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Some of the simplest techniques for improving website ranking and traffic are also the most effective in SEO. One of them is to simply provide a sitemap to your search engine of choice, thus guaranteeing that your site gets indexed by Google or other browsers. But what exactly does that mean, and what is an XML sitemap?
The Basics of Sitemaps
The purpose of sitemaps is to simply provide easier navigation for getting to specific pages on a website. There are two main types of sitemaps.
These maps are usually seen at the bottom portion of a website’s interface as a structured list of all the pages present on it. These sitemaps are used by the website’s users to visit certain pages.
While they’re not directly responsible for improving a website’s Google ranking, more people prefer websites with HTML maps due to their convenience, leading to improved traffic and impressions.
These are the lists of key web pages that websites must provide to search engines in order to have their content indexed by crawler bots.
Indexing is where your website, page, or other types of web-based content is added to Google’s database and used to improve your position on search engine results pages (SERPs).
How Valuable are XML Maps?
Googlebot and other web crawlers are constantly on the lookout for websites to promote on SERPs based on certain criteria. Sometimes, however, search engines need a little guidance in order to make sure that the right pages are given the attention that they need, considering the sheer volume of content they have to examine on a regular basis.
But how, exactly? To simplify, when you visit a park or large public space, often you’re met at the entrance with a map detailing the directions and whereabouts of different places and specific spots. If you arrived hoping to get somewhere in particular fast, this map is exactly what you need.
Sitemaps provide basically the same basic help, with XML sitemaps providing all the details needed by crawlers to make sure which pages need to be visited. This includes the credentials associated with each page and timestamps denoting when the pages were last visited or modified.
On top of directing search engine bots to the ins and outs of your web pages, sitemaps can be edited or configured by website owners to reflect changes or updates, or to ensure that it is indexed and categorized according to specific preferences that lead to greater search impressions.
What Sites Need XML Maps?
While it’s a smart move to make sure that your site gets indexed regardless of certain special features, certain webpages are recommended to be included and prioritized through sitemaps.
Major Websites with Multiple Pages
Crawlers take a lot of time going through every single aspect of a website and deciding on which pages need to be indexed. It’s common for them to often skip over or ignore some of the more important ones. This is particularly an issue with large websites with a significant amount of content.
Even for big websites, creating a detailed XML map is easy and not particularly time-consuming. With it, you can make sure that your site is processed quickly and even prioritize certain important pages that should help improve your website’s traffic prospects once indexed.
New or Updated Web Pages
Older content has a much greater chance of being crawled thanks to the head start in gaining sufficient traffic and user response for indexing purposes.
But new pages, or updated versions of existing ones, can sometimes take longer to be noticed by searcher bots. This can be a problem as Google ignoring your new and improved pages can create a dent in your site ranking.
To rectify this shortcoming, XML mapping allows site managers to essentially shine a spotlight on the most recent additions to your websites and make sure that timestamps are added and used to let new pages be highlighted on SERPs.
Creating and Submitting a Sitemap
While most users prefer content management systems like WordPress for generating sitemaps, high-end services are available for more lucrative online entities in order to design customized or specialized maps for their websites. Plus, it can be important to use plugins when creating sitemaps for quicker results.
For XML maps, you will need an XML declaration that tells Googlebot about the file format and a set of URLs that link to your web pages.
To ensure that your sitemap is indexed, you can submit it through Google Console or other search engine tools, for which you’ll need an account. Once added, details about the crawling and indexing status become online and monitorable as soon as your pages are processed, and you can rest assured that Google knows about your website and your chances of being ranked high on SERPs have improved.
Best Practices for Using XML Sitemaps
Successfully submitting your website’s sitemap is a quick and surefire way to get yourself indexed. Nevertheless, there are ways through which you can still improve your ranking and over SEO prospects through XML maps.
In the past, audio, image, and video files were not embedded into web pages, which meant that they had to be indexed separately. Today, however, that is no longer the case and creating sitemaps for media is, for the most part, not needed.
However, if your online business or website employs certain photos as promotional content or intellectual property, it can be associated through searches to your enterprise. In such a case, you can have media files indexed as well.
However, it’s better to use a content delivery network (CDN) to host the files separately as website domains usually cannot support them.
Robots.txt are the programming protocols through which websites can be read. When you have created a sitemap and you intend to submit it to Google Console for crawling ahead of indexing, it is important that you enable your robots.txt file to include a link to the map.
Quite often, crawlers face difficulty in examining a website because the “robots” has been set to block what it believes to be certain third-party software or alien URLs, often by default. That’s an easy problem to fix with the right set of instructions.
Exclude No-index Tags
When creating a sitemap, remember that you only need links or URLs that Googlebot and other crawlers can actually identify. Some URLs are accompanied by a “no-index” tag which prevents this, usually for reasons regarding censorship, sensitive material, etc.
Indexing requires that web crawlers waste no time checking only the important pages, so make sure to keep noindex URLs out of your sitemap for best results.
Do You Need Help with Creating Sitemaps?
As we’ve learned, designing and submitting a sitemap for your website isn’t super difficult. Sure, there are a few technicalities, but for the most part, anyone can do it with a proper instruction manual.
And for individuals hoping to have their blogs or WordPress servers noticed by Googlebot, the recommended course of action would be to have a go at it.
However, for businesses of all sizes, SEO, in general, is an important part of digital marketing that needs to be handled with care and certain expertise. The trouble, however, is that not all business owners have the time, skills, and resources to manage their own affairs when they have a business to keep afloat.
For that reason, outsourcing SEO needs to marketing firms and agencies is a smart move. Even something as seemingly trivial as creating and submitting an XML sitemap would be much better handled by experienced professionals, as you save time and spend money to improve your company’s prospects.
In A Nutshell
Web crawlers are certainly good at their job, but sometimes you need to make an effort to get their attention. That doesn’t necessarily mean that getting your pages indexed has to be complicated.
So, to summarize, what exactly is an XML sitemap? It’s an effectively designed and readily recognized means for Google to take a tour of your website and determine its suitability for high search ranking. In short, you need one for your website no matter what.