XML sitemaps should be an essential part of your technical SEO strategy. XML sitemaps help search engines crawl your website more efficiently.

In this guide, I’ll cover what XML sitemaps are and how you can optimize them to improve your SEO performance.

What are XML sitemaps?

An XML sitemap is a file that provides a list of URLs for search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to crawl. XML sitemaps can contain attributes that provide additional information about each URL for bots.

If you’re not familiar with XML sitemaps, I recommend reading another article on the Oncrawl blog: XML Sitemaps: The Swiss Army Knife of Technical SEO. The article provides a good overview of XML sitemaps for beginners and some basic use cases.

Why are XML sitemaps important for SEO?

There are many reasons why XML sitemaps are important for SEO, but the bottom line is that XML sitemaps help search engines discover your pages.

Providing an XML sitemap will ensure that important pages on your website are crawled efficiently. In fact, Gary Illyes, trend analyst for Google webmasters, told the Search Marketing conference in Sydney that Googlebot uses sitemaps to discover content.

80% of discovery is done by following links, only about 20% by following sitemaps.

You can also read more about the importance of an XML sitemap in SEO here on the OnCrawl blog.

A quick note on crawling budget and XML sitemaps

There is no question that a four-point sitemap links a URL to the browser by search engines. This is where it is essential that your disclosures on what and how a crawl budget do not affect XML sitemaps.
Comment from here Google sets the crawl budget:

In a prenatal set, the scan request and the scan request, we define the scan budget as the name of the URL that the Googlebot can and wants to crawl.

The important thing to understand in the context of XML sitemaps is that Googlebot will not scan the name of a certain URL and will be able to change its URL. The XML sitemap structure allows you to take advantage of the use and efficiency of your crawling budget, the Googlebot for car allows you to crawl important URLs found on the site in relation to the URL of reality.

XML sitemaps don’t prevent Google from crawling all low-value URLs, but all four do not contain a clue of which URLs Googlebot needs to focus on.

Submit your XML sitemaps to search engines

It is recommended that you submit your XML sitemaps to search engines through their webmaster tool consoles. If you don’t have access, ask for the guides to configure them:

Guide to listing your website in Google Search Console
Guide to getting your website to vote in Bing Webmaster Tools

By doing this, we sometimes access helpful gifts, buggy stories, the date of the last crawl, and the name of discovered URLs. For more details, you can read my guide to submitting your website to search engines, such as Google and Bing.

XML sitemap types


In web content (for example, images and videos), there are two types of XML sitemaps: a sitemap index and a sitemap file. You will do them briefly, safer than consulting the documentation of the main search engines.

Sitemap index file

A sitemap index file is simply a sitemap for your sitemaps. You provide the location of a sitemap file after the last modified date.

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<sitemapindex xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>
<sitemap>
<loc>http://www.example.com/sitemap1.xml.gz</loc>
<lastmod >2004-10-01T18:23:17+00:00</lastmod>
</sitemap>
<sitemap>
<loc>http://www.example.com/sitemap2.xml.gz</loc>
<lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
</sitemap>
</sitemapindex>

Sitemap file

A sitemap file is a list of URLs that you want Googlebot to crawl. The sitemap file contains additional information such as last modified date, how often the content changes, and priority on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>
<url>
<loc>http://www.example.com/</loc>
<lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
<changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
<priority>0.8</priority>
</url>
</urlset>

What Sitemap Best Practices Should You Follow?

There are many sitemap best practices recommended by SEO experts. But we have researched and compiled a list of the most useful ones. Here are seven fundamental sitemap best practices to follow to improve your SEO.

1. Prioritize Your Webpages

One of the best sitemap practices to follow is to prioritize your web pages. Google’s sitemap protocol allows you to rank your web pages and give them a score between 0.1 and 1.

Pages with a higher score will be crawled more often than those with a low score.

As a general rule of thumb, give higher scores to your dynamic pages where you update content more often. For example, if you have a blog where you regularly add content or keep updating your articles, get a higher score.

Also, pages like “contact us” or “about us”, which are more static and not updated frequently, should score lower.

2. Categorize Your Content Properly

The basic purpose of a sitemap is to help search engines understand the structure and content of your website. For this, it is crucial to categorize your content correctly so that commonalities and hierarchies are clear.

Therefore, categorizing your website content correctly is one of the essential sitemap best practices that you can follow.

For most websites, the primary content structure is the home page, followed by categories and their subcategories. And it follows the same pecking order.

The key point here is to segment the categories and subcategories based on the similarity of the content. This will ensure that all similar content is grouped into a category and not scattered around. This is not only a recommended good practice for the sitemap, but it also improves your site navigation for your users.

3. Use a Tool to Create a Sitemap and Submit it to Google

Another useful best practice for sitemaps is to use a sitemap generator tool to create sitemaps. It is much easier and faster to create sitemaps using tools than it is to do it manually.

If you have a WordPress website, you can use the Yoast plugin and enable XML sitemaps right from the plugin. For other websites, you can use Google XML Sitemaps to create XML sitemaps.

The next step is to submit the sitemap to Google using your Google Search Console.

From your dashboard, click on “Site maps”.

Add the sitemap url in the blank space as shown below.

Submit the sitemap successfully and check the added sitemap in the “Submitted sitemaps” section.

4. Place the Sitemap on Your Homepage and the Root Directory

HTML sitemaps are primarily designed to make it easier for users to navigate the site. Also, placing a sitemap directly on your home page is a good practice that makes it easier for users to navigate your website. People can check the sitemap and URL list to find what they are looking for, rather than looking at the different categories and subcategories individually.

Another advantage of this strategy is that search engines also start crawling from your home page. So if new links are added, it will be easier to find them if there is a sitemap on the home page.

Also, in the case of XML sitemaps, you should put them in the root directory for similar results.

5. Restrict the URLs for Each Sitemap

This is one of the sitemap best practices that only applies to medium to large sized websites. Large websites contain many links which can take too long to add to a single sitemap. So if you have enough links for each category, you can create a separate sitemap for each.

It will help you organize things better and avoid chaos. If you have too many links, it can confuse your readers; and search engines can identify it as a link farm.

Another way to limit the URL is to use canonical versions in your sitemap. For example, if you have multiple URLs for different product variants, you should include only the URL of the product home page in your sitemap. You can use the “link rel = canonical” tag to tell search engines which of these pages is the home page.

6. Never Include “Noindex” URLs in Your Website’s Sitemap

Noindex URLs are the ones you don’t want search engines to crawl or index. These can be useful pages that you don’t want to appear in search results, but are useful for your website. You may have added the Noindex to these pages using the robots meta-method or by putting the noindex tag in your robots.txt file.

If you don’t want them indexed, there’s no point in adding them to your sitemap as you’ll be wasting your crawl budget. In addition, it gives a mixed message to search engines.

If there’s something on your sitemap, it’s supposed to be big enough to index. And the “Noindex” tags give the opposite message: that these URLs do not need to be indexed. This inconsistency is confusing and should be avoided.

Therefore, follow sitemap best practices to exclude all unindexed pages from your sitemap for consistency and to save your crawl budget.

7. Leverage Dynamic Sitemaps for Large Websites

For large websites with many pages and frequently added content, follow best practices for using dynamic sitemaps. Dynamic sitemaps are those that have a set of rules that allow them to update when pages are automatically added or removed. This means that it will stay up-to-date, which is another good practice to follow.

In dynamic sitemaps, you can create various rules and logics that make it dynamic. For example, you can create a rule that can help you identify when a page needs to be added. Or you can create a rule that determines whether a page without an index should be replaced by a regular page.

Also, dynamic sitemaps are faster to access and therefore more convenient for search engines to crawl. And they are less likely to get corrupted, whereas a static sitemap can easily get corrupted.

conclusion

Sitemaps are powerful and form the basis of SEO. You should use sitemaps to improve your site’s ranking by helping search engines crawl your website smarter.

However, there are some sitemap best practices that you need to follow to do this successfully. These best practices will help you create sitemaps the right way and make sure they get the job done right.

Take advantage of the sitemap best practices listed here to create, submit, and update your sitemaps the right way.

If you have any questions regarding this article, feel free to ask them in the comments section.

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