What is an XML Sitemap?

A sitemap is a listing of page and file URLs for a website. Sitemaps visible to human visitors to a website are often created in standard HTML format. XML sitemaps use the Extensible Markup Language (XML) to create sitemaps, which are often only visible or submitted to search engines.

From an SEO standpoint, XML sitemaps are an effective way of informing search engines like Google about new websites or web pages. But contrary to popular belief, XML sitemaps are not one of Google’s search algorithm factors and do not help a web page rank higher. As long as there are links pointing to a new website or web page, Google will eventually find, crawl and index it. Rather, XML sitemaps may help search engines like Google index a new website or web page faster.

Creating a submitting an XML sitemap may be helpful in the following situations:

  • Launch of new websites – if a new website is launched and it currently has no backlinks pointing to it, creating and submitting an XML sitemap may help it get indexed sooner.
  • Launch of new web pages – if webmasters or website owners launch new pages that they would like indexed and promoted right away, creating and submitting an XML sitemap may help speed up the process.
  • Frequent publishers – Automated XML sitemap creators and submitting tools are recommended for active websites that frequently publish new content. For example, active bloggers, social media networks and news sites could run these tools to alert Google as soon as new content is posted. This will ensure that new content, especially timely articles and time-sensitive pieces, are promoted right away.

Creating XML sitemaps

Experienced SEO specialists and experts don’t bother creating XML sitemaps manually. It’s not worth their time, and it goes against the underlying ethos of marketing automation.

Rather they use tools to create the XML sitemaps. There are many free XML sitemap generators that SEOs and webmasters can use to create an XML sitemap. These generators typically crawl a target website with a web bot, which produces the necessary URL data for the sitemap.

Similarly, some SEOs use their own website crawler programs to create their XML sitemaps. For example, the free Xenu Link Sleuth program can create a detailed listing of a website’s pages and files, which can then be exported into an Excel spreadsheet and converted into an XML file.

Note that different types of XML sitemaps are supported by Google and other search engines. These XML sitemap types include video, image, news and mobile sitemaps. However, one sitemap can actually contain various types of website files and pages, so separate XML sitemaps are no longer required.

Submitting XML sitemaps

Google has made submitting XML sitemaps much easier. The recommended way is to install Google Webmaster Tools (and Google Analytics, of course) for a website. The XML sitemap can then be submitted through Google Webmaster Tools, which also checks the XML sitemap for errors.

Many websites, especially those using WordPress, can use one of many available plugins to automatically generate and submit XML sitemapss.


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