Last Updated on August 11, 2020 by David Bryan
How to Create a Successful XML Sitemap and Website Structure for SEO
Website structure is an essential part of good housekeeping for your website. It ensures that your content is easy to find for humans and is able to be accurately indexed by search engines. An XML sitemap does both these jobs and can boost the SEO performance of your URLs.
In this quick guide, we tell you more about the importance of website structure when it comes to creating a successful XML sitemap.
What is an XML Sitemap?
XML (or Extensible Markup Language) is a type of coding that is readable by both humans and machines.
Sitemaps are written using this kind of programming language and are a ‘plan’ which details all of those URLs that you want to be listed for access on your website.
XML Sitemaps are therefore designed to act as guidance for both search engine crawlers and human visitors to your website in order to direct them to the important parts of our website.
Why Do You Need a Sitemap?
As well as letting search engines like Google know about the existence of your website along with the details of those pages you’d like to be crawled and indexed, an XML sitemap is essential if you want to:
- Help search engines crawl your website more effectively.
- Ensure sites with a vast number of pages remain well indexed with an organised web-structure.
- Get dynamically created pages instantly indexed.
- Boost the visibility of a new website that has weak internal linking or a poor external link profile.
- Speed up indexing, particularly if some pages on your website are buried deep within the web structure.
So, if you want the pages of your website to be updated in Google’s database on a regular basis using dynamic and accurate information then you need an XML Sitemap.
Why are XML Sitemaps Good for SEO?
Let’s go back to the basics of exactly what an XML Sitemap does. This powerful indexing tool basically informs search engines, like Google about:
- WHAT to crawl on your website and, just as important, what NOT
- WHEN your content is updated and how often this is being done.
- The detail of the content included on your website and HOW IMPORTANT it is.
These three factors are key when it comes to SEO. Firstly, it enables your content to be found via a search engine’s database.
Secondly, the frequency and ‘freshness’ of your content updates are an important factor in the SERP algorithms employed by Google. If your URLs are regularly updated then this could give you a more favourable position in search results.
Lastly, by using your sitemap to indicate the importance of your webpages you can help boost the visibility and authority of one page over another. Taking control over this can be an important step in ensuring visitors to your website reach the highest-converting landing page for example.
Customising Your Website Structure
So, we’ve established the necessity for having an XML sitemap in order to improve SEO but how important is your website structure in all this? Do you need to include all of your pages in your XML sitemap?
Firstly, your website structure should be designed around the user and be an aid to efficient and intuitive navigation. After all, once they locate your website via a successful search through good website optimisation, don’t you want your visitors to be able to easily find further information through your pages?
In addition, a good website structure makes it easier for crawlers to find subpages and to index your content more effectively, faster and accurately. Parent pages and subpages should be organised in relevant groups and linked internally using good anchor text. This is crucial on your website’s homepages which should have a good number of links to those pages that have the most important content.
The larger your website, the more vital a sitemap is in organising all those URLs.
You also need to decide on those pages not to include in your XML sitemap. Yes, there are lots of reasons why you might not want a crawler to index a particular URL for your domain. Certainly, if some of your subpages are near-duplicates of one another (such as similar products with similar technical specifications and descriptions) then you may not want each individual page to be crawled.
Likewise, media files and images do not commonly need to be included in your sitemap unless you are a photographer or designer for instance.
Choosing a noindex_follow tag or using a robots.txt can help you exclude those URLs you deem less relevant. Though they will still be crawled and, through other links, indexed by Google, they won’t have the prominence of other more relevant pages in search results.
How To Get Your XML Sitemap Listed
Simply creating an XML Sitemap is not enough; you must make sure that you submit the map of your website structure to Google Index in order to set the Googlebot crawler in motion.
You can find out more about how to do this in another of our Glossary Features under ‘Google Index’.
Who Needs an XML Sitemap?
Google recommends that XML sitemaps are used for those websites that:
- are really large or have large archives.
- are new with limited external links.
- use rich media content.
If you do have a particularly large website with many thousands of individual URLs then you may need multiple sitemaps.
If you have a small site where the internal pages are well-linked then Google’s web crawlers should easily be able to understand your website structure but an XML sitemap can certainly do you no harm and will only improve a search engine’s understanding of your site.
Opace and Technical SEO
Creating an XML sitemap and strong website structure is a critical part of SEO, but it’s still only a part of the puzzle. For those interested, here you can find a more detailed guide providing our SEO top tips to boost your Google ranking, covering aspects ranging from SEO planning to continual improvement.
Opace is a specialist digital design agency offering a range of SEO related services to help businesses achieve greater online visibility. From off-page and technical SEO to active content marketing, responsive web design and more, we create and deliver successful online marketing strategies.
To find out more about how we can help you achieve your SEO goals and improve traffic to your website, contact one of our team today.