In the context of SEO, a sitemap, also known as an “XML sitemap,” is invisible to anyone who uses the website. Its purpose is to signal to Google’s crawlers, which collects information from the website to produce search results. When the crawlers come across a website with a sitemap, they can access all of the website’s URLs in one place rather than crawling through each of its individual pages.
How a Sitemap Works
A manually-generated sitemap is written in XML code, a markup language that’s both human and machine-readable. The code utilizes tags and strings of characters that must follow a complicated set of rules to be read correctly. Fortunately, you don’t have to be knowledgeable in XML to build a sitemap. These days, some website-building platforms and SEO software offer sitemap building templates or generators.
Once the file has been generated, it must be added to the website’s backend, which then adds the sitemap to the actual website. From there, the sitemap organizes all of a website’s URLs and carries data about when and how often they were updated. They also tell Google’s crawlers which pages should be prioritized over others. This makes it easier for Google’s crawlers to index the site and ultimately determine its ranking in search results.
Sitemaps and SEO
Sitemaps are just one aspect of good SEO strategy. A website can contain dozens, hundreds, or thousands of individual URLs. Without a sitemap, Google may continue indexing non-essential URLs until its algorithm decides that the website’s data is no longer relevant. Then, the website would ultimately fall behind in its search engine ranking.
Building a sitemap eliminates this problem by showing Google which pages are essential or have been updated since the last crawl. Essentially, a sitemap is a roadmap that shows the sights rather than forcing crawlers to pull over at each and every stop. This allows Google’s crawlers to discover the most important pages in a shorter amount of time, process the content, and report back to Google that the information on the website is good for indexing. When Google has an easier time crawling and indexing a website, the website has an easier time ranking in search results.
How Important Is Having a Sitemap?
You don’t exactly need to have a sitemap to show up in Google’s search results. However, it may take several weeks, or your website might be buried under two pages of higher-ranking results without one. If a website is simple with a handful of well-organized pages, Google will likely be able to index it without needing a sitemap.
On the other hand, SEO can become more complicated if a website isn’t simple and straightforward. Large websites with archived content or a high number of pages can make it difficult for Google to crawl efficiently. In this case, including the sitemap will effectively push the most important pages to the front of the line. Websites that are new without much traffic or inbound links can also benefit from a sitemap, which helps with facilitating discoverability as well as indexing.
It Pays Off
Obviously, having a sitemap isn’t required when it comes to building your website. However, if you want to optimize your website for search ranking, then a sitemap can be a tremendous help. New websites are created every day, which floods search results and increases competition. For this reason, it’s important to stay on top of your SEO strategy. When it comes down to it, including a sitemap as part of your SEO approach produces results with virtually no downsides at all.