XML Sitemaps: Everything You Need to Know

This article will tell you everything you need to know about XML sitemaps. This includes what an XML sitemap is and why you should have one. We’ll also discuss the steps for building an XML sitemap, how to help Google find your XML sitemap, and Google’s requirements for XML sitemaps. If you need help creating an XML sitemap for your website, or improving your existing XML sitemap, contact SEO Design Chicago today. Our experts can assist you. 

XML Sitemap

What Is a Sitemap? 

Before we define what an XML sitemap is, let’s talk about sitemaps. A sitemap lists the pages of a website. There are three different kinds of sitemaps. The first kind of sitemap is a sitemap used by web designers during the planning of a website. The second kind of sitemap is a sitemap visible on a website for visitors to help them find what they’re looking for. The third kind of sitemap is the kind we’ll be discussing in this article, an XML sitemap, which is created specifically for search engines. 

What Is an XML Sitemap? 

An XML sitemap is a sitemap that lists URLs for a website and is created specifically for search engines. The difference between a regular sitemap and an XML sitemap is that a sitemap is written for people, and an XML sitemap is written for search engines. 

What Does an XML Sitemap Do? 

An XML sitemap allows search engines like Google and Bing to crawl your website more efficiently.  They also find URLs that might be isolated from the rest of your site’s content. 

In layman’s terms, a good XML sitemap acts as a map of your website that takes Google to all of your important pages. You want Google, or any search engine, to see and crawl all of the pages of our website. But sometimes, web pages end up without any internal links pointing to them, which makes them hard for search engines to find. 

That’s where an XML sitemap comes in. The XML sitemap lists all of your website’s most important pages, which helps Google find and crawl them all. It also helps Google understand the structure of your website. 

XML Sitemap Benefits

What Are the Benefits of an XML Sitemap? 

An XML sitemap is extremely important for your website’s SEO, or search engine optimization. If you want anyone using search engines like Google and Bing, you will want to have an XML sitemap. It will help searchers find pages of your website they otherwise wouldn’t. 

Here are some other benefits of having an XML sitemap: 

  • The XML sitemap tells Google to crawl and index your website, what to crawl on your website, and what kind of information is on your website. 
  • The XML sitemap tells Google when your content was last updated, which can also help your SEO. 
  • The XML sitemap tells Google how important your content is. 
  • The XML sitemap helps a website with weak internal linking overcome that problem.
  • The XML sitemap helps extremely large websites get better, more organized indexation. 
  • The XML sitemap shows Google pages of your website that might otherwise get lost without internal links. 

What Kind of Websites Need an XML Sitemap? 

The answer is, we think every website needs an XML sitemap! If you want search engines to find all of your content, you need an XML sitemap. It’s important for Google to be able to find each page of your website with excellent content and see when each page of your website was last updated. 

However, there are certain kinds of websites that definitely benefit even more from having an XML sitemap. For example, really large websites, websites with large archives, new websites with very few external links to it, and websites that use rich media content all absolutely need to have XML sitemaps. 

One XML sitemap is limited to 50,000 URLs, so if your website is very large and has more than 50,000 posts, you will actually need two sitemaps. 

XML Sitemap instructions

Should I Omit Certain Web Pages From My Sitemap? 

Yes, there might be certain pages you might not want to add to your sitemap. You definitely want to add any pages to your sitemap that you want visitors to find from a search engine. However, there might be pages you don’t want visitors to find. Those pages should be left off of your sitemap.

For instance, if you are building a new blog, you might add pages for certain categories of your blog, but you might not have added any content to those pages yet. In that case, you will not want to add those pages to your XML sitemap until they are filled with content. You don’t want Google visitors finding those empty pages. That will leave a bad impression of your blog with them, and you don’t want that.

Another example of pages you might want to omit from your sitemap is media and images. The media and images on your website are most likely already being used within web pages, so they don’t need their own listings on your sitemap. 

Google sitemap

How to Build and Submit a Google Sitemap

Now that you know quite a bit about what sitemaps are and why you need one, we’ll talk about the steps for building and submitting your Google sitemap. A Google sitemap is an index of all of your web pages that you submit to the search engine in order for Google to crawl it, index it and rank it higher. Here are some instructions from Google on how to build and submit your sitemap. 

Pick Your Pages

First, decide which pages on your site you want Google to crawl. These are the pages that you want searchers to find on Google. Then, determine the canonical version of each page. You only want to submit the canonical versions of each page to Google. The canonical version is basically the master version of each page. 

Choose Your Format

Next, decide which sitemap format you want to use. You can create your own sitemap manually, or you have the option of using a third-party tool to help you create your sitemap. You can use a tool like this one to create a sitemap. 

Google supports several different sitemap formats, but every sitemap is expected to follow standard sitemap protocol. 

You also have the option of using a web design agency like SEO Design Chicago to help you create your sitemap for you

Submit Your Sitemap to Google 

Now that you’ve created your sitemap, you want to help Google find your website quickly. In order to do that, you need to add it to your Google Search Console account.

If you don’t already have a Google Search Console account, you will need to make one. Check the “Sitemaps” section to see if your sitemap has already been added. If it has not already been added, you can add it quickly at the top of the page. 

Adding your sitemap to the Google Search Console helps you check whether Google indexed all the pages in your sitemap. If there is a big difference in the “submitted” and “indexed” numbers on your sitemap, you might have a problem. There could be an error preventing pages from being indexed. Or, you might need more links pointing to the content that has not yet been indexed.  

Google sitemap requirements

Google Sitemap Requirements

Here are some of the requirements and guidelines Google sets for sitemaps. 

  • Use consistent, fully-qualified URLs. 
  • The sitemap can be posted anywhere on a website, but it is recommended to post it at the site root so it affects all files on the site. 
  • Do not include session IDs from URLs. 
  • Tell Google about alternate language versions of a URL. 
  • Sitemap files must be UTF-8 encoded. 
  • URLs must be escaped appropriately. 
  • It is recommended that you break up large sitemaps into smaller sitemaps. Then, use a sitemap index file to list all the individual sitemaps and submit that single file to Google, instead of submitting individual sitemaps. 
  • List only canonical URLs in your sitemaps. 
  • If you have different URLs for mobile and desktop versions of your web pages, Google recommends pointing on one or the other in your sitemap. 
  • Use sitemap extensions for pointing to additional media types like news, images and videos. 
  • If you have alternate pages for different languages or regions, you can use hreflang in the sitemap or in html tags to indicate the alternate URLs.

Check Out Your Own Sitemap 

Now that you know everything there is to know about sitemaps, go check out the sitemap for your website. If it looks good, great! If you still need help, contact SEO Design Chicago for help from the experts. 

Contact SEO Design Chicago Today 

It can be tricky to create your own XML sitemap. From the technical aspects, to deciding which pages to include and exclude, working on a sitemap is hard work. The experts at SEO Design Chicago can help you. For help creating your own XML sitemap, contact SEO Design Chicago today

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