In the expansive universe of the internet, your website is a single star. So, how do you make sure search engines like Google find your star among the billions of others? The answer lies in the creation and optimization of an XML Sitemap. In this guide, we’ll explain what an XML Sitemap is, why it’s crucial for your SEO strategy, and how you can optimize it for better indexing.
Understanding XML Sitemaps
An XML Sitemap is a file that lists all the important pages of your website that you want search engines to crawl and index. It provides valuable metadata associated with the pages listed in that sitemap: when the page was last updated, how often the page changes, and how critical the page is in relation to other pages on your site.
Why Are XML Sitemaps Important for SEO?
Imagine inviting someone to a vast library filled with books but no catalogue or organizing system. That’s how a search engine feels when trying to navigate a website without a sitemap. An XML Sitemap allows search engines to understand the structure of your website and find the relevant pages, thereby increasing your site’s visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs).
How to Optimise Your XML Sitemap
By following the steps below, you’ll ensure your XML Sitemap effectively communicates your site’s structure to search engines, enhancing your website’s crawlability and indexability and improving its visibility and ranking in search engine results.
Include Important Pages Only
While it might seem like a good idea to include every single page of your website in your sitemap, this approach can actually dilute the value of your most important pages. Your XML Sitemap should act as a guide to your website’s most essential content.
This includes pages with high-quality, unique content and pages that target valuable keywords. Also, any pages that have accumulated a good number of high-quality inbound links should be included, as these are likely to be viewed as more authoritative by search engines.
Conversely, avoid including pages that aren’t important for SEO, like duplicate pages, pages with thin or low-quality content, or pages that are blocked by the robots.txt file.
Keep Your Sitemap Up-To-Date
A sitemap is not a “set it and forget it” tool. As your website evolves, your sitemap should be updated to reflect these changes. If you add new pages to your website, they should be added to your sitemap.
Similarly, if pages are removed from your site, they should be removed from your sitemap. An outdated sitemap can lead to crawling errors if search engines try to crawl pages that no longer exist. It can also waste your crawl budget, as search engines spend time trying to crawl these non-existent pages instead of focusing on your current, important pages.
Use Sitemap Index Files
If your website is large with hundreds or thousands of pages, managing your sitemap can become a challenge. This is where sitemap index files come in handy. A sitemap index file is essentially a sitemap of sitemaps. It allows you to manage multiple sitemaps, making it easier to maintain and organize your pages.
Each sitemap listed in the index can focus on a specific type of content or section of your website. This not only helps with organization but also makes it easier for search engines to crawl your site.
Submit Your Sitemap to Search Engines
Once you’ve created and optimised your sitemap, the next step is to let search engines know it exists. Submit your sitemap to search engine webmaster tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
This submission process is relatively straightforward and guides are readily available for each platform. By submitting your sitemap directly to search engines, you’re helping to ensure that they’re aware of all the pages you want them to crawl and index.
Check for Errors Regularly
Regular maintenance is important for keeping your sitemap effective. Use tools like Google Search Console to regularly check your sitemap for errors. This tool can show you if there are pages in your sitemap that Google couldn’t crawl, or if there were other errors during the crawling process. If you find errors, take the necessary steps to fix them.
This might involve removing non-existent pages from your sitemap, fixing broken links, or addressing other issues that could be preventing Google from crawling certain pages. Regularly monitoring and addressing these issues will help keep your sitemap – and therefore your site – in good standing with search engines.
An optimised XML Sitemap is a powerful tool in your Technical SEO toolbox. By effectively communicating your site’s structure to search engines, you enhance your website’s crawlability and indexability, leading to improved visibility and ranking in SERPs.
Remember to use your targeted keywords and variations throughout your content to optimize it for SEO. This includes your title, headings, meta description, and within the body of your content. In this article, “XML Sitemap,” “indexing,” and “Technical SEO” are the main keywords to target.
In our next blog post, we’ll explore the fascinating world of Robots.txt and its role in directing search engine crawlers.