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What are XML Sitemaps & How Do You Optimise Them

XML stands for eXtensive Markup Language and is used to create structured data about websites that can be understood by both humans, as well as other programs – like search engines. XML can be used to create XML maps or a type of sitemap, which allows for greater in-depth detail on website pages and their relationship to one another.

Google defines sitemaps as a “file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them. Search engines like Google read this file to more intelligently crawl your site”

The sitemap itself can provide a host of extra metadata for search engines around when the page was last updated, if it has been created in other languages and how often the page is modified. With the growth of SEO over the past 20 years, sitemaps have also become increasingly important for any businesses website, as they offer several SEO benefits including:

  1. Allowing for easier crawling & indexing of the website,
  2. Aiding in prioritising important pages to index compared to other pages on a site
  3. Improving the indexing of large websites that are unstructured and have many unlinked pages
  4. Helping new websites with low links be recognised by search engines

As XML maps are specifically designed to work with search engines. It is important to utilize them to ensure best practice SEO is implemented.


XML Sitemap Setup & Optimisation

Although it sounds complex, there are a few different methods that are available for businesses looking to set up an XML map. These range from plugins, to downloadable tools or server-side programs and the choice will vary depending on website hosting, size of the website and a business’s resources. If however the website is built using WordPress, there are a couple of options available including the Yoast SEO Plugin or Google Sitemap Generator. Even WordPress has recently announced the introduction of extensible XML sitemaps into the WordPress core, offering further options to collate an XML sitemap. It is important to note that while these different tools provide reasonably accurate XML sitemaps, it’s best practice to audit the XML sitemap upon completion and when any updates are made to your website’s structure.

These various audits can be carried out using different tools again such as Screaming Frog, Deepcrawl or Sitebulb. All tools allow for businesses to see if relevant URLs are included and non-indexable pages are excluded. Exclusion of relevant URLs can be highly damaging to an organisation’s SEO. On the other hand there are range of different non-indexable pages to watch out for:

  • 4xx / 3xx / 5xx URLs
  • Canonicalised URLs
  • Blocked by robots.txt URLs
  • Noindexed URLs
  • Paginated URLs
  • Orphaned URLs

All of these pages cannot only waste crawl budget, but in some instances end up being accidentally indexed, leading to poor customer experiences that are linked back to the website. Once a business’s sitemap is finally generated, it then needs to be submitted to the relevant search engines to ensure it can be properly indexed. For Google, this is through Google Search Console, whereas you can use the Webmaster tool to submit to Bing. Google Search Console can also be utilised as an auditing tool by checking of the coverage report and finding out if and why particular URLs were excluded from being indexed.


Other Sitemaps

XML sitemaps focus purely around making sure search engines and other programs can understand a website and how it is interlinked. There are also other sitemaps which can also be included to aid with both search engines and users. The first two are image and video sitemaps, which allow search engines to gain a better understanding of imagery and videos employed on the website. However, this is normally only recommended for websites that have an extensive number of videos or images that need to be easily found by customers and will have an express effect on positive SEO performance. An HTML sitemap is another sitemap and unlike the XML sitemap, an HTML sitemap is created with the users in mind by providing an architecture of the website that allows users greater ease with navigation. Both XML and HTML sitemaps can be implemented in tandem to ensure both programs and users are supported.

When undertaking the creation of any sitemap it is vital that the correct process and final product is achieved or there can be repercussions on the performance of your businesses website. Talk to the web development experts at Redline Digital to find out more about sitemaps today.

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