An XML sitemap acts as a roadmap or flowchart if you like, of your website. It lets Google and other search engines know about the important pages on your website.
First the technical bit….what does XML mean, I hear you ask?
XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. A markup language is a set of codes, or tags, that describes the text in a digital document. The most famous markup language is Hypertext Markup Language or HTML, which is used to format Web pages. You don’t need to remember this and there won’t be a test!
So back to XML Sitemaps….
You want Google to crawl all the important pages of your website, but sometimes, pages end up without any internal links pointing to them, therefore making them hard to find. An XML sitemap lists all of these pages, making sure that Google can find them.
Hbsvcs.co.uk’s XML sitemap
Above is my XML sitemap, created by the Rank Math plugin. There are a number of SEO plugins available, so if you are using something else, then your sitemap may look a little different – but they all work the same way.
As you can see above, the XML sitemap for hbsvcs.co.uk shows several index sitemaps, such as : post-sitemap.xml, page-sitemap.xml, category-sitemap.xml and post_tag-sitemap.xml. This categorisation makes my site’s structure as clear as possible.
If you were to click on one of the index sitemaps, you’ll then see all the URLs in that particular sitemap. For example, if you click on page-sitemap.xml, you would see a list of all my page URLs.
You’ll notice there is a last modified date at the end of each line. This tells Google when each page or post, etc was last updated and helps with SEO because you want Google to crawl your updated content as soon as possible. When a date changes in the XML sitemap, Google knows there is new content to crawl and index.
Do you need an XML Sitemap?
Google says XML sitemaps are beneficial for websites which are really large, or those that have a lot of archives, but equally it’s important for new websites with just a few links to it.
If your site’s pages are properly linked, Google can usually discover most of your site.
However, I believe sitemaps are important for every website – we all want to be found online, and by telling Google where to look, it will be a lot quicker than waiting for them to find you.
When you update a page or add a post, it will automatically update the XML sitemap too, meaning it then reports to Google that it’s changed.
Which pages should be in your XML Sitemap?
I keep saying your important pages, but how do you decide which pages to include in your XML sitemap?
Always start by asking yourself “do you want visitors to land on that URL?” If not, it probably shouldn’t be in it. However, if you really don’t want that URL to show up in the search results, you would need to add a “noindex” tag which is easily done in the page or post settings within Rank Math.
Leaving it out of your XML sitemap doesn’t mean Google won’t index the URL. If Google can find it by following links, then Google will index it.
Example 1: Blogs
Let’s say you have just written a new blog.
You will obviously want Google to find this quickly to make sure your target audience can find your blog in their search results. Therefore it’s a good idea to have these in your XML sitemap.
Example 2: Media (Images & Video)
It is unnecessary for most websites to include these in your sitemap.
This is because your media is probably already used within your pages and posts, so will already be included in the relevant sitemap for those areas.
If however, your images are your main business (Photographer for example), then you would want a separate media XML sitemap to ensure your images do get found.
How do you make Google find your Sitemap?
For Google to be able to find your XML Sitemap quicker, you would need to add it to your Google Search Console account.
In the Sitemaps section, you’ll be able to see if your XML Sitemap has already been added or not.
If not, you can add your sitemap at top of the page:
Rank Math and XML Sitemaps
Because of the importance and SEO value, Rank Math has added the ability to create your very own XML Sitemaps simply and easily.
By selecting Sitemap Settings you are presented with all the options which you can toggle on or off.
It even tells you on the General screen where to find your XML Sitemap (the URL).
Different plugins use a slightly different URL format. See below:
Check your own XML Sitemap!
Now that you know how important it is to have an XML sitemap, perhaps check out your website to make sure you have one.
- What SEO plugin has been installed and has it generated an XML Sitemap for you?
- Have you configured Google Search Console and if so has your XML Sitemap been added?
Creating and Submitting Sitemaps
Rank Math have a very detailed guide on configuring sitemaps which will step you through it.
There are other tools out there all of which will provide a user guide on creating your XML sitemap.
Once you have created your XML sitemap, make sure you submit this to all of the search engines that you want to crawl your site.
I’ve given you links below for the top two:
As always, if you need help in this area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via email email@example.com.