A sitemap is basically a blueprint of your website. Much like the original plans for a house will show where everything is and allow the architects and workers to build appropriately, a sitemap works in much the same way for your site. Just like blueprints also inform home inspectors, your sitemap will inform Google and other search engines of what can be found where. So how does this benefit your SEO strategies? Let’s find out.
Helps Search Engines Find Your Content
XML sitemaps are most effective at clearly laying out what your website has in every nook and cranny. This tells Google and other search engines what can be found, and where. This helps Google connect your website with the right search, and thus bring new visitors to your site.
Helps Human Visitors
While XML sitemaps are primarily for the use of search engine spiders, HTML sitemaps are for the average human. Providing an HTML sitemap for your users to find what they’re looking for will improve user experience, and thus will improve your site’s ranking among search engines.
Avoids Content Duplication
Content duplication is important to avoid for a couple of reasons. One reason is that it can make your website look unprofessional if you have a lot of duplicated content. Another big reason is that search engines do not like content duplication; it looks as if your website is using unethical methods to increase its relevance for certain searches (i.e. by using the same few keywords over and over). An XML sitemap will help you avoid all of this, keeping you on good terms with your users and the search engines.
Your XML sitemap will also be able to show Google and others that you are indeed the original creator of content on your website. This will increase your legitimacy in the eyes of the search engines, which is imperative for search engine optimization.
If Google or any of the other search engines thinks that even a little bit of your content is not original or legitimate, your website could be paying for it for a long time by ending up on the tenth page of ten pages of search results.
Another aspect that an XML sitemap will verify for Google is the quality of the content on your site. Your sitemap will quickly and conveniently let Google know when you’ve added or edited content on your site, pointing it directly towards the new item(s). Again, this increases your SEO by making your website appear transparent and legitimate.
Identifies all URLs
This includes many URLs connected to your website that would not otherwise be searchable. Having an XML sitemap allows Google and other search engines to find these URLs and to include them in relevant searches. By exposing these URLs to search engines, you are improving your SEO by increasing your website’s transparency among the search engines.
Gives Search Engines Crawling Priority
Search engines, especially Google, like to be able to easily and quickly crawl your website. By having an XML sitemap, you are essentially throwing your front door wide open and asking the home inspector to come on in. This will allow all of the engines to easily follow the “blueprint” and make sure that everything is in order, therefore increasing your website’s favor with the search engines.
Having a sitemap will also provide you feedback on what the search engines have found. This will allow you to identify weaknesses in your website and address them quickly so that they won’t affect your ranking in search results.
Setting up Your Sitemap
Creating an XML sitemap is fairly easy with most website content management systems. If you’re not sure if you’re setting it up correctly, look at Google’s Sitemap Protocol 0.0 to make sure it will address those guidelines. After your sitemap is complete, you will want to verify it with Google Webmaster Tool. This will make sure your sitemap is in the proper format and that Google (and other search engines) can read it correctly.
A sitemap is pretty useless if it’s not legible to the search engines. If your content management system doesn’t have a step-by-step process for creating your sitemap, there are plenty of free tools out there to help you get started, such Screaming Frog, or XML-Sitemaps.com.
Having an accurate sitemap is important for your website for various reasons and will offer many SEO benefits if done correctly. No matter how small your website may be, this feature is always a good idea. A sitemap is absolutely critical, however, if you have a larger website, or if you have a site that is brand new, not well-linked, or includes dynamic pages.
To make the most of sitemaps and the SEO potential, you will need to put some work in. However, once Google and others can easily find, read, and verify the content on your website, you will reap the rewards one hundred times over.