3 Benefits of Using a Sitemap for SEO

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It can be hard to get the attention of the big search engines. One way to contact them is to provide a sitemap that invites their crawlers to view your content.

Companies rely on search engines for online exposure. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of strategies companies use to try to increase their exposure and get their content, products, and services in front of more people and customers. If you’ve ever spent any time working on SEO for your company, one thing is likely to be clear: It’s not easy.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to pick up the phone and call the search engines to fix your SEO issues? Unfortunately, when you say “Hi Google,“You’ll likely only get the attention of the virtual assistant on your smartphone, interactive speaker, or laptop.

So how do you talk to search engines? Well, in the code of course! As a webmaster, you can talk robots.txt fileYou can talk structured dataFinally you can talk Site Map with search engines.

Overview: What is a sitemap?

When you enter a mall, you will find a map of all the stores that you can find there. Websites use the same thing – an HTML page with an overview of all the pages in the site. Users didn’t use sitemaps much, but search engines did!

Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft have created a standard sitemap format that search engines can crawl to locate all pages in a website. This standard is detailed on sitemaps.org, where you can find all the technical specifications of the file format.

An XML sitemap is a file that you can place on your website to indicate the URLs of all pages in the site that should be indexed by search engines. It is a type of structured data that helps search engines better understand the structures of websites.

One important variable that you can discern is the frequency of changing the sitemap of a page. This serves as an invitation to search engines to come and revisit the page at the indicated frequency.

Another variable is the sitemap priority of the page. For each URL in the sitemap it is possible to indicate its relative importance as part of 1. You would probably put 1 for your home page, which has the highest priority, but you could indicate a lower priority for other pages by setting 0.8 for category pages, for example, and why not 0.5 for your contact page, which has little significance in SEO.

It is important to note that providing information via a sitemap does not guarantee that the information will be used or applied to the index, but the chances are it increases.

Screenshot of an advanced sitemap for yellowpages.dk.

Sitemap instructions can detail page importance, refresh frequency, and last date, although there is no guarantee that search engines will use the information. Image source: the author

Where can you find your sitemap?

Sitemaps are XML files that can be read in a browser. They are often located at the root of the domain but can have a variety of names. A good guess is that the file will be called sitemap.xml and placed in the root of the domain. Try entering this address in your browser using your own domain: https://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml.

Another good guess if you’re on WordPress is https://www.domain.com/wp-sitemap.xml, as sitemaps are now an integrated feature since version 5.5.

But wait, if you don’t know where your sitemap is, chances are you don’t have one! Sitemaps are specific files that are created on demand.

If someone else works on your site and creates a sitemap, you may be able to locate it via webmaster tools accounts. If you go to Google Search Console and click on Sitemaps in the list, you will see which sitemap URL has been submitted.

Screenshot from the Google Search Console Sitemaps page showing the submitted sitemaps, if any.

On the Sitemaps page of Google Search Console, you can see which sitemap URLs have been submitted. This functionality is also found in other webmaster tools such as Bing Tools. Image source: the author

3 Benefits Sitemap Brings to SEO Efforts

In an SEO audit, checking sitemaps is a standard procedure. Not only are they best practices, but they can benefit your SEO efforts in the following ways:

Make sure to find your home pages

For larger sites, it may be useful to use an SEO tool to crawl the site before creating the sitemap. This will help you understand which pages are indexed and which pages are not.

By entering the main pages into the sitemap and sharing them with search engines, you ensure that technical barriers do not get in the way of search engines finding and crawling those pages. It is a good practice to be on the safe side.

Screenshot from the coverage section of Google Search Console showing web pages that have been indexed.

Google Search Console will tell you the URL by URL which pages were indexed from the sitemap and which pages were indexed outside the sitemap. Image source: the author

Help avoid duplicate content issues

Content management systems and online store builders for e-commerce are becoming more and more complex. They can easily generate many more URLs than the number of actual pages in a site.

They adapt the pages to the user’s needs or requests by adding parameters to the original URL. For a search engine, this second version of the same page can create a duplicate content issue.

To determine which of the two URLs is the base version, a sitemap can serve as the arbiter, as it will only point to the original version of the page.

Allow you to provide help to search engines

A sitemap is an organized communication channel with search engines. It allows you to provide guidance to search engines about your website, so that they can better understand its structure and index its content.

4 best practices for sitemap

One of the most important technical SEO goals is to ensure that all the correct pages are indexed by search engines and that all the wrong pages are not. The following sitemap best practices will help reach this goal.

1. Do you have one

The first and most important best practice is to have a sitemap for any site that has more than a handful of pages. It is a way to reduce the risk of indexing issues for your website.

WordPress now creates a sitemap automatically, and many other CMSs include features for creating one with the click of a button.

There are also many third-party plugins or tools that can help you create your sitemap. In rare cases of complex custom-built sites, there may be a need to have your developers create one. However, in most cases, the existing tools can do the job well.

2. Create separate sitemaps for each language

It is possible to create multiple sitemaps for a site. This is especially useful for multilingual sites. It is best to provide one sitemap per language.

3. Submit your sitemap to search engines

Search engines do not automatically look for sitemaps unless you provide them with a URL. Therefore, once the sitemap is created, you must share it with search engines. This is done via Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for the major English language search engines. Most other search engines have similar functionality.

4. Respect the XML format

In Google Search Console, you will be notified if the file format is incorrect. XML must be strict as described in the sitemaps.org protocol. If the format is wrong, the file will be discarded – all working without result.

Sitemap is to invite your website to search engine crawlers

In most cases, you won’t see an immediate SEO improvement once you add a sitemap. But if you have issues with indexing, it can be part of the solution. And in most cases, this is a one-time fix.

Having a sitemap can improve your website crawl and gradually improve your rankings. Many search engine optimization (SEO) techniques provide small boosts to optimization, which will increase your site a bit. And the best part about sitemaps is that this technology is completely risk-free and certainly cannot harm your site.

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