Best Ways to Optimize Sitemap for SEO & Google

A properly configured sitemap is critical for ranking for competitive keywords. In this article, we will analyze a sitemap example and explain what it is and the best practices to optimize sitemap for SEO & Google.

Sitemaps of the website are one of the most misunderstood components of the search engine optimization puzzle.

The majority of people are unaware of what it does, why it is necessary, or how to configure it optimally.

However, one thing remains constant – a sitemap is necessary for ranking for competitive keywords, and you must go further than keyword research services to ensure that it is configured properly.

In this article, we will analyze a sitemap, its structure, and explain how to use a sitemap for better SEO along with sitemap best practices.

What is an XML Sitemap, and Do They Matter?

Before we discuss how to use sitemaps on your website and examine sitemap examples, it’s necessary to understand why sitemaps are necessary in the first place.

A sitemap’s primary purpose is to assist search engines in locating relevant pages of the website so that they’ll be crawled and indexed.

An XML sitemap is a text file that contains a list of URLs for crawling by search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. XML sitemaps can include attributes that provide crawlers with additional information about each URL.

The sitemaps are the technical SEO equivalent of the Swiss army knife.

XML Sitemaps assist search engines in deciphering your site’s structure and content.

This also helps determine how high your website can rank on Search engines based on its discovered relevance. Finally, sitemaps can act as a point of reference for your SEO efforts.

Additionally, it is recommended to include your XML sitemap in your site’s Robots.txt file. You may be wondering what a Robots.txt file is.

Consider it the manual that you can provide to Google outlining the proper way for them to crawl your website. One of the most critical underlying goals SEO’sis provides search engines with the most efficient and streamlined way to crawl your website.

As a result, a missing robots.txt file represents a missed opportunity to communicate which areas of your website are allowed/disallowed for  crawling. If you cannot provide search engines with your site’s XML sitemap, you may be limiting ability of search engine to crawl and index your site properly location.

Whereas robots.txt serves as a manual, the XML sitemap serves as a treasure map to your website’s gold (content)

Quick Note: It is generally a good practice to avoid restricting search engines from subdirectories in your robots.txt file unless necessary.

Once those pages are blocked, Google will be unable to follow internal links, critical for efficient crawling and indexing of the entire site. Ultimately, this could affect the site’s overall ranking.

On WordPress sites, you can format the robots.txt file as follows:

User-Agent: *

Disallow: /wp-admin/*

Sitemap: https://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap_index.xml

XML sitemaps assist search engines in comprehending the breadth of your site’s content.

This is an example of a typical XML sitemap for WordPress sites generated by the RankMath SEO plugin.

Why are XML sitemaps important for SEO?

There are numerous reasons why XML sitemaps are critical for SEO, but the bottom line is that XML sitemaps aid in discovering your pages by search engines.

By including an XML sitemap, you can ensure that your website’s critical pages are crawled efficiently.

Indeed, Gary Illyes, a Google webmaster trends analyst, stated at the Sydney Search Marketing Conference that Googlebot utilizes sitemaps to discover new content.

Around 80% of discovery occurs through links, while approximately 20% occurs through sitemaps.

Example of XML Sitemap

Now that we’ve established why sitemaps are critical let’s examine an XML sitemap example to see how it appears in practice.

The following is an example of a sitemap.xml file for the SEOAves website:

https://seoaves.com/sitemap_index.xml

It’s a subtype of sitemap known as a sitemap index. It also contains additional traditional sitemaps for each page on your website.

Here is an example of a more traditional sitemap.xml file from our website:

Best Ways to Optimize Sitemap for SEO & Google 1

While our sitemap is formatted to look professional, the XML sitemap frequently resembles raw HTML.

The primary purpose of XML sitemaps is for search engines to crawl them and understand what your site is about.

Example of HTML Sitemap 

Another type of Google sitemap is an HTML sitemap.

It’s typically designed to look exactly like a standard page on your site, complete with a navigation menu, footer, and everything else you’d expect to see on a page.

As with the XML sitemap example, it enumerates all of the pages you want to be indexed and crawled.

HTML sitemaps are more user-friendly and are intended for human understanding, they are still advantageous for search engine robots.

Here’s an example of an HTML sitemap: https://kalpamart.com/sitemap/

What are a Crawl Budget and XML Sitemaps?

Keep in mind that a sitemap contains a list of URLs that search engines can crawl. As a result, we must discuss what a crawl budget is and its relation to XML sitemaps.

Google defines crawl budget as follows:

By combining crawl rate and crawl demand, we define crawl budget as the maximum number of URLs Googlebot can and desires to crawl.

Best Ways to Optimize Sitemap for SEO & Google 2

The critical point to remember in relation to XML sitemaps is that Googlebot will only crawl a limited number of URLs, which may not include all of your URLs.

By providing XML sitemaps, you can optimize your crawl budget by instructing Googlebot to prioritize important URLs in the sitemap over low-value URLs.

While XML sitemaps do not prevent Google from crawling low-value URLs entirely, they indicate which URLs Googlebot should prioritize.

Submit your XML sitemaps to search engines

It is recommended that you submit your XML sitemaps to search engines via the webmaster search consoles of the search engines. If you do not yet have access, the following guides will assist you in obtaining it:

How Do Sitemaps Help in Search Engine Optimization?

In terms of SEO, sitemaps are beneficial because they assist search engines in crawling and indexing your website’s pages more effectively. This enables them to comprehend your website’s content better and rank your pages for their most important search queries.

optimize sitemap for SEO

And the more well-understood and indexed your pages are by search engines, the higher your search rankings for relevant search queries will be.

Sitemaps are particularly beneficial for large websites or those with a large number of unlinked pages. In these instances, sitemaps assist in illustrating the relationships between pages and assisting search engines in comprehending your site.

Best Ways to Optimize Sitemap for SEO

Most of the SEO experts recommend the following sitemap best practices. However, we’ve done our homework and compiled a list of the most useful ways to optimize your sitemap for SEO. 

Apart from simply implementing an XML sitemap, there are several ways to optimize it to boost your SEO performance.

The following are seven fundamental sitemaps of best practices that you should adhere to optimize your website sitemap for SEO.

Create a Priority List of Your Websites Pages.

Prioritizing your web pages is indeed one of the best sitemap best practices to follow. Google’s sitemaps protocol enables you to rank and rate your webpages, assigning them a score between 0.1 and 1.

Search Engines will crawl pages with a higher score more frequently than those with a low score.

optimize sitemap for SEO

As a general rule, give your dynamic pages with frequently updated content a higher score. For instance, if you have a blog and regularly add new content or update your posts, these will receive a higher score.

Similarly, static pages such as “contact us” or “about us” should receive lower rankings.

Refrain from assigning high scores to all pages. Regardless of how highly you regard them, search engines are more objective. They will be unable to distinguish between dynamic and static pages, and as a result, you may lose some of the benefits.

Create a Sitemap with Sitemap Generator and submit it to Google.

Another beneficial sitemap best practice is to create sitemaps using a sitemap-generator tool. Sitemaps are much easier and faster to create with tools than they are manual.

If you have a WordPress website, you can use the Yoast plugin to enable XML sitemaps automatically. You can create XML sitemaps for other websites using Google XML Sitemaps.

The next step is to use your Google Search Console to submit the sitemap to Google.

Place your Sitemap at the Root Directory

When it comes to sitemap best practices, it is critical to place HTML sitemaps in the proper locations. This enables easy access to information for your website’s visitors.

HTML sitemaps are primarily intended to aid users in navigating your site. Additionally, including a sitemap on your homepage is a best practice that aids users in navigating your website.

Instead of checking various categories and subcategories individually, users can consult the sitemap and the list of URLs to locate what they’re looking for.

Additionally, this strategy benefits from the fact that search engines begin crawling from your homepage. Thus, if additional links are added, they will be easier to locate if a sitemap is prominently displayed on the homepage.

Similarly, you must place XML sitemaps in the root directory to achieve the same result.

Categorize Your Content appropriately.

A sitemap’s primary purpose is to assist search engines in comprehending your website’s structure and content. To accomplish this, it is critical to properly categorize your content so that commonalities and hierarchies are apparent.

As a result, properly categorizing your website’s content is a critical sitemap best practice to follow.

Best Ways to Optimize Sitemap for SEO & Google 3

The homepage is the primary content structure for most websites, followed by categories and their subcategories. Furthermore, this follows the same hierarchical structure.

The critical point here is to segment the categories and subcategories according to their content’s degree of similarity. This will ensure that similar content is grouped in a single category rather than being dispersed. This is not only a good sitemap best practice, but it also improves the user experience on your site.

Limit the URLs that each sitemap can contain.

This is one of the sitemap best practices that are only applicable to medium-sized to large-sized websites.

Large websites contain many links, which may be too numerous to include in a single sitemap. As a result, if each category has a sufficient number of links, you can create a separate sitemap for each.

This will assist you in better organizing your belongings and avoiding chaos. If you have an excessive number of links, you risk confusing your readers and being flagged as a link farm by search engines.

Another technique for URL restriction is to use canonical versions in your sitemap. For instance, if you have multiple URLs for different product variants, your sitemap should contain only the primary product page URL. You can use the “link rel=canonical” tag to indicate to search engines which of those pages is the primary page.

Utilize Dynamic Sitemaps to Increase the Usability of Large Websites

Use dynamic sitemaps for large websites with numerous pages and frequently updated content. Dynamic sitemaps contain a set of rules that enable them to be updated automatically when pages are added or removed. 

This ensures that it remains current, which is another sitemap best practice to adhere to.

You can create various rules and logic in dynamic sitemaps to make them more dynamic. For instance, you can create a rule to determine when a new page should be added. Alternatively, you can create a rule that determines whether or not a no-index page should be converted to a regular page.

A sitemap that is generated automatically is critical for big websites. By utilizing a dynamic sitemap, you can ensure that it is updated whenever you add, update, or remove pages.

Additionally, dynamic sitemaps are easier to access and thus easier for search engines to crawl. These are less likely to be corrupted, whereas a static sitemap is easily corrupted.

As a best practice, if you have a large website, you should use dynamic sitemaps.

Never include “no-index” URLs in the sitemap of your website.

Noindex URLs are those that you do not wish to be crawled or indexed by search engines. These may be utility pages that you do not want to appear in search results but are necessary for the operation of your website.

You may have added the no-index attribute to these pages via the meta robots method or by including it in your robots.txt file.

If you do not want these to be indexed, adding them to your sitemap is pointless because you will be wasting your crawl budget. Additionally, it sends a conflicting message to search engines.

If an item is included in your sitemap, it is presumed to be significant enough to be indexed. Additionally, “Noindex” tags convey the inverse message – that those URLs are not required to be indexed. This inconsistency is perplexing and should be avoided at all costs.

Therefore, adhere to the sitemap quality standards of excluding all no-index pages from your sitemap to ensure consistency and save money on crawling.

Sitemaps assist visitors and search engines in navigating and crawling your website properly. By including Noindex pages in your sitemap, you can confuse search engines and potentially reduce your crawl budget.

List All Essential Pages.

Ascertain that your sitemaps are current and include all of the pages you wish to be indexed. Otherwise, you may notice that newer pages are not as quickly indexed and therefore do not rank as well.

Make Your Sitemap User and Seach Engine Friendly.

Additionally, it is critical to ensure that your sitemap does not become corrupted. If search engines encounter a 404 error when attempting to access your sitemap, they will be unable to index and comprehend your site’s structure. Additionally, it could flag your sitemap as untrustworthy or poorly maintained, which would be detrimental to all subsequent SEO efforts.

Do not keep Broken Pages and Redirects in Sitemap.

You should only include live pages and not 404 pages or URLs that redirect.

Maintenance of the sitemap.

Maintaining your XML sitemap entails checking it regularly, updating it to reflect new or deleted pages, and ensuring that there are no errors that would prevent search engine crawl bots from accessing it.

Follow the Sitemap Guidelines

Before discussing optimization strategies, your sitemaps must adhere to the sitemaps.org protocol for search engines to understand them.

To ensure that major search engines support your XML sitemap, it must:

  • Start with a <urlset> opening tag and end with a /urlset> closing tag.
  • Within the <urlset> tag, specify the namespace (protocol standard).
  • Include a <url> entry as the parent XML tag for each URL.
  • Each <url> parent tag should have a <loc> child tag.

Organize Sitemaps by Website Section

One of my favorite uses of XML sitemaps is to monitor valid and excluded URLs in Google Search Console by site section.

To accomplish this, you must create index files for each section of your website. Here’s an illustration of what that might look like:

  • Index.xml
  • products-index.xml
  • product.xml
  • product1.xml
  • blog-index.xml
  • blog.xml
  • blog-1.xml
  • some-directory-index.xml
  • directory.xml
  • directory-1.xml
Best Ways to Optimize Sitemap for SEO & Google 3

Include top pages in Sitemap

You should only include URLs in your XML sitemap files that are not intended to be crawled, indexed, or ranked by Googlebot. These pages are frequently referred to as money pages,’ as they are the ones that generate revenue.

There is no reason to include URLs in your sitemap that do not benefit your website’s SEO.

Avoid HTTP status codes other than 200.

Avoid including URLs in your XML sitemap that return non-200 HTTP response codes. The inclusion of non-200 response URLs is detrimental to your SEO because it signals to Googlebot that you want these URLs crawled even though they are wasting your crawl budget.

Avoid URLs that are not indexed.

Noindex URLs have no place in your XML sitemaps (other than specific use cases). Because index URLs do not generate traffic from search engines, Googlebot has no reason to crawl them after being removed from the index.

Note: If you want Google to quickly see a no-index tag on a large number of URLs, you can use a temporary XML sitemap.

Avoid canonicalizing URLs to another URL.

URLs that are canonicalized to another URL should also be excluded from your XML sitemap. As with no-index, you do not want these URLs to rank on Google, and thus there is no reason for Googlebot to crawl them.

Final Thoughts

We discussed the fundamentals of an SEO site map in this article, including its purpose, creation process, and maintenance, as well as a sitemap example for each of the types.

With a better understanding of why you need it, you probably understand that creating and monitoring a sitemap is a task best left to SEO professionals who have the experience and know-how to ensure that it adheres to Google’s expectations and guidelines.

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