A Quick Guide to Using XML Sitemaps

There are a number of different tools that search engine optimization (SEO) experts can use to boost the attractiveness of your website in the eyes of search engines like Google. One of these tools is an XML sitemap. In layman’s terms, an XML sitemap is simply a listing of every single URL on your website, combined with a few brief descriptions about those URLs.

The key here, of course, is that there needs to be one universally acceptable and standardized way to submit all this information to search engines like Google. What would happen, for example, if every website submitted their information to Google using different formats?

And that’s where XML comes into the picture. XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, and it represents a way of giving the sitemap information about your website to Google (or Bing or Yahoo) in a way that can be universally understood. Think of XML as a language that every computer can understand. In many ways, XML is very similar to HTML, the markup language used to build websites.

The basics of the XML sitemap

There are several important elements of data that need to be included in each XML sitemap:

  • The URL of each page of your website
  • Information about when the page was last modified
  • Information about how frequently content on the webpage changes
  • Information about the priority of each webpage on your website

The way that you include this information is via metadata tags like <lastmod> or <changefreq>. So, as you can see, the sitemap is more than just a simple listing of all the URLs – it also provides very relevant information for search engines. It can help to guide search engines to find the best content on your website.

What is the link between SEO and sitemaps?

Creating a useful XML sitemap and then submitting it to the major search engines can make your website more search-friendly. For example, it can let Google know about pages on your website that it is not currently crawling. And it can alert Google to pages that are high priority.

The conventional wisdom is that XML sitemaps are most useful for new websites and blogs. Google may not yet be crawling your website. Or there may be some pages of your website that are simply inaccessible to Google, so by providing a sitemap, you are potentially opening up the door to Google crawling even more of your website in the future.

However, there is one important point here to keep in mind: simply creating a sitemap does not guarantee that Google will crawl your website. And, more importantly, it does not guarantee that your website will suddenly rank higher in search results. This is something that Google clearly states in its support forums.

So, it’s best to think of an XML sitemap as an incremental tool for boosting SEO performance. It will certainly make your website more visible to Google, but if Google decides to crawl your website and the content is not high-quality, then you might not get the results you’re expecting.

Creating and submitting the XML sitemap

The good news is that there are plenty of off-the-shelf software tools for building your own XML sitemap. With many of these software tools, you simply need to input the main URL of your website, and the tool will generate the XML file. From there, you will need to make the XML sitemap available to search engines, such as by submitting it via the Google Search Console.

Often times, simply going through this exercise of creating an XML sitemap will help you recognize pages of your website that need to be updated more frequently, or to understand how Google views your website. Doing so will help you create a more fluid user experience and potentially boost the search-friendliness of your website.