How to Use XML Sitemaps to Boost SEO

The problem is, when every man and their dog has posted answers in forums, published recommendations on blogs and amplified opinions with social media, it takes time to sort valuable advice from misinformation. This means what is considered best practice is often in flux. What may have been good council yesterday is not so today. This is especially true for sitemaps, which are almost as old as SEO itself.

So while most of us share a general understanding that submitting a sitemap to Google Search Console is important, you may not know the intricacies of implementing them in a way that drives SEO key performance indicators (KPIs). Let’s clear up the confusion around best practices for sitemaps today. This article covers: What is an XML sitemap format Types of sitemaps XML sitemap indexation optimization XML sitemap best practice checklist.

Types of sitemap

There are many different types of sitemaps. Let’s look at the ones you need. XML Sitemap Index XML sitemaps have a couple of limitations: A maximum of 50,000 URLs. An uncompressed file size limit of 50MB. Sitemaps can be compressed using gzip (the file name would become something similar to sitemap.xml.gz) to save bandwidth for your server. But once unzipped, the sitemap still can’t exceed either limit. Whenever you exceed either limit, you will need to split your URLs across multiple XML sitemaps.

Those sitemaps can then be combined into a single XML sitemap index file, often named sitemap-index.xml. Essentially, a sitemap for sitemaps. For exceptionally large websites that want to take a more granular approach, you can also create multiple sitemap index files. For example, sitemap-index-articles.xml sitemap-index-products.xml sitemap-index-categories.xml. But be aware that you cannot nest sitemap index files. For search engines to easily find every one of your sitemap files at once, you will want to: Submit your sitemap index(s) to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Specify your sitemap index URL(s) in your robots.txt file. Pointing search engines directly to your sitemap as you welcome them to crawl.

Unverified sitemaps

You can also submit sitemaps by pinging them to Google. But beware: Google no longer pays attention to hreflang entries in “unverified sitemaps,” which Tom Anthony believes to mean those submitted via the ping URL. XML Image Sitemap Image sitemaps were designed to improve the indexation of image content. In modern-day SEO, however, images are embedded within page content to be crawled along with the page URL. Because of this, an XML image sitemap is unnecessary for most websites. Including an image, sitemap would only waste the crawl budget. Moreover, it’s best practice to utilize JSON-LD ImageObject markup to call out image properties to search engines as it provides more attributes than an image XML sitemap.

The exception is if images help drive your business, such as a stock photo website or eCommerce site gaining product page sessions from Google Image search. Know that images don’t have to be on the same domain as your website submitted in a sitemap. You can use a CDN as long as it’s verified in Search Console. XML Video Sitemap Like images, if videos are critical to your business, submit an XML video sitemap. If not, a video sitemap is unnecessary.

Save your crawl budget for the page the video is embedded into, ensuring you markup all videos with JSON-LD as a VideoObject. Google News Sitemap Only sites registered with Google News should use this sitemap. If you are, include articles published in the last two days, up to a limit of 1,000 URLs per sitemap, and update with fresh articles as soon as they’re published. Contrary to some online advice, Google News sitemaps don’t support image URLs. Google recommends using image or og: image to specify your article thumbnail for Google News.

Mobile Sitemap This is not needed for most websites. Why?

Because Mueller confirmed mobile sitemaps are for feature phone pages only. Not for smartphone compatibility. So unless you have unique URLs specifically designed for featured phones, a mobile sitemap will be of no benefit. HTML Sitemap XML sitemaps take care of search engine needs. HTML sitemaps were designed to assist human users in finding content. The question becomes if you have a good user experience and well-crafted internal links, do you need an HTML sitemap?

Check the page views of your HTML sitemap in Google Analytics. Chances are, it’s very low. If not, it’s a good indication that you need to improve your website navigation. HTML sitemaps are generally linked in website footers. You were taking link equity from every single page of your website. Ask yourself. Is that the best use of that link equity? Or are you including HTML sitemap as a nod to legacy website best practices? If few humans use it. And search engines don’t need it as you have strong internal linking and an XML sitemap. Does that HTML sitemap have a reason to exist? I would argue no.

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