3rd May 2022
How Can an XML Sitemap Improve Your SEO?
When optimising your website one of your goals is to provide Google with the correct signals to index your website. An optimised XML sitemap is one of the things that can lead to faster indexing and higher rankings.
What is an XML Sitemap?
An XML sitemap provides a list of URLs for search engines including Google to crawl. XML sitemaps can provide additional information about each URL for crawlers. This is especially important for websites that:
- Have a large number of pages
- Frequently add new pages or update the content of existing pages
- Suffer from weak internal linking and orphan pages
- Lack of a strong external link profile
Do I need an XML Sitemap?
If you want Google to be able to find pages on your website that you want it to, then you absolutely want to include an XML sitemap. Google’s own documentation says that “in most cases, your site will benefit from having a sitemap, and you’ll never be penalized for having one” so there is really no reason not to.
If your website ticks any of the below boxes, then it should be a priority that you get one set up as soon as you can:
- Your site is very large
- Your site has lots of content that aren’t linked well
- Your site is new or has few external links
- Your site has lots of media content like videos or images
Which Pages Should be in your XML Sitemap?
The priority for a sitemap is to make sure visitors are landing on URLs which provide a good result for their search. If you don’t want a URL to show up in the search results, you’ll need to add a ‘noindex’ tag. Google will still be able to index the URL if they can find it by following links.
How to Optimise your XML Sitemap
To make the best use of your sitemap there are some best practices you can use.
Send your sitemap to Google
You can use Google Search Console to accelerate the indexing of your web pages. Google allows the submission of sitemaps with a maximum size of 50 MB uncompressed with a maximum number of URLs limited to 50,000. In the case of a larger file or further URLs, you can create several sitemaps.
Follow the sitemaps.org protocol
To be supported by major search engines it must follow a specific protocol:
- Open with a <urlset> tag and end with a closing </urlset> tag
- Specify the namespace within the <urlset> tag
- Include a <url> entry for each URL, as a parent XML tag
- Include a <loc> child entry for each <url> parent tag
Use tools to create the sitemap automatically
You can use tools such as Google XML Sitemaps to easily create a sitemap. Alternatively, if you are using WordPress as a host site, you can enable an XML sitemap via a plug-in.
Avoid non-indexed URLs
URLs that are marked as ‘noindex’ will not bring you traffic from search engines, so there is no reason for Googlebot to crawl them.
Use canonical URLs in your sitemap
For very similar pages, such as product pages, you should use the canonical tag to tell Google which page is preferable to be indexed.
Optimising your sitemap can be considered as important as optimising your content in terms of SEO, particularly when directing viewers to relevant pages.
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