What is an XML Sitemap and Why is it Important for a Website?

Maps have been our savior for ages. Without maps, it becomes quite difficult to locate any unknown place. Even today, we navigate new places with the help of Google Maps. We just have to type in the destination name and it shows you the directions to reach there from your current location. Consider an eCommerce website selling thousands of products online. If they don’t map the products into specific categories, wouldn’t it be difficult for customers to find the product they wish to buy? Going to a specific category through simple clicks saves your time and helps you find things faster. Now when it comes to web crawlers, an XML sitemap is something that helps them find the web pages of a given website easily. 

To give you a brief introduction, whenever you launch a new website or create a new web page, search engines send out a group of robots (known as spiders or crawlers) to find them out. This process is called search engine crawling. The bots start fetching some web pages of your website and follow the links mentioned on them to identify new URLs. Now, if your website doesn’t have organized links on web pages or you have made it quite complex, it would be difficult for the crawlers to find all the web pages on your website and index them. This can further lead to the loss of traffic to your website through search engines. To avoid such cases, SEO specialists ensure that your website has an XML sitemap. 

Let us know what the XML sitemap is all about and why it is important from an SEO perspective. 

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An Introduction to XML Sitemap 

An XML sitemap is basically an Extensible Markup Language (XML) file that lists down all the important content of a website. The file maps out how a particular website is structured and the web pages it contains. If this file exists on your website, the search engine crawlers find it easy to see what your website includes and index it. In other words, if you want any of your web pages to appear in search engine results, they should be present in your sitemap. It is important to note that the XML sitemap is designed for web crawlers and not humans. 

When a search engine, like Google, crawls a web page, it pays attention to both internal and external links mentioned on the page. If the discovered URL is not present in their search index, the crawlers parse its contents and index it as appropriate. But, this method isn’t reliable. If a web page isn’t linked to from other indexed pages, search engines won’t find it. This is why XML sitemaps are important, they make sure that all of your web pages are crawled and indexed properly by search engines. Remember the table of contents mentioned at the beginning of your school books, an XML sitemap serves a similar purpose.

However, the benefits of a well-structured sitemap go beyond crawling. Search engines can know when a web page was updated, how many times it has been changed, and the relative importance of them within a website. This is particularly essential for websites that are planning to increase organic traffic to their website through Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The XML sitemap also helps your website gain indexation instantly for dynamically-generated web pages. On the other hand, even if your website has weak internal linking, the XML sitemap will help the site avoid its negative impact.   

Creating an XML Sitemap

If you haven’t seen an XML sitemap before, it can seem a bit daunting. However, there are some content management systems (CMS) that generate it automatically for you. Whenever you add or remove web pages from the website, the CMS updates the sitemap instantly. A lot of tools are also available for creating an XML sitemap, in case your CMS doesn’t create it. For example, WordPress doesn’t generate it for your website, there is a plug-in needed to do so. Screaming Frog, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify are some of the popular tools you can use to generate an XML sitemap for your website.

After you have created the XML sitemap, you need to submit it to search engines. If you want to submit it to Google, you will need to connect your website with Google Search Console. When you log in to Search Console, select your website and find the ‘Sitemaps’ option in the dashboard. Click on ‘Add a new sitemap’ and type in the path (or URL) where you have stored your sitemap in .xml format. Once, you click on ‘Submit,’ your work is done and Google takes the responsibility for the rest of the process. The Search Console also tells you if your sitemap contains any technical errors. 

By submitting your sitemap on a search engine, you are giving it a clue that you consider the web pages present in the sitemap to be good-quality search landing pages that are worthy of indexation. However, you should not get the impression that without an XML sitemap, Google or other search engines will ignore your new web pages. An XML sitemap is created as a best practice to help Google understand the overall website quality and use it as a metric to rank it. So, if you own a website, create an XML sitemap today!     




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