SEO is one of the most important aspects of a successful online business. If your website isn’t ranking high on the search engine results pages, you’re missing out on potential traffic and customers. This article will discuss how XML sitemaps can help improve your SEO efforts. First, though, let’s look at what XML sitemaps are, how they work, and how to create them for your website.
Understanding XML Sitemaps
XML sitemaps are files that contain a list of all the pages on your website. They help search engines crawl and index your site more effectively. When you create an XML sitemap, you’re essentially creating a roadmap for search engine crawlers. This roadmap makes it easier for them to find and index all the important pages on your site.
For example, let’s say you have a website with 100 pages. A search engine crawler comes to your site and starts crawling. Without an XML sitemap, the crawler would have to find each page individually. This could take a long time, and some pages might not be found at all. With an XML sitemap, the crawler can quickly find all the pages on your site and index them properly.
Think of an XML sitemap as being an organigram of your website. It shows the structure of your site and how all the pages are interconnected. XML sitemaps can be incredibly helpful if you have a large website with thousands of pages or your website is new and doesn’t have many backlinks. They’re also beneficial for websites that frequently add new content or modify content on existing pages.
One of the main advantages of an XML sitemap is that you can choose the pages you include. Therefore, when you submit your sitemap to Google, you’re saying that you consider those pages excellent quality, which will help increase your website’s authority. While there’s no guarantee that every page you include in your sitemap will be indexed, it’s still a good idea to carefully select the pages you think are most important.
A Quick Look at the Format of XML Sitemaps
An XML sitemap is a simple text file that’s formatted using XML. Here’s an example of what an XML sitemap might look like for a website with a single page:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
As you can see, the file starts with a few lines of code defining the XML version and the sitemap schema. Then, there’s a single <url> tag for each page on your website, each of which can contain the following four tags:
– Loc: a compulsory tag that indicates the location of the page.
– Lastmod: an optional tag that shows the date when the page was last modified.
– Changefreq: an optional tag that defines how often the page is likely to be modified.
– Priority: an optional tag that defines the importance of the page.
You don’t have to include all four tags for each page. However, we recommend that you at least include the lastmod tag because it tells Google that you are the original publisher and that you keep your site fresh. You shouldn’t update the lastmod tag unless you’ve made significant changes to the page’s content.
Different Sitemap Types
There are quite a few different types of sitemaps. Luckily, you won’t need all of them, so let’s look at the ones that your website may require.
XML Sitemap Index
An XML sitemap index is a file that contains a list of other sitemaps. It’s useful if you have multiple sitemaps or if your sitemap is too large to be read by Google. You can think of it as an index of all the sitemaps on your website.
Considering that XML sitemaps can contain a maximum of 50,000 URLs and the file cannot exceed 50MB uncompressed, it’s not surprising that some websites need multiple sitemaps.
To ensure that the search engines find all your sitemaps, you should submit your XML sitemap index to Google. You can do this in the Search Console under Sitemaps. Also, include the URL of your sitemap index in the robots.txt file so that the crawlers can find it easily.
XML Image Sitemap
An XML image sitemap is a file that contains information about the images on your website. The goal is to help index the image content on your site. However, things have changed since they were initially developed, and images are now embedded within the content on the page, meaning that an image sitemap is no longer required in most cases.
These sitemaps are only helpful if images are central to your core business, such as if you run a stock photography website or an online store. Note that you can host your images on a CDN as long as it’s verified in the Google Search Console.
XML Video Sitemap
Like XML image sitemaps, XML video sitemaps are designed to help index the video content on your website. They are also unnecessary unless videos are a key part of your business, like if you run a video streaming website or a YouTube channel.
Google News Sitemap
A Google News sitemap is a file that contains information about the news articles on your website. The goal is to help Google News index your content so that it can be included in the Google News feed.
These sitemaps are only necessary if you are registered with Google News, in which case it’s good practice to include articles you’ve posted within the previous two days and no more than 1,000 URLs per sitemap. Also, make sure to update it as soon as you publish new content.
Dynamic XML Sitemap
A dynamic XML sitemap is a file that is automatically generated and updated whenever you add or remove content from your website. They are useful because they save you the trouble of having to update your sitemap manually every time you make a change.
You can create a dynamic XML sitemap using a dynamic sitemap generation tool or install a special plugin for your content management system, such as Yoast SEO for WordPress. Alternatively, you can have a developer hardcode a dynamic sitemap into your site.
Limit the Pages You Include in Your Sitemap to Boost SEO
By definition, an XML sitemap is a file that contains a list of URLs on your website. The purpose of an XML sitemap is to help search engines index your content so that it can be included in the search results.
However, that doesn’t mean you should include every last page on your website. Instead, you should include only pages that are relevant to SEO. This is because search crawlers have a limitation regarding how many pages it can crawl. By including only your most SEO-valuable pages in your sitemap, you’re telling Google those pages are more important. Essentially, you’re asking Google to focus on those specific pages.
Michael Cottam of Moz provided an excellent explanation of why it’s so important to include only relevant pages in your sitemap. If your website has 500 pages and only 230 of those pages are relevant to SEO, then you’d include only those pages in your sitemap, which would basically mean you’re telling Google to ignore the rest.
Google crawls your site and gives each page a quality score ranging from 1 to 5, where 5 is the best score. Of the 230 pages, the algorithm scores 170 pages a 5, 35 pages a 4.7, 20 pages a 4.5, and 5 pages a 4. This would give your website an average score of approximately 4.8.
However, if you were to include all 500 pages and the remainder aren’t relevant, the remaining pages will get low scores of 1 or 2. For example, say that of the remaining 270 pages, 135 are scored 1, and 135 are scored 2. That would bring your website’s overall score down to a little over 3, which is definitely something you want to avoid.
Now, just because you don’t include those pages on your sitemap doesn’t mean Google won’t index them. After all, a sitemap is simply a suggestion to Google on which pages it should focus. In other words, you have to ensure that your site’s overall quality is excellent so that even if non-relevant pages are indexed, it won’t significantly affect your website’s position in the SERPs.
The takeaway is that you should only include pages on your sitemap that are most relevant to SEO. By doing so, you’re telling Google which pages are most important, and, as a result, those pages are more likely to be given a higher quality score.
Take Advantage of Sitemap Reporting in Google Search Console
The sitemaps section in the Google Search Console used to provide a lot more information than it does now. Currently, its only real use is to show you whether you’ve submitted your sitemap successfully or not.
For more information, you’ll have to go to the Index Coverage report. Initially, the report will show you “All known pages.” Here, you can see how many pages from your sitemap Google has indexed and which pages have errors. You’ll have to address these errors and then check that the fixes have been successful by checking the report again.
Now, go to the drop-down menu and focus on the SEO-relevant pages you included in your sitemap by selecting “All submitted pages.” Look at the details of all the pages that have been marked as “Excluded.”
If any of these pages are important and you want them to be indexed, you’ll have to investigate why they’re being excluded. There may be a problem with the page itself, such as thin content, or it could be an issue with your website’s technical SEO.
You can also use this report to compare the number of pages you have in your sitemap with the number of pages that have been indexed. If there’s a large discrepancy, then that’s definitely something you need to look into.
When determining how successful you’ve been at optimizing your sitemap, the indexation rate is a useful metric. This metric represents the percentage of pages marked “Valid” of all the pages Google has discovered.
Your goal is to get this metric above 80%. If it’s lower than that, you need to improve the quality of your pages and website so that more pages will be indexed.
Why not aim for 100%? Well, a 100% indexation rate is practically impossible to achieve, and, in most cases, it isn’t even necessary for good SEO.
Achieving a high indexation rate is important, but it’s not the only thing you should be focusing on. Remember, your goal is to get as many high-quality pages as possible indexed but also to expand your website with new content. It’s the law of diminishing returns. After a certain point, trying to get to a 100% indexation rate will take up too much time and effort for minimal gain.
Ready to Improve Your SEO With XML Sitemaps?
If you’re not already using XML sitemaps, then you should definitely start. They’re an important part of any SEO strategy and can help you to improve your website’s position in the SERPs.
Remember, though, that XML sitemaps are just one part of a successful SEO strategy. To see results, you need to ensure that your website and its content are of the highest quality. Once you’ve done that, then you can start to focus on other areas, such as link building and keyword research.