What are XML Sitemaps for and why you should use one?

What are XML Sitemaps for and why you should use one?

What is a XML Sitemap?

An XML (Extensible Markup Language) Sitemap is a text file used to list all URLs on a website. It includes extra information (metadata) on each URL, with details of when they were last updated, how important they are and whether there are any other versions of the URL created in other languages. All of this is done to help the search engines crawl your website more efficiently, allowing any changes to be fed to them directly, including when a new page is added or an old one is removed.

There is no guarantee that an XML Sitemap will get your pages crawled and indexed by search engines, but having one certainly increases your chances, particularly if your navigation or general internal linking strategy doesn’t link to all of your pages.

Do I need an XML Sitemap?

Is a sitemap strictly necessary? Technically not. Your website will still work without one, and it can even be crawled and indexed by search engines. Plus, sitemaps aren’t used as a ranking signal, so submitting one won’t make you rank higher.

So why do it? The biggest reason you should create and submit your XML sitemap is indexing. Even though search engines can still technically find your pages without one, adding a sitemap makes it so much easier for them. You might have orphaned pages (pages that got left out of your internal linking), or that are harder to find. Your sitemap is especially important when you’ve recently added pages or created a whole new site that has none or few backlinks to it yet.

Sitemaps also help search engines crawl your pages more intelligently. They take ‘and` tags into account and can adjust their crawl frequency accordingly. You get to be a little proactive about getting crawlers to visit your pages. Upping the priority level of a page makes it more likely that pages will be crawled and indexed more frequently and before other, less important parts of your site.

The Bottom Line

When done right, XML sitemaps help search engines quickly find, crawl and index websites. Make sure you’ve properly formatted, compressed and submitted your XML sitemap to search engines to get the most of their advantages:

  • You no longer need to rely on linking to get your pages crawled.
  • Search engines will see new or updated sites and pages more quickly.
  • Crawlers can crawl pages more intelligently thanks to the meta information available in sitemaps.
  • You can make sure that search engines are finding important information about images and videos, which are inaccessible to crawlers.