One word. - Absolutely.
Since their introduction a few years ago, XML sitemaps have already grown to become very popular with web developers and SEO experts. They are recognized and used by many of the leading search engines including Google.
If you’re interested in adding an XML sitemap to your website, the following will get you off to a great start.
What Is a Sitemap and What Is an XML Sitemap?
You’re probably wondering “What is an XML sitemap and is it any different from an html sitemap?”
The short answer is: Yes, it is.
Most people are familiar with html sitemaps (also known as a site index). They’re visual maps created to help surfer with their site navigation. A typical site map is designed with a hierarchical layout leading from the index page. Using this visual guide, surfers are able to literally discover their current position in a website and how they can reach the different subpages. You’d be right to think of it as a schematic map of a website.
An XML sitemap is different. Although it provides a structured layout of the website, it is designed for search engines and not surfers. Visitors to your website will not be able to see your XML sitemap. But search engines will.
Why Do You Want One?
XML sitemaps aren’t exactly compulsory. Your website will function with or without one so you can choose to ignore having one. But it’s important to realize that your website will function a lot more effectively if you should include an XML sitemap. And if you’re trying to increase the search engine optimization of your website, then adding a XML sitemap is a great way to go about it. There are many reasons why you should consider doing this.
With XML sitemaps you can:
- Save some of your bandwidth by giving search engines a quicker and less exhaustive method of discovering new pages
- Avoid several indexing issues
- Enhance the indexing of your site (particularly if it is a large one)
- Improve the internal linking structure of a poorly designed website
- Effectively distribute the page ranks across a site
- Increase the visibility of your website with surfers
Creating an XML Sitemap
For a website that isn’t a WordPress blog, this can be a bit more complicated. You’ll first need to generate the code and then upload it to your website. Once this is done, you can then notify the different search engines about it. Generating a sitemap is fairly easy. You can do this by either using an online generation tool or buying a generator that you can use offline. The decision will boil down to your preferences. Using a local application will give you better control over your final XML sitemap, but it’s a lot harder to control and use.
XML for WordPress
Creating an XML sitemap is easy if you have a blog powered by WordPress. There are several WordPress plugins that you can use to generate compatible WordPress Google sitemaps. All that you’ll need to do is simply insert and then activate the plugin on your site.
Plugins for XML
The Google Sitemap Plugin creates a /sitemap.xml page for your website.
With the WP SEO plugin by Yoast you can create several sitemaps: pages, posts, categories, post-tags, and landing pages, and media.
One thing we have noticed with this plugin is that if you need to reactivate the plugin or update it, you need to update your sitemaps in the dropdown at the top of the Dashboard and then make sure they have no errors in your Google Webmaster Tools. If they do, just resubmit and they will work just fine.
Once your sitemap is generated, the rest is fairly easy. Out of the top three search companies (Google, Yahoo and Bing) Google is the largest user, so it’s likely to be your primary target. You can link it to Google by adding it your Google Webmaster Tools account. To do this, you’ll first need to have an active Google account in which your site has been verified.
Submitting to Google Webmaster Tools
You can submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster tools with the following easy steps.
- Sign into Google Webmaster Tools. If you don’t have an account, you’ll need to create one. Any other Google account (Gmail) will suffice.
- On the tools homepage, select your site
- Click on the Site Configurations button (located in the left sidebar)
- Click on Sitemaps
- Click on the ‘Add/Test Sitemap’ button (located in the top right)
- Enter in your generated sitemap in the box that appears
- Click Submit sitemap.
- Google will take it from there.