XML Sitemap and SEO – Basics and Importance Explained!

Google has been the key motivator for marketers to learn and implement best SEO practices. It is impossible for businesses to ignore the perks of being in the good book of search engines when it comes to their online presence. And, XML sitemap and SEO go hand in hand. 

In the last few years, XML sitemaps have evolved to become the most important part of every SEO strategy. It helps in creating a foundation for every website that assists in reaping long term benefits. 

To be precise, if you quest to succeed online, the process will depend on how flawlessly you create your XML sitemaps.

Even though with such a huge contribution in SEO, XML sitemaps are often misunderstood. Therefore, many experts either forget about including it in their website root directory or fail to optimize it properly for witnessing the best results. 

So, why not learn about XML Sitemaps and SEO in detail and find out how you can utilize these terms.

What are XML Sitemaps?

In simpler terms, XML Sitemaps are the complete blueprint of your website providing its construction architecture. The sitemaps list all the URLs in one place that exist on your website. 

Here is the format of a usual XML sitemap: Example 1

<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”UTF-8”?>

<urlset xmlns =“http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9”>

<url>

<loc>http://example.com</loc>

<lastmod>2021-11-30T14:50:15+04:00</lastmod>

<changefreq>daily</changefreq>

<priority>0.2</priority>

</ur|>

<url>

<loc>http://example.com/a</loc>

<lastmod>2021-12-04 T11:45:10+01:00</lastmod>

<changefreq>monthly</changefreq>

<priority>0.4</priority>

</ur|>

</urlset>

Is it looking alien to you? Do not worry, understanding each of the tags will make it look simpler. Here is a small description of what each of the tags means within the XML format.

The Header

<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”UTF-8”?>

Every sitemap starts with this tag. Essentially, the header signifies the XML standard the sitemap is following. Plus, it also elaborates the character encoding being used. 

In short, the search engines would know exactly what they must expect from the particular sitemap. 

URL Set Definition

<urlset xmlns =“http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9”>

The ‘urlset’ is the superset of all the URLs included in the website. It describes the XML standard version used.

Make sure to close the ‘urlset’ tag at the end of all the URLs. 

URL Definition

As you can see in example 1, there are two different <URL> tags, listing two different links from the website. This number will depend on the actual links available on the site. For instance, if you have a total of 10 links, the number of <URL> tags will become 10, unless you decide not to list unimportant and weak links in your sitemap. 

However, what are the other tags within <URL> and </URL>? Let’s find out one by one:

Loc – This is a compulsory tag one must include. This provides the direct link to the page from your website. Make sure you include the protocol in the link (https:// or http://)

Lastmod – The date when the post was modified last. You can skip this tag if you want to. Google also refers to this tag as not very relevant to the SEO practices.

Changefreq – This defines the frequency at which the page changes. Usually, you can choose from different values such as hourly, daily, weekly, monthly as well as early and never. 

Priority – Depending on the relevancy of your own links available on the website, you can set priority from 0.0 to 1.0 for each page. 

That was about the basic way to write your sitemaps. However, now that we are putting in all the efforts, wouldn’t you like to know – ‘WHY’?

What is the relation between XML sitemap and SEO? Well, by visiting a sitemap directory, Google can find out each and every page available on your site as a list without going from one root to another. This minimizes the time taken by the search engines to crawl and index your pages. 

Let’s understand the same using an example:

When Google comes to your sitemap, it picks all the links included as a list and indexes it. Basically, the XML sitemap would look like this to Google:

On the other hand, if Google tries to crawl your website, and wants to index pages, it will have to reach page D by jumping through different internal links. 

Benefits of XML Sitemaps

XML sitemaps are very useful when you have a huge website that has hundreds and thousands of pages. By assisting Google and other search engines’ crawlers to index pages faster, sitemap strengthens the SEO of the website. 

You must use sitemap if: 

  • Your website has thousands of different links featuring a deep architecture
  • You are adding new pages more often than usual
  • Your content keeps changing too frequently
  • The website does not have strong interlinking 
  • Your website lacks robust external linking

However, if you do want to reap the benefit of sitemap, you can have these anyway, even if you have a small website.

The Takeaway

SEO is confusing to some. However, there are certain must-haves you cannot afford to ignore when trying to improve your website ranking. The same goes for XML sitemap and SEO. You must create an SEO and upload it to the Google search console to initiate and complete the indexing process faster. 

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