What is a sitemap, why is it important, and what are its benefits?

Sitemaps provide an easy and standardized way for search engine crawlers (also called spiders or bots) to find all the pages on your site, fetch those pages, and return them as part of its index. The sitemap gives you control over which URLs should be indexed by telling Googlebot where they are. You can also include metadata such as how often a page changes or when it was last updated, helping Google understand how fresh each URL is. A well-maintained sitemap helps search engines better understand the overall structure of your website and crawl it more efficiently.

Sitemap types

There are three types of sitemaps: XML sitemap, URL list sitemap, and HTML sitemap. With XML sitemaps, you can describe additional information such as how often each page changes and the priority of different pages. URL list sitemaps are a simple list of URLs with no additional information, they can be used as a simpler alternative to XML sitemaps and most search engines will read and interpret them just fine. HTML sitemaps are more user-friendly maps of websites and include information such as page titles that may be displayed in search results.

Sitemap benefits

  1. Helps crawlers find your pages more efficiently, so they can index more of your website. When site pages are more accessible to search engine crawlers, those pages have a better chance of being included in the search engine’s index and ranked accordingly.
  2. Helps to point search engines to canonical URLs. If a page has multiple URLs in the index, it may be a sign of a duplicate content issue. The search engine could pick one URL in the set as canonical and rank it while removing the others from the index. Sitemaps help here as they are one of the signals taken into consideration when determining the canonical URL of a certain resource.
  3. HTML sitemaps help users find the right pages. The HTML sitemap lays out a website’s tree-like structure in an easy-to-read page for users. This makes it easier for users to navigate your website, or it can be used as guidance by search engine crawlers who are looking at the site structure.

How to create an XML sitemap?

Creating an XML sitemap for your website can be a great way to help Google and other search engines better index your content. The XML sitemap specification is a standard way for webmasters to build their site’s XML sitemaps and submit them directly to Google, Microsoft, and others.

You can create XML sitemaps manually based on Sitemaps.org documentation, using an XML sitemap generator such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider, a web-based one, or you can use a CMS plugin to create XML sitemaps automatically for you.

Sitemap submission

Once you’ve created your XML file, you’ll need to submit it to Google and Bing. To do this, go to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools websites for the respective search engines. This is very important for SEO so that your site will show up in web searches and get more visitors! You can also include the sitemap URL in your /robots.txt file for easier discovery by other search engines that might not offer their own webmaster administration panels.

How often should you update your sitemap?

As often as possible, really. The frequency with which you update your sitemap depends on how often the pages referenced in the sitemap change. Google will try to fetch any new or updated pages, but it can’t crawl them if they’re not included in the XML sitemap and poorly linked at the same time.

Ideally, the sitemap would be generated automatically when your website changes. Google recommends that you try to update your XML sitemap as often as is practical – at a bare minimum, every few weeks.

The same general rule regarding frequency applies to HTML sitemaps, too – they should be updated as often as the website is. This will help with the internal linking of new and updated pages, but it also will help to ensure that crawlers pick up the changes so they can be indexed. That’s not to forget about the users that we ultimately need to help navigate our websites.

XML sitemap limits and constraints

Unfortunately, because of the size constraints, you can’t include more than 50,000 URLs in an XML sitemap. The XML sitemaps should be relatively small so you will have to update your XML sitemap more often if you have a bigger website that includes many sitemaps. You can use XML sitemap index files, though to reference many sitemaps in one file, that way you can circumvent the limits.

It’s generally fine to submit more than one XML sitemap file to search engine webmaster tools, as long as it isn’t too big (about 50MB). Remember, all IT systems have constraints and that’s why it’s better to keep sitemaps lean and not go near the 50,000 URL limit.

Conclusion

XML sitemaps are an important aspect of search engine optimization, but they also have a number of other benefits. The XML format for webpages is used to identify the content within individual URLs and provide metadata about them so that crawlers can easily find what they need to index your website correctly. This has many SEO advantages, including helping Google understand how often each page changes in order to update their rankings accordingly; it also allows users who want help navigating your site or finding specific pages easier access with HTML sitemap links on every webpage. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to XML sitemaps, just use a CMS plugin.

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