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SEO Basics: The XML Sitemap

What is an XML Sitemap?

Sitemaps.org defines an XML sitemap as "an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site."

This is a portion of Wpromote's XML sitemap.

xmlsitemaps_wpromote-sitemap This is a good example of a properly formatted XML file. The file contains all of the website's URLs and the <changefreq> and <priority> tags are being used correctly. These tags will be discussed in the following sections of this guide.
Google's Panda update makes XML sitemaps more important than ever.
Google's Panda update makes XML sitemaps more important than ever.

Why is an XML Sitemap important?

As stated in the definition, a properly formatted XML sitemap allows search engines to more accurately crawl your site. While the crawl bots may ignore your sitemap on occasion, in most cases they will follow the sitemap. This is especially useful if you have a large website, if your website is using dynamic URLs, or if your site is poorly structured.

Additionally, Google's Panda update attempts to eliminate duplicate content showing up in search results. Google does this by only displaying the content from the page it originated on. However, without an XML sitemap the crawl bots may not be able to tell where the content initially came from. This could result in your web content driving traffic towards another website instead of your own.

How can I make an XML Sitemap?

There are multiple ways to create an XML sitemap. There are many third party tools and generators that can be used to create them, although many of these require payment.

If your site was created via Google Apps or hosted on Google Sites, you already have an XML sitemap! Google automatically generates one for you.

What needs to be in the XML Sitemap?

All XML sitemaps must start with the following syntax:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">

Next, it is time to start building out the sitemap. This table will show you what tags you need to use for each page, what they mean, and any other information you might need.

xmlsitemaps_required-tags

How do I submit my sitemap to the search engine?

Once your xml sitemap is complete, it is time to submit it to Google and Bing. This is a very simple process.

Google

  1. Upload your newly created XML sitemap to your website. The URL should be your homepage's URL/sitemap.xml.
  2. If you have not yet set up your website in Google Search Console, go do that now!
  3. Go to Google Search Console, click Site configuration, and then click Sitemaps.
  4. Click Add/Test sitemap.
  5. Type in/system/feeds/sitemap in the textbox and click Submit Sitemap.

Bing

  1. If you have not yet set up your website in Bing Webmaster Tools, go set it up!
  2. Login to the Dashboard, click on Sitemaps, and click Submit a Sitemap.
  3. Enter in the URL of your XML sitemap into the textbox that should be present.
  4. You can also submit a sitemap from Configure My Site. Click on it, then click Sitemaps, enter in the sitemap's URL into the textbox, and hit submit.

What if my website is too large?

Sitemaps can only contain 50,000 URLs, and cannot be larger than 50 MB uncompressed. If your site or sitemap is too large, you will need to split your sitemap into multiple sitemaps. These can all be submitted individually, or you can use a sitemap index file to submit them all at once. A sitemap index file looks like this:

xmlsitemaps_example-sitemap
Example sitemap index file from google

Are there other types of Sitemaps?

Yes. You can also create and submit image and video sitemaps. If your site uses a lot of images and/or video, we strongly recommend creating these types of sitemaps.

Can you summarize all of this for me?

Sure! An XML sitemap is an XML file that helps search engines more accurately and intelligently crawl your website. You can manually create an XML sitemap or use a third party generator to make it for you. Remember that if your site is too large, you will need to create multiple sitemaps and submit them individually, or combine them into a single sitemap index.

When creating your XML sitemap, review the various elements of the file such as the <loc>, <changefreq>, and <priority> tags. Make sure you are following the best practices for these tags, such as setting your homepage as priority 1.0.

After your sitemap is created, it is time to submit them to Google and Bing. Follow the steps above if you need assistance with the submission. Once they've been submitted, your work is done!
written by: Justin McKinney

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