In my post, What is Technical SEO? The Essential Basics for SMBs, I mentioned XML sitemaps as a “must” for any website (it was #6). Here’s more detail about why you and your web development team should give attention to this attribute.
First question: What is “XML?”
It’s an acronym for “Extensible Markup Language.” XML is the preferred code for representing structured information such as the architecture of your website.
Why is an XML sitemap so important for SEO?
Before I go any further, I offer this direct quotation from the overlords at Mountain View:
Submitting a sitemap is merely a hint: it doesn’t guarantee that Google will download the sitemap or use the sitemap for crawling URLs on the site.
But as I’ve said again and again, SEO is about seizing every opportunity; this is one more. And as you’ll read shortly, creating an XML sitemap is such a light lift, there’s no good reason not to do it.
Welcome the crawlers
Your XML sitemap gives search engines a fistful of shortcuts by literally telling them up front, “This is the structure of our website: We have pages covering this topic, that topic, and all these other topics.”
The crawlers will still index your site if you submit an XML site map. But your XML sitemap enables them to surface relevant search query results faster. And “faster” can be good for your site’s overall search performance.
You might have competitively important content that you’ve had to place on a lower-level page in order to conform to your site architecture. Your XML sitemap shows search engines all your pages in a single place, essentially leveling the search playing field for all your site’s pages.
What’s in an XML sitemap?
At the most basic level, your XML sitemap is a list of all the URLs that make up your website. You could think of it as your site’s table of contents.
Simply understanding that concept, one can see the advantages in search: Rather than only crawling your entire site, search engines can also crawl your XML sitemap and find the information you most want to amplify faster.
How to create an XML sitemap
It’s not hard work; a web search for “XML sitemap generator” will reveal several useful tools for the purpose. But if you’ve built your site on the WordPress platform (as we recommend), this super-easy task becomes nearly effortless.
I’ve repeatedly made note of the Yoast plug-in’s numerous valuable SEO capabilities. Those capabilities include XML sitemap creation, literally by flipping a switch and clicking “Save changes.”
Then it’s just a matter or submitting your XML sitemap to Google and any other search engines you choose. Here are Google’s instructions for submitting your sitemap.
How to optimize your XML sitemap for the greatest positive impact on search results
The #1 action you can take on this front: Ensure that your URLs are keyword optimized for the content on each page. This is easy enough to do for a new site that’s still in development.
If you wish to audit and possibly update your existing site’s URL structure, I would urge you to pump the brakes and consider the SEO implications of such a move.
- For example, backlinks to your pages can be positive search performance indicators. Change your URLs and those backlinks go dead, costing your site search juice — unless you’ve set up 301 redirects to the new URLs. A granular redirect plan can assure that the transition is smooth.
“My website’s going to change over time, of course. How can my XML sitemap keep pace?”
You’re going to keep adding new content to your site (you post to your blog on the reg, right?). Your site may also have other dynamic content (e-commerce pages, video, calendars, e.g.) that changes automatically. Good news: You don’t have to resubmit your XML sitemap every time.
Once again, it’s Yoast to the rescue. In most cases, Yoast will update and resubmit your sitemap whenever you add, delete, or edit content, or when dynamic content updates.
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More insights on better search performance:
Blog post: Link Building: An Introduction for SMBs
Blog post: Schema, Structured Data, and Search
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