What is XML Sitemap? What are its benefits, and how can you create one for your website?

How do you explain to people if they seek directions from you to reach a particular location? You explain to them in the language and manner they understand. The same logic applies to websites and search engines. An XML sitemap is like a roadmap of your website intended for search engines. It helps search engines to understand the structure of your website and index the relevant pages efficiently.

In technical terms, an XML sitemap (Extensible Markup Language Sitemap) is a text file detailing all the URLs present on a website. It can include additional information such as details of the latest update, importance of URLs, and whether there are multiple versions of URLs created in other languages.

Why do you need an XML Sitemap? – The benefits of XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap enables search engines to crawl your website efficiently. By including additional data, you make it easy for the search engines to learn whether you have added new pages or removed the existing ones.

The XML sitemap becomes handy when you do not have a robust internal linking strategy in place. Though it does not guarantee that the search engines will crawl through your pages, it indeed increases the chances of crawling.

An XML sitemap does not serve as a ranking signal. Hence, the presence of an XML sitemap does not affect your search engine rankings. However, the XML sitemap helps in indexing a file thereby making it easy for search engines to crawl through your website pages. It takes care of orphaned pages (pages that do not connect via internal linking) and those that are hard to find.

Sitemaps enable intelligent crawling of your webpages. They adjust the crawl frequencies. Increasing the priority of the page also allows for more frequent crawling.

XML sitemaps also work to your advantage if you have a geo-targeted international website. It is also handy when your site has pages translated in multiple languages. The best way to inform your search engines that you have various versions of a webpage is to include ‘hreflang’ tags in your sitemap. It enables the search engines to ensure that they are using the appropriate version based on language/location.

What information does an XML Sitemap contain?

<urlset> It indicates the current protocol standard
<url> Constitutes parent tag for each URL entry
<loc> Indication of location of the page
<lastmod> display the last modified date in YYYY-MM-DD format
<changefreq> Info about change in the frequency
<priority> It is in values that range from ‘zero to one’ thereby indicating the file’s importance within the site
<xhtml:link> - Indicates if there are alternate URLs in other languages 

How do you generate an XML Sitemap?

Regardless of how technical it may sound, creating an XML Sitemap is easy. You just need the right tools or plugins to generate it.

One of the best available tools is http://xml-sitemaps.com. Access this website and follow these simple steps to generate a sitemap for your website quickly and easily.

Create an XML Sitemap: Step-by-step

create-xml-sitemap
  1. Visit the website. Fill in your website URL and other optional parameters like change frequency, last modifications, and priority.
  2. Click on the ‘Start’ button and wait until it finishes crawling your website.
  3. It directs you to the generated sitemap details page that lists out information such as the number of listed pages, broken links, file content etc. It also includes a link to download the sitemap file. Download it and add to the root folder of your website.
  4. The final step is to access your Google Search Console and add your sitemap URL.

In case, you website is created on a CMS like WordPress, Joomla, Drupla etc., you can easily find plugins to create XML sitemap. Few of the recommended plugins are as below:

Conclusion

The term ‘XML Sitemap’ might sound geeky, but creating it doesn’t take more than a few minutes. It is a simple yet very effective tool for search engine optimization. It is easy to create one but plays an important role in guiding search engines through your website. If you haven’t created it yet for your website, do it now.

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