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What is an XML Sitemap: A Beginner’s Guide

What is an XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is like a special file for your website that tells search engines which pages you really want them to pay attention to and includes some extra details about your content. These sitemaps play a big role in SEO by helping search engines discover and index your new or updated pages faster. XML, which stands for Extensible Markup Language, is the techy language that makes it simple for search engines to understand and organize your web page information.

Let’s keep on reading to learn more about what is an XML sitemap and how to use it.

Do You Need a Sitemap?

Google says you might not need a sitemap if your website is tiny (less than 500 pages) or if your pages are well-connected with links. But guess what? Even if your site is small and links are strong, having a sitemap is a good idea. Here’s why:

Making a sitemap is super easy.

A sitemap can speed up how quickly Google finds your pages.

It won’t harm your site – it only helps.

According to Google’s Gary Illyes, these are the second-best way for the search engine to find new stuff on your site. So why would you skip it? And if your site is big or new with few links, having an XML sitemap is a must.

Sitemaps – The Types and Everything In-Between

XML sitemaps come in different flavors, and Google is cool with that.

They support special sitemaps for videos, images, and news. Hence, you can mix these with your regular sitemap or keep them separate.

Now, most websites are good with just one simple sitemap. But, if your site is a big URL party and goes over the 50,000 limit, you’ll need more than one sitemap. Just split them up.

And hey, if you want separate maps for different types of pages like blogs or author stuff, you can totally do that too. Just remember, if you’re juggling multiple sitemaps, use a sitemap index – it’s like the boss sitemap that lists all the others. Easy peasy!

XML Sitemaps – Best Practices

Alright, let’s dive into Google’s rules for XML sitemaps. Follow these steps to set things up the right way:

Only list the URLs you want Google to know about. Keep it tidy.

Include URLs that are doing well with a “200 status code.” No redirects or error pages allowed!

Keep your main sitemap under 50MB or 50,000 URLs. If you need more, make more, and have a boss sitemap that lists them all.

Keep the file in UTF-8 – it’s a techy thing, but Google likes it.

If your site has different versions for different places, tell Google about them.

Keep your sitemap updated whenever there’s a new URL or an old one gets a facelift.

Show when a page got a makeover by adding a “lastmod” tag.

Let Google know about your sitemap in your website’s robots.txt file. (You’ll get the hang of it.)

When you’re done, send your shiny new sitemap to Google.

Good news: If you’re using fancy tools to make your sitemap, they probably take care of most of this stuff for you. Ready to make your own? Let’s go!

Difference between HTML and XML Sitemaps

HTML sitemaps serve visitors by aiding navigation on a website, while XML sitemaps assist search engines in finding pages. For SEO, Google suggests opting for XML sitemaps.

According to Google’s John Mueller, instead of relying on HTML sitemaps, it’s better to prioritize clear navigation and solid site architecture. He emphasizes that the former “should never be needed” when these aspects are well-managed.

How to Create an XML Sitemap?

Popular Content Management Systems like WordPress, Wix, and Shopify take care of your XML sitemap automatically. They handle the creation and updates without requiring much, if any, manual intervention. If you’re using one of these platforms, there’s usually no need for you to make manual edits to your sitemap. It’s a hassle-free process for most users.

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