XML Sitemaps | Lesson 4/34 | SEMrush Academy

This is a great module for those who wish to start learning technical SEO.
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0:09 XML sitemaps
0:28 What kind of websites need XML sitemaps
0:51 Search engines support different types of sitemaps
1:20 Considerations when creating XML sitemaps, including limitations
1:47 Beware of cryptic URLs
1:49 Sitemap index file
2:49 Ways to ensure that Google knows about your sitemap’s existence
3:49 Sitemap quality
4:10 SEMrush’s Site Audit tool can help make your sitemap flawless

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An XML sitemap is a file that contains individual pages of the website. It helps search engines to get a much better understanding of the structure and volume of content of a website. It also enables search engines to crawl the website more intelligently, because they get the data – especially all URLs – in a structured format. XML sitemaps should usually be used when a website is very extensive, smaller websites do not necessarily need one. Generally, it’s important to understand that XML sitemaps do not directly impact rankings, although they can also be very helpful for a new website with few external links as well as for large archives. Furthermore, Google uses sitemaps to understand what the canonical version of the given URL is.

Search engines do support different types of sitemaps, so say you want to be listed in Google news, then there is a specific Google news sitemap format. The same is also true for images and other media content, for example video. XML sitemaps are generally not visible to your end users. Usually, they reside in locations like domain.com/sitemap.xml – however it’s also possible to host sitemaps on third party domains, which, especially for larger-scale sites, can make sense.

When you create an XML sitemap you need to consider a couple of things, including limitations. For example, very large sitemaps need to be divided into several smaller ones, so the limitation is that the sitemap cannot contain more than 50,000 URLs and it cannot extend 50 megabytes in file size (uncompressed). Generally, the recommendation is to use gzip compression and UTF8 encoding. Be also aware of cryptic URLs. Once you have to split your sitemap into multiple ones, use the sitemap index file – this is essentially a container file that links to all available sub-sitemaps.

When manually creating an XML sitemap be aware of the different elements that need to be present in the sitemap file. The only content really required is actually the URL itself which you want to submit using the sitemap. Optionally you can also submit a last modified date, a change frequency and you can also use and help Google with priorities. From a practical standpoint, generating those optional data points with the XML sitemap is usually a waste of time.

Personally, I believe the best use case for an XML sitemap is essentially to see this as a tool that tells Google that there is a new URL that they should consider crawling asap. Google is much smarter than just relying on you telling them which URL is more important than another. Don’t waste your time on the optional stuff.

Make sure to tell Google about your sitemap’s existence. There are multiple ways to do this. You can either use the robot.txt file to link to the XML sitemap or the sitemap index file. Also, you can use your Google Search Console and there is an option in the sitemaps tab which allows you to submit one or multiple sitemaps. In this case you can get some interesting information from Google. They will basically tell you how many URLs you have submitted, how many of them have been worthy and how they are indexed.

Breaking sitemaps down into various files can also have other purposes. For example, you can do it for categorisation – which then helps you understand if all the major categories have been indexed. There is no limit to having multiple sitemaps, which is a great feature. So if you want to debug and understand how Google sees your overall URL inventory consider creating multiple sitemaps based on the different contents that you have. Lastly, sitemap quality is very important. A sitemap must only contain URLs that serve a HTTP 200 response. There should be no redirects, there should be no URLs that are blocked for robots using either robots.txt or the robots meta tag. Keep it clean and Google will love your sitemap file!

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