In this article we’ll answer some basic questions about XML sitemaps giving you a brief introduction to what they are, the benefits, how to create one and finally how to your XML sitemap to good use.
What is an XML Sitemap?
In simple terms it is special kind of web page that lists all of the pages in your website using structured format called XML (Extensible Mark-up Language).
Using XML allows the sitemap to provide list of all the pages in your website along with other key bits of information including when you last updated the page, how often you update the page and how important the page is in relation to the rest of your website content.
You can find out a lot more information about the sitemap protocol, the file format and its content this XML Sitemap example page.
What are the benefits of an XML Sitemap?
If you rely on Google and other search engines to organically find your website and new content this can be a slow process and may never even happen at all.This is especially true for new websites or websites that don’t update regularly. This is because the natural ability for google to discover the content is low.
A sitemap provides you with a quick and easy way to tell Google and other major search engines about ALL the pages in your website and when they were last updated. This lets google know immediately about any new and updated pages.
This means you can be sure google knows about your pages immediately and maximizes the chances of them getting indexed quickly on google.
You can also give google hints such as the relative priority of the pages in your website. So for example if you have a promotions page you might tell google that this is a very important page, but your contact us isn’t very important. This can help google further understand your website and where your high value content is.
Once you have a sitemap and you register it with the search engines you can get lots of useful feedback from Google and others on how well your website is performing and really start to focus in on your websites SEO.
How do I create an XML Sitemap?
Of course at the end of the day a sitemap is just a special kind of text file a bit like HTML files so you could just use notepad or your preferred HTML editor however, this is going to be very labour intensive. You might find these tools useful for editing / tweaking your sitemap once you have created it automatically, but there are better methods.
You can get started in a number of ways to create a sitemap automatically and indeed your website or blog may already have some functionality built in. If you wanted to get started quickly or just see an example for your website then a quick online XML sitemap generator is probably the way to go.
If you have a large or regular changing blog with lots of different contributors you are going to want to further automate the process, ideally by using a plugin or add-on for your content management system, for example a WordPress Plugin.
How do I use my XML sitemap?
Google and search engines will often be on the lookout for sitemaps and you can advertise your sitemap in your robots.txt file if you have one, but this leaves you with the same problem of waiting and hoping for Google to turn up.
By far the best method to get the most out of your sitemap is to manually register it with the major search engines. Google, Bing and others all have Webmaster tools or equivalents where you can create an account, fill in some basic information about your website and register your sitemap.
You’ll then get useful information, advice and feedback about your sitemap and website. This can be really handy for understanding how search engines view your website and optimizing your SEO.
Once you have registered your sitemap, google will know where it is and revisit regularly and you can also ping google automatically or manually to let it know that an update is available.
Whilst the term XML sitemaps may sound rather technical and obscure, once you have a basic understanding they are actually pretty simple. With being so simple and free to create, and with the benefits they will bring to your SEO, there really is no excuse for not having one, so get one today!