XML Sitemap SEO Impact

Published on 8 Mar 2012 at 6:05 pm.
Filed under Google,Search Engine Optimization.

Sitemaps provide an excellent mechanism for users to find the important pages on your site. Website owners normally want a search engine to find even more pages on their site. This is where an XML sitemap comes in.

Sitemap Web pages

A sitemap is a page on your website that lists all of your important pages on your site. It probably duplicates your navigation, but it may include other pages. If you have a large site than including every page on your site could overwhelm your typical person. The BrandBuilder Company Sitemap currently is set up to just duplicate the navigation. It is accomplished by using the SiteBrandBuilder Sitemap module to do this for us automatically. The few other important pages are contained in the site footer and can be found quite easily. This serves the need of any human being using our site.

XML Sitemap example.

XML Sitemap example.

Using an XML Sitemap

Search engines are not human beings. Search engines are a piece of software that is sometimes referred to as a crawler or a spider. Their purpose is to find pages on your site and add them to their database so that the content can be found. That is where an XML sitemap comes in. An XML sitemap is an XML file that in its bare minimum will contain just the URL for pages on your site. The XML file may also include information such as the last modification time for the page, the importance of the page on a scale of 0 to 1, or how frequently the page is modified.

Search engines can learn of your sitemap in a couple of different ways.

  • Search engines typically visit the known location of sitemap.xml at the root of your domain. So that means that if your domain was example.com than a search engine would just check for the file at http://example.com/sitemap.xml
  • Include the sitemap in your robots.txtfile. The sitemap can be included by simply listing the following line in the file:Sitemap: http://example.com/sitemap.xml
  • Creating an account with the major search engines and submit the file to them. Every search engine is different. Google requires you to create an account with the Google Webmaster Tools, while Bing has their own Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Submit the file through an HTTP request. Each search engine has a different location for where you may submit a manual request and to tell the search engine about your new sitemap file.

Let me be clear. Submitting an XML Sitemap does not guarantee that a search engine will crawl your site automatically. You’re just suggesting to the search engine where you think it should crawl, but you cannot force them to do it. They’ll probably download your XML sitemap when they receive that info, but they make no promises when they’ll actually visit the pages listed in the XML file.

You can have multiple sitemaps for a variety of needs on your site. For example, you may have just relaunched your website. It goes without saying that you are going to want to have a default XML sitemap that lists all of the current pages on your site. It is handy to also host the XML file from your old site and have that file submitted to search engines so that search engines will visit the old pages (that you should have set up a permanent redirect for) in order to speed up the updating process.

Sitemap Formats

While regular web pages are obviously possible using an XML sitemap, it is actually possible to extend this to more information. There exists additional XML sitemap formats for video, image, mobile, and news content. These XML sitemap formats follow the basic format of a regular sitemap, but they usually have a few more XML tags or attributes associated with them. For example a mobile XML sitemap is a regular XML sitemap that has had xmlns:mobile="http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-mobile/1.0" added as an attribute to the <urlset> tag, and has the empty <mobile:mobile/> tag added to every <url> tag. Do not attempt to mix differing XML sitemap formats in a single file. You will confuse the search engine. Just limit the file to one specific format.

A good content management system will support XML sitemap generation. The SiteBrandBuilder software automatically generates the XML file pulling the last modified data from the database, and allows the user to adjust the priority values. Our MobileBrandBuilder extension to SiteBrandBuilder does the same, and automatically creates mobile XML sitemaps. WordPress not automatically generate these files, but there are plugins that add this feature.

Are you using XML sitemaps? If so, how are you submitting them to search engines? Do you use the various formats such as video or image, or do you stick to regular web pages?

This post was originally published as XML Sitemap SEO Impact for The BrandBuilder Company.

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