Benefits of a Google (XML) Sitemap
There is nothing new about an XML sitemap. Search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Ask have been using them for years and many in the SEO community have argued both their benefits and their disadvantages.
Based on a number of articles I have read, there is a changing tide of opinion that XML Sitemaps (or Google Sitemaps as they are often called) are now a good thing and you should submit them to Google (and other search engines) to help your site. As with all things, there is no definite confirmation from the search engines themselves that this has a benefit or not, and we are left to guess based on experience whether there is a benefit.
However, if we look at the situation objectively we can see a number of positive benefits for having an XML Sitemap. Here’s my list – please feel free to add yours in the comments below:
- For dynamic sites, and sites with regular, multiple postings, the XML Sitemap is a shortcut for search engines to identify the new content on the site and index it accordingly.
- For all sites, the XML Sitemap helps the search engine identify the real content on your site that you want considered for indexation.
- For small, static sites the XML Sitemap is a reminder to search engines that potentially ‘unqualified’ pages should be checked every now and then based on the period identified in the Sitemap.
Here’s my reasoning behind this.
A search engine is designed to index your site. It will access every page it can find based on the way you internally index your site, ie via navigation and internal linking. The search engine will then determine how important each page is relative to the others based on a number of factors including quality of content, META data (including the TITLE tage), and both external and internal links. Search engines are clever and there are many reasons they can demote or drop pages on your site. Here are a few reasons:
- If there are too many links pointing to a particular page, it may get penalised for being potentially deliberate link bait
- If there is too little content on the page to make it relevant to searches
- If there are not enough links to your page or site to suggest it is relevant to the wider Internet community
- If there is too much content (for example repetitive content or content over-stuffed with keywords)
Taken together (with many other factors) a search engine can decide if your pages are relevant to people searching on the Internet. As you change your content, the search engine will pick up the changes and adjust its own index and relevancy. However, this is an iterative process and once a page is demoted or dropped it could be a long time (maybe never) that that page returns to the index.
This is where the XML Sitemap comes in as it tells the search engine not to forget a page and to revisit it at a certain period (although this can be achieved through META tags equally well, it is sometimes easier to do it in the XML Sitemap). This tool can help promote your page back up the index more quickly if the search engine finds that it has ‘improved’ (by its terms – see the bad behaviour list above) and you could find better results in the long term.
Remember that on each crawl (indexation) of your site, a search engine does not index every page – only those it thinks it should check. An XML Sitemap is a way to tell the search engine about your entire site so it can check it against its version of your sitemap and determine which pages it should check this time. This won’t boost search rankings, but it should ensure you get indexed more quickly.
Content Management Systems such as WordPress have plugins that can build the XML Sitemap automatically for you, which means that as you add content these new pages and posts are added to the XML Sitemap automatically and the search engine will pick up the changes more quickly. Of course, if your site is well built (coded) and linked then this is icing on the cake, but then cakes should be iced, no?
Online XML Sitemap Generator (up to 500 pages)