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October 27, 2017

What Is An XML Sitemap & Why Should You Have One?

The term XML sitemap has been thrown around the SEO world for a number of years, but for many clients who are not up-to-date on their technical knowledge, understanding what an XML sitemap actually is can be difficult. In order to help you out, we’re taking a closer look at what an XML sitemap actually is and why you should have one as part of your search campaign.

code-2434271_960_720What Is An XML Sitemap?

To put it simply, an XML sitemap helps to provide a form of roadmap for Google bots to help them discover all of the different pages on your website. If your site already has good structure, then you’re probably not going to need an XML sitemap. Nevertheless, it can still provide SEO benefit to your site as it serves as a guide for Google to find your pages swiftly, regardless of the linking capabilities internally.

One thing to note regarding an XML sitemap is that not all pages on your site need to be included. An XML sitemap will show indexed pages that are located in categories, such as pages, posts, videos and any other form of important pages. This ultimately provides you with some form of categorisation process, making site navigation for Google bots even more simple.

The Impact Of XML Sitemaps

On an XML sitemap, every page is timestamped, which can provide a signal to Google that not only is your site regularly being updated, but also provide a clue that pages on your site are of high quality. One thing to remember however is that an XML sitemap should have no more than 50,000 posts, and splitting your sitemap into multiple files is good practice to ensure that this is the case.

According to Google, really large websites that have a lot of archived material, websites with rich media content and websites that have just a few external links in their backlink profile due to the age of the site, can all benefit from an XML sitemap.

There are a number of common misconceptions regarding XML sitemaps however, which are important to be aware of. The most common is the misconception that an XML sitemap can help different pages on your site to be indexed. This is not the case. Google will only index pages because they have found and crawled them, and because they believe that they are of good enough quality to be worthy of indexing. Just because you are pointing Google at a particular page with your sitemap, that doesn’t mean that it will automatically be indexed.

Nevertheless, you should submit your sitemap to Google Search Console, as it can still provide Google with a clue that particular pages are of importance – in the same way that a link from your main menu indicates this.

giant-1641560_960_720XML Sitemaps In The Age Of Panda

The Google Panda algorithm update shook up the SEO world for a number of sites, but one main aspect that the update did improve was the importance of XML sitemaps. Before this update, the purpose of an XML sitemap was simply to determine when a new page was created and to help bots to find particular pages and content.

After the update however, XML sitemaps were then able to indicate content origination, due to the timestamp which would be curated on the original publisher’s site. One focus of the Panda update was to help remove duplicate content from SERPs. An XML sitemap can help to ensure that you are not at risk of being penalised for duplicate content, as bots will be able to determine whether or not you were the original content publisher.

Things Not To Include On Your Sitemap

On a website, there should be two different categories of pages: the utility pages which provide your users with useful content that they need to know about your site (i.e. the About Us & Contact Us pages), and the search landing pages, which are high quality and designed to rank.

On your XML sitemap, it is important that you are only including the important, high quality search landing pages – as this is what you want Google to look at the most. The utility pages should not only NOT be included on the sitemap, but you should also consider blocking these pages with a robots.txt or noindex,follow tags. If you are including your utility pages on your XML sitemap and submitting this to Google Search Console, then you are essentially dictating to Google that you are unsure about what constitutes as high-quality content and excellent search landing pages – which will not look good for your site’s search rankings.

Summary

There are three main rules that you should consider when it comes to your XML sitemap.

  • Make sure that you are always consistent – if you are blocking certain pages with robots.txt or a noindex tag, then you should ensure that this is not in your sitemap. This is because it will start confusing Google as you’re pointing bots towards it, then blocking access as soon as they land on the page.
  • Use an XML sitemap to eliminate indexation problems – use Google Search Console to determine why certain pages are not being indexed despite them being submitted on your XML sitemap. While Google Search Console will not give you specific reasons as to why they are not indexing your pages, there are generally three reasons as to why: product pages on an e-commerce site do not have an image, content on the page has less than 200 words, or the page is deemed to be unimportant (utility pages).
  • If you have a large site consider a dynamic XML sitemap – this can allow you to set up certain rules to determine whether or not a page is included in a sitemap automatically, and robots index or noindex meta tags are set simultaneously – without you manually having to update your sitemap every time a new product or page is added. This is particularly useful for large e-commerce sites.

If you would like to find out more information about XML sitemaps, how to set one up on your site and the importance of them, then contact one of our experts today!

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Author:

Shofiur Rahman

During his time at the University of Greenwich, Shofiur obtained a degree in Information Systems Management, which is where his journey to his current role at Absolute Digital Media began. Since then he has acquired an impressive range of skills within applications such as PHP, content management systems, e-commerce platforms, Ajax and JQuery. In particular he excels within the mobile development field.

Shofiur always has a smile on his face and can often be found helping out his colleagues with their technical issues.


Email s.rahman@absolutedigitalmedia.com

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