Andrew Raso December 13, 2022

If you’re building a new website, you might have come across XML sitemaps during your research. XML sitemaps act as a roadmap for your website and are a fundamental part of technical SEO. But what exactly are they, and how important are they for your website?

To get it right, you not only need to know what XML sitemaps are, but why they’re important for SEO, how to make an XML sitemap, and how to submit an XML sitemap to Google.

What is an XML sitemap?

An XML sitemap is a file that lists all your website’s pages in an XML format, allowing Google to find and crawl the content easily.

Why is an XML sitemap important for SEO?

While XML sitemaps don’t boost search rankings, they are an essential part of Google’s understanding of your website. Getting them wrong can cause real issues when it comes to trying to rank.

We like to use the analogy of your website being a house, and the XML sitemap being the blueprints. If you’re an expert, you should be able to understand the layout of the house, without actually visiting it, when you look at a blueprint. The same goes for your website. Googlebot should be able to envisage the full layout of your site, just by visiting your sitemap.

Once Google crawls and indexes these pages, they will start to appear in search results, boosting your traffic and your SEO rankings.

The six types of sitemaps

  • XML sitemap index

    If you have a sitemap larger than 50MB, you may need additional sitemaps. An XML sitemap index allows you to split your sitemap and submit more than one to Google.

  • XML image sitemap

    Whether you need an XML image sitemap will depend on your website. For instance, an XML image sitemap may not be necessary if images are incorporated with your web content.

  • XML video sitemap

    An XML video sitemap helps Google crawl and index videos you have on your site. Like image sitemaps, an XML video sitemap is an extension of your existing XML sitemap protocol and may not be a mandatory requirement.

  • Mobile sitemap

    As users are more likely to search via their mobile or tablet devices, an independent mobile sitemap is essential for your SEO strategy. Keep in mind that a mobile sitemap only needs to contain links to pages with web content.

  • HTML sitemap

    An HTML sitemap is simply a directory for your site’s pages, which is highly beneficial to your site’s visitors. While there’s been some debate about whether HTML sitemaps are useful for SEO, they keep your website organised and accessible for the user and Google crawling.

  • Dynamic XML sitemap

    A dynamic XML sitemap is created whenever requested and can efficiently keep your website updated. This is also a faster way for search engines to crawl your site.

What does an XML sitemap look like?

Every XML sitemap must follow a standard format to ensure they are discoverable. Its main components are:

  • An XML declaration — This is what search engines use to understand what type of file they are crawling.
  • URL set — This is the first part of the URL that indicates which protocol a search engine must follow to request the source.
  • The URL — This refers to the page’s actual URL.
  • Lastmod — This informs the search engine when the page was last updated.

How do I find my XML sitemap?

You can find your XML sitemap in three ways:

  • Type in your website’s domain name with the following endings: /sitemap, /sitemap.xml or /sitemap_index.xml.
  • Look in your robots.txt file, your XML sitemap should always be referenced in your robots.txt.
  • Type your site into Google and search for the type of XML file.

Once you have found your XML sitemap, you can submit it to Google via Google Search Console.

What is the difference between HTML and XML sitemap?

HTML sitemaps best serve users by keeping your pages organised and easy to find — XML sitemaps are made for search engines. Many sites today are published in an XML format instead of HTML, as XML sitemaps are better suited for SEO.

XML sitemaps are just one of the many things we leverage as Australia’s leading SEO agency, to achieve consistent results for our clients. Get in touch today!

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About the Author

Andrew Raso