XML Sitemap, What is It and Why Important?

One of the existing debates in the SEO world is whether XML sitemaps are still important today. After all, Google introduced the XML sitemap protocol all the way back in 2005 and search engines have evolved a great deal since then.

Search engine bots are now much more efficient at discovering and crawling new and updated pages than they were back then. So are XML sitemaps still useful and important today?

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth creating and submitting an XML sitemap for your site, keep reading to learn what Google says about this and discover the SEO benefits you stand to gain by including one. Let’s start by defining what an XML sitemap is.

What is an XML Sitemap?

In simple terms, an XML sitemap is a file containing a list of all the URLs on a website. Google defines it as a file where you provide information about the pages on your site and define the relationships between them.

Think of your website as a house and the pages on it as rooms. The XML sitemap serves as the architectural blueprint that helps the search engines understand your content structure.

Besides the list of URLs, it gives the search engines more data about the relationships between the pages and when each page was last modified.

XML vs HTML Sitemaps: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between these two types of sitemaps is that an XML sitemap is designed for search engine bots while a HTML sitemap is meant for human readers.  

An HTML sitemap also contains a list of all the pages on a website. It’s like a well organized table of content for a site. However, the links are clickable and designed to help human visitors locate the pages they’re looking for.

An HTML sitemap also helps with SEO as an internal linking tool that helps search engine crawlers discover pages on a website. The bots can quickly find and crawl the links on a HTML sitemap.

As for the location on a site, HTML sitemaps are usually linked in website footers. XML sitemaps, on the other hand, are found in the root folder of your domain and accessible at www.example.com/sitemap.xml.

What’s the Purpose of XML Sitemaps?

An XML sitemap functions as a URL inclusion protocol. It helps the search engine crawlers quickly and easily discover pages to crawl and queue for indexing.

Another benefit of an XML sitemap is that it helps the search engines understand your site structure so they can crawl it more efficiently.

And although an XML sitemap isn’t one of the ranking factors, having one can still help improve your SEO performance. The more pages you’ve discovered and crawled, the more the indexation and ranking opportunities.

How Important are XML Sitemaps Today?

The debate on whether XML sitemaps are useful today rages on. Some people think they are overrated while others recommend them. Let’s consider the most important opinion: that of Google.

According to Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst at Google, XML sitemaps are the second way for Google botsto discover new and updated content to crawl. Hyperlinks are the first discovery option.

Still, XML sitemaps are important and even necessary for some sites. In 2020, John Mueller said that making an XML sitemap is a minimal baseline for a serious site

What Websites Need an XML Sitemap?

Furthermore, Google documentation offers more details on what websites need a sitemap. XML sitemaps are necessary for the following types of websites:

Really large websites with tons of pages, complicated structures. Where efficient internal linking is a challenge.

  • Websites featuring large archives that are not linked well internally and thus have orphaned pages
  • Websites that use rich media content such as videos or show up in Google news
  • Large E-commerce websites with dynamic pages.
  • New websites with only a few external links

If you have one of the above sites, making use of an XML sitemap can help the search engine discover and crawl your web pages and posts more efficiently.

What Websites Can Do Without An XML Sitemap

Google’s documentation also explains what kind of sites can do without a sitemap. These include:

  • Small websites with 500 pages or less
  • Sites that don’t have many media files
  • Sites with a good site architecture and a comprehensive internal linking structure so search engines can discover and crawl all the pages efficiently
  • Simple websites built using site builders and hosting services such as Wiz and Blogger

With these kinds of sites, Google and other search engines can discover and crawl your pages without issue. All you have to do is create a good site architecture and practice good internal linking. 

That’s A Wrap!

The best way to ensure Google and other search engines find and crawl your website pages is to make it easy for the bots to discover and crawl the new and updated pages on your site. This is where an XML sitemap comes in.

Although it’s not the main option for discovering content to crawl and index, it can still help speed up the discovery and crawling of your content. It alerts the search engines every time you add or update a page.

We recommend creating and submitting one even if you’ve a small website with a sound content architecture and efficient internal linking. There’s no downside to having one, and it might just give you an advantage when it comes to SEO.

Best of all, it’s very easy to create one. Site map generators and some content management systems allow you to generate an XML sitemap automatically. You can then upload it to your website and submit it to the search engines.

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