Saturday, January 28, 2012

XML Sitemaps: Best Practices & SEO Benefits

XML sitemaps are often included in your typical top 10 best practices for SEO list. And while they should be, often we overlook their importance, how they should be utilized, and the concept behind their importance for any SEO campaign. Too many webmasters and professionals in the SEO community will generate a sitemap and upload it to the website in question without making any adjustments. And therein lies the problem. If you are going to make use of an XML sitemap, you have to know what the purpose is of such a file and how to best configure it to experience any SEO benefit. Let's revisit the best practices that will ensure such benefits are realized!

What is an XML Sitemap?

First, let's review for anyone that is unfamiliar what an XML sitemap actually is. An XML sitemap is a file that lists the URLs of a website. The file indicates to search engines what pages of a website should be crawled and indexed. In a sense, the file helps the search engine robots find web pages faster. You are saying, "Here are the pages you should crawl - they are the most important ones on my site and would be best to display in the search results!" The sitemap must be configured and uploaded to

How do I Configure an XML Sitemap to Help My SEO Campaign?

The good news is, you can create an XML sitemap for free. Just visit and plug in your homepage in the URL bar and click "Start". As soon as the tool has finished generating the sitemap, you can export in to one of several different file options. Typically, the easiest way to configure a sitemap is in Notepad.

Now, to realize any SEO benefit, ask yourself, "What pages of my website am I trying to rank in the search results? What pages won't serve as landing pages throughout my campaign? What pages do search engines need to be concerned with?" You can remove any URLs from the file that search engines shouldn't spend their time crawling; for example - a Privacy Policy, Disclaimer, or PDF file. Include the URLs of web pages that you want to be visible in the search results, whether now or in the future.

When you are done, upload the file! By having the configured XML sitemap uploaded to your site, search engines will find, crawl, and index your pages faster, allowing said pages to rank faster for the keywords being targeted on each.

What if I don't have an XML Sitemap?

If you do not have an XML sitemap uploaded, it doesn't necessarily mean that search engines won't crawl and index pages from your site. Remember, if you have any backlinks that have been cached by a search engine and are "dofollow", the search engine robots can crawl to your site and access each page, assuming you have a navigation and internal linking structure in place. So, not having an XML sitemap won't ruin your SEO campaign, but you won't be doing yourself any favors!

Now that you are more familiar with the concept of XML sitemaps and emphasizing to search engines what pages they need to focus on crawling, take a few minutes to read about the other side of that coin - using the robots file or meta no index tag to tell search engines what not to crawl and keep out of their index!

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