Website sitemaps are one of the most misunderstood pieces of the SEO equation.
Most people aren’t sure what it does, why it’s necessary, and how to set it up correctly for the best results.
However, one thing remains a fact – a sitemap is essential to rank for competitive keywords, so you must go beyond keyword research services and make sure that you are setting it up correctly.
In this article, I’ll analyze a sitemap example and show you precisely what it is and what are the sitemap best practices.
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What is an XML Sitemap and Why Do They Matter?
Before we decipher how to use sitemaps on your site and look at sitemap examples, we must first understand why sitemaps are essential in the first place.
The primary function of a sitemap is to help search engines find relevant pages on your website so that they can be crawled and indexed.
XML Sitemap help search engines understand how your site is structured and what it pertains to. In doing so, it can also contribute to how high your website can rank on Google based on its found relevance. Ultimately, sitemaps can serve as a reference point for your SEO efforts.
It is also best practice to keep your XML sitemap in your site’s Robots.txt file. What’s a Robots.txt file you ask? Consider it the instructions manual that you provide to Google as to how they should be crawling your website. One of the most critical underlying objectives for SEO is to give search engines the most streamlined and efficient way to look through your website. Therefore, a missing robots.txt file is a missed opportunity to communicate allowed/disallowed crawlable areas of your website. If you’re unable to deliver to search engines the location of the site’s XML sitemap, you could be limiting the search engines’ ability to crawl and index your site correctly. Where the robots.txt is the instructions manual, the XML sitemap is the treasure map to your site’s gold (content)
Search engines may view new content that is published but not added to the XML sitemap as less critical than content that is included. This also could result in pages being left out of the index, resulting in reduced organic rankings and organic traffic.
As best practices, we generally recommend excluding archive pages from the XML sitemap and to noindex them as well (ex. blog category pages, tag pages, author pages, date archive pages, etc.). Only canonical pages need to be included.
With a well-maintained sitemap, you can double-check which pages you want to be indexed with what Google and other search engines are indexing. Doing so allows you to see if there is a lack of pages or an excess of pages being indexed. But without a complete and submitted XML sitemap, search engines may miss content and fail to index your pages. This can result in a lack of organic rankings and organic traffic.
We recommend creating an XML sitemap that includes the full list of all site pages. At that point, it is essential to submit your XML sitemaps to Google / Bing webmaster tools.
It is generally a good idea to avoid blocking subdirectories to search engines in your robots.txt file unless necessary (ex. private content hidden behind a paywall, or a shopping account, wish lists, etc.). As soon as you block those pages, Google will not be able to follow internal links which are quintessential for efficient crawling and indexing of the site as a whole. Ultimately, this could impact the site’s rankings as a whole. On WordPress sites, you can use the following robots.txt file formatting:
XML sitemaps help search engines understand the full scope of the content contained within your site.
Here’s what a typical XML sitemap looks like for WordPress sites using the Yoast SEO plugin to generate it.
XML Sitemap Example
Now that we’ve understood why sitemaps are essential let’s analyze an XML sitemap example to see how it looks like in real life.
Here’s the sitemap.xml example for the Victorious SEO site:
It’s a particular type of sitemap called a sitemap index. It houses other individual traditional sitemaps of each sitemap for your website.
Here’s a more traditional sitemap.xml example from our site:
Our sitemap is formatted to look clean, but often, the XML sitemap looks like raw HTML. You can check out this example from the site of Forever 21:
The primary purpose of XML sitemaps is not to be read by users, but to be crawled by search engines, helping them understand what your site is about.
HTML Sitemap Example
Another Google sitemap example is an HTML sitemap.
It’s usually made to look just like a regular page on your site, including a navigation menu, footer, and everything else you might expect to see on a page.
Just like in the XML sitemap example, it lists out all of the pages that you want to be indexed. While HTML sitemaps are much more user-friendly and are designed to be read by humans, they are still beneficial for search engine robots as well.
Here’s our HTML sitemap:
Sitemap Best Practices
Now that we’ve explored a few website sitemap examples, we need to go over the best practices that you should follow when creating your sitemaps.
These practices apply to both XML and HTML sitemaps and should be checked upon regularly:
Use Dynamic Sitemaps
Having an automatically generated sitemap is crucial for large websites. Using a dynamic sitemap will enable it to get updated whenever you add, update, or remove existing pages.
List All Important Pages
Make sure that your sitemaps are updated and contain all of the pages that you want to be indexed. Otherwise, you may find that the newer pages aren’t indexed as quickly and don’t rank as well.
Make Your Sitemap Accessible
It’s also essential to ensure that your sitemap doesn’t break. If search engines get a 404 error when trying to access your sitemap, they will be unable to index your site and understand your structure. It could also mark your sitemap as untrustworthy or one that is not well kept, which becomes disadvantageous for all other SEO efforts.
Exclude Noindex URLs from Your Sitemap
Sitemaps help your visitors and search engines properly navigate and crawl your website. Adding Noindex pages to your sitemap will confuse search engines and may negatively impact your crawl budget.
Do Not Include Redirects and Broken Pages
You should only list pages that are currently live and remove any 404 pages or URLs that redirect.
Maintenance of your XML sitemap involves checking it regularly, updating it based on new or non-existing pages, and making sure that you don’t have errors that would prevent search engine crawl bots from accessing it.
In this article, we went over the basics of an SEO site map, including its purpose, creation process, maintenance, and a sitemap example for each of the types.
Now that you have a better idea of why you need it, you probably understand that setting up and monitoring a sitemap is a task that is better left to SEO professionals who have the experience and know-how to get it in line with the expectations and guidelines of Google.
At Victorious, we help you set up your sitemaps in a way that will get them effectively indexed by search engines and allow your pages to climb the search rankings steadily. Let us know if you’re looking for a free SEO consultation and we can get started checking it out.