A sitemap is an essential component of any website’s optimization. The creation and maintenance of an XML sitemap is an important but sometimes overlooked SEO technique. Your website and search engines both benefit from sitemaps.
Sitemaps are a simple and clear approach for search engines to learn about your website’s structure and pages.
XML sitemaps also include important meta data, such as:
- How frequently each page is modified.
- When was the last time they were changed?
- The importance of each page in comparison to the others.
However, there are several best practices to follow when using a sitemap to its full potential. Are you interested in learning XML sitemap optimization? The 13 best practices listed below will help you get the most SEO bang for your dollars.
- Generate Your Sitemap With Tools & Plugins
When you have the necessary tools, such as auditing software with an integrated XML Sitemap generator or popular plugins like Google XML Sitemaps, creating a sitemap is simple. XML Sitemaps can also be enabled directly in the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress sites that currently use it.
You might also generate a sitemap manually by following the XML sitemap code structure. Your sitemap doesn’t even have to be in XML format; a text file with a new line between each URL would suffice. However, if you want to use the hreflang attribute, you’ll need to create an entire XML sitemap, so it’s much faster to just use a tool to do it for you. For additional information on how to manually set up your sitemap, go to the official Google and Bing pages.
- Submit Your Sitemap to Google
From your Google Search Console, you may submit your sitemap to Google.
Click Crawl > Sitemaps > Add Test Sitemap from your dashboard.
Before clicking Submit Sitemap, test your sitemap and inspect the results to look for mistakes that may prevent critical landing pages from getting indexed. In an ideal world, the number of pages indexed should equal the number of pages submitted.
It’s important to note that submitting your sitemap informs Google about the sites you feel to be of high quality and deserving of indexation, but it doesn’t guarantee that they will be indexed. Instead, publishing your sitemap has the following advantages:
- Assist Google in recognizing the layout of your website.
- Find problems you can fix to guarantee your pages are properly indexed.
- Prioritize High-Quality Pages in Your Sitemap
When it comes to ranking, the general quality of the site is a significant factor. If your sitemap directs search engines to thousands of low-quality pages, search engines read these sites as a hint that your website isn’t one that people will want to visit – even if the pages are required for your site, such as login pages. Instead, try to guide bots to your site’s most important pages.
These pages should ideally be:
- Extremely well optimised.
- Include photos and videos.
- Have original content.
- Encourage user involvement through comments and reviews.
4. Isolate Indexation Problems
If Google Search Console doesn’t index all of your pages, it might be annoying because it doesn’t tell you which pages are faulty. If you submit 20,000 pages and only 15,000 of them are indexed, you’ll have no idea what the 5,000 problem pages are. This is especially true for huge eCommerce sites with several pages for products that are extremely similar.
Splitting product pages into distinct XML sitemaps and testing each of them is suggested. Confirm hypotheses with sitemaps, such as “pages without product images aren’t getting indexed” or “pages without unique copy aren’t getting indexed.” When you’ve identified the key issues, you can either try to resolve them or mark those pages as “noindex” so they don’t degrade the overall quality of your site.
Index Coverage was updated in Google Search Console in 2018. The problematic pages are now listed, as well as the reasons why Google isn’t indexing some URLs.
5. Only use canonical URLs in your sitemap.
Use the “link rel=canonical” tag to notify Google which page is the primary one it should crawl and index when you have numerous sites that are very similar. For example, product pages for various colours of the same object. If you don’t include pages with canonical URLs linking to other pages, bots will have an easier time finding important pages.
6. Use Robots Meta Tag Instead of Robots.txt
When you don’t want a page to be indexed, you should use the “noindex, follow” tag in the meta robots tag. This keeps Google from indexing the page while preserving your link equity, and it’s especially effective for utility sites that should not appear in search results but are crucial to your site.
The only time you should use robots.txt to restrict pages is if your crawl budget is running low. You may wish to utilise robots.txt if you observe Google re-crawling and indexing relatively insignificant pages (e.g., individual product pages) at the expense of core pages.
7. Make Dynamic XML Sitemaps for Large Websites
For large websites, keeping track of all of your meta robots is extremely hard. Instead, create rules to define when a page will be added to your XML sitemap and/or when it will be changed from noindex to “index, follow.” You may find thorough instructions on how to construct a dynamic XML sitemap online, however, this step is made much easier by using a service that automatically generates dynamic sitemaps.
8. Use XML Sitemaps and RSS/Atom Feeds whenever possible
When you change a page or add new content to your website, RSS/Atom feeds inform search engines. To help search engines understand which sites should be scanned and updated, Google suggests using both sitemaps and RSS/Atom feeds. By including only recently updated information in your RSS/Atom feeds, both search engines and users will have an easier time finding new content.
9. Update Modification Times Only When Significant Changes Have Been Made
Try not to fool search engines into re-indexing pages by changing the modification time without making any significant changes to the page. It should be mentioned that if your date stamps are constantly updated without adding new value, Google may begin to remove them.
10. ‘noindex’ URLs should not be included in your sitemap.
When it comes to squandering crawl budget, if search engine robots aren’t authorised to index specific pages, they have no place in your sitemap. You’re simultaneously telling Google “it’s highly important that you index this page” and “you’re not permitted to index this page” by submitting a sitemap that includes blocked and “noindex” sites. A common blunder is a failure to be consistent.
11. Don’t Be much concerned About Priority Settings
A “Priority” column in some Sitemaps tells search engines which sites are the most significant. However, whether or not these feature works has long been a subject of controversy. When crawling, Googlebot is known to disregard priority settings. See Crawl Budget boosting.
12. Don’t make your Sitemap Too Big
Your sitemap should be as minimal as possible to reduce the load on your server. Both Google and Bing increased the size of approved sitemap files from 10 MB to 50 MB, with a maximum of 50,000 URLs per sitemap. While this is sufficient for the majority of websites, some webmasters will need to divide their pages into two or more sitemaps. For example, if you have 200,000 pages in your online store, you’ll need five unique sitemaps to accommodate everything.
13. Don’t Create a Sitemap If not necessary
Keep in mind that a sitemap isn’t required for every website. Google is pretty good at finding and indexing your pages. The sitemap itself does not provide identical SEO benefits to everyone. A sitemap is not required if your website is a portfolio/one-pager or if it is an organisation website that is rarely updated.
A sitemap, on the other hand, is a wonderful approach to offer Google information directly if you publish a lot of new content and want it indexed as quickly as possible, or if you have hundreds of thousands of pages (operating an eCommerce website, for example).