What are XML sitemap? Why should I have one?

A good XML sitemap is a roadmap to all the important pages of a site. See here what are XML sitemaps and why should I have one? Guides Google

What are XML sitemap? Why should I have one?

A good XML sitemap is a roadmap to all the important pages of a website. This roadmap guides Google to all the main content on a website. Having an XML sitemap can be beneficial for SEO, as Google can retrieve essential pages of a website very fast, even if the internal linking of a site isn’t flawless. Here, we’ll explain what XML sitemaps are and how they help you with your rankings.

What is an XML sitemap?

You want Google to crawl every important page of your website. But it can happen pages don’t have any – internal – links to them, which will make them hard to find. You can use an XML sitemap to make sure Google can find and crawl all pages you deem essential on your website. An sitemap contains all important pages of a site to help Google determine its structure of it:

What are XML sitemap? Why should I have one?

The XML sitemap above shows the XML sitemap of the Yoast website, which the Yoast SEO plugin created. If you read further down the article, we’ll explain exactly how our plugin helps you create the best XML sitemaps. If you’re not using our plugin, your own XML sitemap looks a bit different but it will work the same.

As you can see the XML sitemap of Yoast shows several ‘index’ site maps: …/post-sitemap.xml, …/page-sitemap.xml, …/video-sitemap.xml, etc. This categorization makes a site structure as clear as possible. If you click on one of the index sitemaps, you’ll see all URLs in that specific sitemap. For example, if you click on ‘…/post-sitemap.xml’ you’ll see all the post URLs of visualmodo.com (click on the image to enlarge):

Review the dates

Review the dates

The date at the end of each line tells Google when we’ve last updated the post. This is beneficial for SEO because you want Google to crawl your updated content fast. When a date in the XML sitemap changes, Google knows that there is new content to crawl and index.

Sometimes it’s necessary to split an index XML sitemap because of the number of URLs in it. The limit to the number of URLs in one separate sitemap is set to 50.000 URLs. This means, for example, that if your website has over 50.000 posts. You should add two separate sitemaps for the post URLs. So, you’re actually adding another index XML sitemap. We’ve set the limit to 1.000 URLs in the Yoast SEO plugin to keep your XML sitemap loading fast.

What websites need an XML sitemap?

If we look at Google’s documentation, they say that site-maps are beneficial for “really large websites”. “websites with large archives”. “new websites with just a few external links to it” and “websites which use rich media content”.

We agree that these types of websites will definitely benefit from having a site map. However, at Yoast, we think a sitemap is beneficial for every website. On each website, you want Google to easily find the most important pages. So, to know when you’ve last updated those pages. That’s why we’ve added this function to the Yoast SEO plugin.

Which pages should be in your XML sitemap?

How do you decide which pages you need to include in your site map? Always start by thinking of the relevancy of a URL: when a visitor lands on a specific URL, is it a good result? Do you want visitors to land on that URL? If not, that URL probably shouldn’t be in your sitemap. However, if you really don’t want that URL to show up in the search results you’ll need to add a ‘noindex, follow tag. Leaving it out of your XML sitemap doesn’t mean Google won’t index the URL. If Google can find it by following links, Google can index the URL.

Example 1: a starting blog

Let’s take the example of a new blog. The owner wants Google to find new URLs for the blog fast to make sure his target group can find his blog on Google. So it’s a good idea to create a site map right away. The owner has created some describing categories for the first posts and he has written the first posts.

He has also set up some tags to start with. However, he doesn’t have enough content yet to fill the tag overview pages with. Since these tag overview pages contain “thin content”, it’s not valuable to show them to the visitors yet. It’s, therefore, better to leave the tag’s URLs out of the XML sitemap for now. In this case, the tag pages could also be set to ‘noindex, follow’ because you don’t want people to land on those URLs from the search results.

Example 2: media & images

Another example of an unnecessary sitemap – in most cases – is the ‘media’ or ‘image’ XML sitemap. Since your images are probably used within your pages and posts, the images are already included in your ‘post’ sitemap or your ‘page’ sitemap. Adding a separate ‘media’ or ‘image’ site map would be redundant. We recommend always leaving this one out of your sitemap.

Only when images are your main business you can make an exception. When you’re a photographer, for example, you probably do want to show a separate ‘media’ or ‘image’ sitemap to Google.

How to make Google find your XML sitemap

If you want Google to find your site map fast, you have to add it to your Google Search Console account. You can find the sitemaps in Search Console by navigating to ‘Crawl’ and then clicking on ‘Sitemaps’. You’ll immediately see if your sitemap is already added to Search Console. If not, click on the ‘Add/Test sitemap’ button which you see on the right of the arrow in the image below.

How to make Google find your XML sitemap

The XML sitemap of Yoast is added to Google Search Console

As you can see in the image, adding your sitemap can be helpful to check whether all pages in your sitemap are really indexed by Google. If there is a big difference in the ‘submitted’ and ‘indexed’ number of a certain sitemap, we recommend analyzing this further. Maybe an error prevents some pages from being indexed or perhaps you should just add more content or links to the content that’s not indexed yet.

Yoast SEO and XML sitemaps

Because of the importance of XML sitemaps, we’ve added this functionality to our Yoast SEO plugin. XML sitemaps are available for both the free and the premium versions of the plugin.

Yoast SEO creates a sitemap for your website automatically. You can find it by clicking on ‘Sitemaps’ in the sidebar of your WordPress install:

Yoast SEO and XML sitemaps

Now you’ve read this complete post, you know it’s important to have an XML sitemap because having one can help your site’s SEO. Google can easily access your most important pages and posts if you add the right URLs to your sitemap. In addition to that, Google can also find updated content easily, so they know if a certain URL needs to be crawled again. Lastly, adding your sitemap to Google Search Console helps Google find your site map fast and, besides that, it allows you to check for sitemap errors.

In the screen that follows you can enable or disable the site maps of your website. In addition to that, you can click on the ‘XML sitemap’ button to check your sitemap in your browser:

Check your own XML sitemap

In the tabs below the ‘enabled’ or ‘disabled’ toggle, you can find the different site maps you can in- or exclude from your XML sitemap: Users/Authors, Post Types, and Taxonomies. On top of that, you can also exclude specific posts from the sitemap if you think the content of that post isn’t valuable enough.

Check your own site map

Now go check your own XML sitemap and see if you’re doing all of this correctly!