How XML Sitemaps Help Your Website’s SEO

Written by: Jason Bayless | March 13, 2015

One thing that can certainly improve a website’s search engine optimization is an XML sitemap. Below is an explanation of what XML sitemaps are, how they work and how they can give you more control over SEO.

What Are XML Sitemaps?

An XML sitemap is a kind of XML file. XML stands for extensible markup language. An XML file is a kind of file used to describe data in a way that can be read by both computer systems and human beings.

An XML sitemap is a kind of XML file that includes information regarding the different URLs of a website. This may be a single URL or many. Other information may also be included within in the file such as the last time the file was modified, the number of times it has been modified and a set of priorities that allow the author to rank the URLs in terms of importance. This kind of information is known as metadata.

Today, XML sitemap files may also include other kinds of metadata. For example, metadata may be included that lists the running time of a video. Metadata could also be used for images to list the subject matter of the photo as well as any licensing information.

How Do Search Engines Use XML Sitemaps?

The major search engines like Google and Bing use automated programs called spiders that “crawl” websites on the internet in an effort to find pages that can be indexed. If a website is not found by a spider and indexed, internet users probably won’t be able to use the associated search engine to find it.

Sitemaps are designed to assist in this process. They use markup language that alerts the search engine spiders that a website has certain URLs that can be crawled. When a spider finds an XML file, it will use it to find the URLS listed and index them so they can be added to search engine results.

The Risks of Not Having XML Sitemaps for SEO

It is true that a website can still be crawled even without an XML sitemap. Search engine spiders from companies like Google and Microsoft use many different strategies to locate pages on the web to crawl. However, there are some very good reasons to make sure a quality XML sitemap is available for your website.

Even if a spider does find a website, it may not crawl every single URL that is part of that website. For example, the spider may not be designed in a way to use your site’s navigation like your regular users do. If that occurs, it may result in only certain pages like the index being crawled.

The XML file solves this problem by immediately alerting spiders of all the relevant pages that should be indexed. This removes the possibility of error that can result in certain pages you view as important not being crawled and thus ignored in search results. You will also have the ability to set priority for the URLs and make the search engine aware of your preference.

Sharing Your XML Sitemap with the Major Search Engines

The major search engines all have different ways of letting website owners alert them of their XML files. For all of them, however, you must first upload the XML file to some location within your website. Second, you must alert the search engines of its presence.

With Google this is done through your account in Webmaster Tools. With Bing, this is done from the Webmaster Center control page from within Windows Live. For Yahoo, you simply need to log into your account and place the URL of the XML file into the field marked “Submit Website Feed.”

Overall, XML sitemaps are a tool that can certainly provide you with better SEO. Without them, how your website is indexed is largely left up to chance. An XML sitemap gives you the ability to exert some control over the process.