Years ago when I was optimizing web pages, I never thought about the importance of sitemaps, and I never used them. However, a couple years ago my entire perception of sitemaps started to change.
As Google rolled out its algorithm changes over the past years, it started to become more clear and convincing to start using XML. Any webmaster who’s not using XML sitemaps on their website is putting the originality of their content at risk when getting indexed by search engines.
The CEO of SEOWebDesigners.net has quoted:
Many webmasters today put too much focus and effort on their website design and content that they often overlook the fact that search engines need a way to find fresh updates of their content, and many times their content is scraped and published elsewhere before they ever have a chance to reap the rewards. XML sitemaps can solve these problems. — Khaled Soliman
What are XML sitemaps used for and What do they do?
XML sitemaps in search engine optimization and web development help your site communicate with the search engines, notifying them every time there is new or changed content, which helps them index your content much faster.
But there is a much more important reason you should use a sitemap. That reason is to help you avoid a duplicate content penalty as we seen in the Pand update. I’m not talking about the duplicate content on your site; I’m talking about other sources and content scrapers that scrape your content on the fly without you ever realizing. The XML sitemap will help tell search engines that you are the original source of your content.
Otherwise, you will be putting your hard earned time and effort into content only to be seen as a duplicate. Especially if someone takes your content without linking back to you or if a bot has scraped your site. Content scraping and curation are very common so protect your site by first utilizing a sitemap. It’s also worth using a duplicate content detector such as CopyScape to get notified every time someone uses your content on the web.
If you’re using WordPress, you can easily install an XML sitemap plugin such as one of the ones below:
- Google XML Sitemaps
- Better XML Sitemaps
- WordPress SEO (this one is our personal favorite)
The plugins above will ensure that all your website content is updated with search engines. However, there are a couple more steps you should take.
If you’re not using WordPress, then it’s still relatively easy to create a sitemap either in HTML or XML. Here’s a video by Matt Cutts explaining the difference.
What do you do after you generate your Sitemap?
Create an account with Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools and submit your sitemap. Both search engines encourage site owners to register their RSS feeds and XML’s so that they can crawl your site better and index your pages. Additionally, it helps them identify where the content appeared first by quickly updating their search results to reflect changes from your sitemap.
If your site consists of other types of content, such as videos and images, its a good idea to use a separate sitemap specifically for the content type you’re presenting as well. It’s okay to have two sitemaps; one for articles and one for videos, etc.
Another good practice if to leave a link to your XML sitemap in the footer of your site so that search engines can find it easily. And remember, always check your XML URL to confirm that it is working properly.
Overall it has become crucially important not to neglect XML sitemaps in SEO web design as a developer or site owner. Just consider pages that are not easily accessible from the home page.