An XML sitemap helps Google navigate your site. It ensures that Google can find and crawl all the most important pages of your website. It shows all the pages, how they’re interconnected and the date you last updated them.
That sounds pretty simple. But Moz calls them “the most misunderstood tool in the SEO’s toolbox.” Some website owners rely on them as their sole SEO strategy while others neglect them entirely. Here are the basics on what an XML sitemap does for your website or blog.
Why You Need One
An XML sitemap is not a shortcut to SEO. You still need good site structure and solid content. But unless your structure is near-perfect and you regularly tend to every single page that you consider important, the sitemap stands to help tremendously. If you inherited a large site, especially with a long-lived blog, you absolutely need an XML sitemap.
Having one has become especially important since Google launched its Panda update. Panda strives to eliminate duplicate content. That means, if your content is duplicated elsewhere, you’re competing for search ranking with whomever is using it. Putting a URL in your sitemap communicates that you are the original publisher. Whatever plugin you use will likely update automatically when you publish new content, so Google knows you put it out there first.
An XML sitemap is beneficial for for all websites, not just large ones, though it’s more crucial for large ones. Your sitemap can contain as many as 50,000 URLs. However, some plugins may reduce this limit to preserve fast upload times. In that case, you will need multiple sitemaps and an index to connect them.
How to Create an XML Sitemap
Your objective is not to list of every page and post on your site. List only the ones that make great landing pages. As Moz puts it, you want to say to Google, “Yes, we have a site here with 1,000 pages… and here are the 475 of those that are our great content pages.”
So list the pages you want visitors to see in search results. Consider whether they will make sense as the first place a visitor arrives on your site. Note that, if you want to hide a page from search entirely, you can use ‘noindex, follow’ tags to do that. By contrast, never list a page WITH a ‘noindex, follow’ tag in your sitemap, as this will “confuse” Google.