Here’s everything you need to know about XML sitemaps and your website.
An XML sitemap is only a list of pages on your website. It’s written in a way that makes it simple for a computer to read it- hence it’s formatted in XML. XML might look like HTML, but that’s because HTML is a form of XML.
Some XML sitemaps contain more information than a list of pages. For instance some XML sitemaps give particular pages a priority or suggest a how often a page gets updated. You can add that information if you want. Google ignores it.
XML sitemaps can list more than pages on your site. They can also be lists of:
When most people say “XML sitemap”, they mean a list of pages of a website.
That can be hard to tell for every site. Here’s a couple places you can check:
XML sitemaps help Google find the pages of your website. It’s only a list of your sites’s pages. Every time Google comes to your website it will crawl a few pages- but not every page of your website. But if you have an XML sitemap, Google will download it and see a list of all your pages. From there, if it notices something new, it might start by reading those pages. Without an XML sitemap, Google may find your new pages- eventually. Why would you want to wait?
XML sitemaps are about suggesting pages for Google’s index. XML sitemaps are not a factor behind how Google decides which sites should rank better. At the same time, if Google can’t find your page (because there are no links to it) it can’t serve it in the search results. In that case an XML sitemap might help a page rank better- but only because it shows Google that it exists.
The best way to create an XML sitemap is through your content management system (CMS). For example, WordPress offers several plugins that dynamically create an XML sitemap for you. This is the best option because it is automatic.
There is at least one limitation to an automatically-generated XML sitemap: sometimes it contains pages you don’t want Google to find. For instance, if you’re using confirmation pages after someone submits a form, you don’t want Google to find them. In some cases, archival pages (such as date or category pages for blog posts) create duplicate content that you might not want to bother Google with. Even the best XML sitemap plugin should allow you to edit which pages are in it- and which aren’t.
If you don’t have a CMS, or your CMS doesn’t allow you to automatically create an XML sitemap, you might need to create one from scratch. There are several online tools that will allow this (just Google them) and even some desktop tools that can help.
There are a few drawbacks to manually created XML sitemaps. For one, you have to keep making them. If you’re updating a website frequently (and you should be, anyway) then you need to create a new XML sitemap each time. This can be time-consuming.
Another drawback of a manually created XML sitemap is making sure everything is in there, that should. These external tools create an XML sitemap by crawling your site. If a page exists, without any links to it, the best tool won’t be able to find it and will end-up leaving it out of your sitemap. This defeats one of the most important values of an XML sitemap: helping Google find pages it might otherwise miss. Along with this issue is another: some tools limit the size of your XML sitemap. They may charge you to crawl your entire site.
Of course, even a manually created XML sitemap can include pages you might not want Google to find. Just like an dynamic XML sitemap, you might need to do a little editing here, too.
Of course, you could ask a developer to write a program that creates an automatic XML sitemap for you. If you go this route, make sure there’s a way for you to edit what goes in there, and that it includes everything you want. You’ll also need the URL for your new sitemap, so you can show it to the search engines.
There are two simple ways to submit your XML sitemap to Google.
Both Google and Bing will only handle your sitemap if it is less than 50,000 URLs and less than 50MBs in size.
This is why you might want an XML sitemap to list other XML sitemaps (which I mentioned, above). If you have 200,000 pages, you would need to break this into four, 50,000 page XML sitemaps. Of course, if you have so much data in your XML sitemaps that they’re bigger than 50MBs, you need to break those down into smaller sitemaps, yet again.