can now read all the content on your site and Google and BING don’t necessarily crawl your site just because you have a sitemap is it of any use?
Is An XML Sitemap any use?
One thing to bear in mind is that there is no bonus in having a sitemap. Google and BING do not give you any more credence for submitting one. So what is the point in an XML sitemap then?
You will notice a tag in the sitemap <lastmod> this tells Google and BING (other search engines are available!) when the file or page was last modified. This helps with SEO as you will want to tell Google to crawl your updated page / content as soon as possible.
If you have a very large website then you may have to split your XML sitemap up as a single XML sitemap is limited to 50,000 addresses or URLs. Saying that if you do have such a large website I would split the sitemap down further so your sitemaps loads as quickly as possible.
You may have taken on an old website where the previous owner hasn’t thought about internal linking then an XML sitemap can be a lifesaver. However if you do have a bad internal link structure then this is your SEO priority, an XML sitemap will help you but don’t rely on it.
In conclusion I still feel an XML Sitemap is still something that you should utilise, even if it is not as important as it once was. Anything that can have a positive impact on your SEO shouldn’t be overlooked. If you are looking at your SEO strategy take a look at my inbound marketing blog post.