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Sitemaps – properly optimized websites have them to since they’re integral to having a proper indexing process for your site. If you have a properly set-up sitemap, it also assists crawlers to better navigate your website thereby giving your site better visibility in the search engines.
As simple as it may seem, there are a lot of technical aspects that webmasters and SEOS should understand about sitemaps. It’s not as easy as generating it once and forgetting about it. This is one of the most important aspects of improving a website’s search visibility. So, I took it upon myself to enumerate some best practices we do at SEO Hacker to ensure that a website’s sitemap is fully optimized and is massively contributing to the site’s SEO/search presence. Let’s start.
What are Sitemaps?
According to Google, a sitemap is:
“a file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them. Search engines like Google read this file to more intelligently crawl your site. A sitemap tells Google which pages and files you think are important in your site, and also provides valuable information about these files: for example, for pages, when the page was last updated, how often the page is changed, and any alternate language versions of a page.”
In simpler terms, a sitemap is a file you create to assist and inform search engine crawlers the BETTER way to crawl your website. This includes the pages that you believe should be included in the search results since they’re informative and can potentially answer a user’s query.
Why You Should Use Sitemaps
Aside from the benefits I already mentioned, some other benefits of using sitemaps are:
- Last Updated or Modified – If you regularly publish content on your website, there will be instances where you update old, informative blog posts to make it fresher and increase its value. Through sitemaps, you can give signals/information to the search engine crawlers about the pages that you just updated or modified. This tells them that the particular pages contain new information that should be taken into consideration when they rank those specific pages.
- A More Holistic View of Your Website – Sitemaps are files that can contain a massive number of URLs. This means that if you have a massive website, you won’t have trouble having most of your pages crawled and, hopefully, indexed by search engines. One example would be for e-commerce sites that have hundreds to thousands of pages for their products.
- Crawler Navigation and Discovery – Since crawlers use internal and external links to crawl the websites in the world wide web this poses problems for webmasters that are not well-versed with proper internal linking structure processes and proper link building tactics. Through sitemaps, these webmasters can inform crawlers that their pages exist – even if no other page is linking to it. But I strongly recommend constantly improving your website’s internal linking and link building processes since it’s more beneficial for SEO.
Sitemap Best Practices
Since we now all know the importance and benefits of having a sitemap, here are 3 sitemap best practices we do at SEO Hacker to ensure that our client’s sitemap is a stepping stone for SEO success:
1. Dynamic Sitemaps
A dynamic sitemap is a type of sitemap that possess a set of rules that allow them to update themselves whenever you make changes to your pages. This is extremely helpful for large websites or publishers that regularly update a large number of pages since a dynamic sitemap automatically updates itself when a rule is followed.
Dynamic Sitemaps are also easier to access and crawl for search engine bots/crawlers and are relatively safer from being corrupted.
As I’ve mentioned, sitemaps are important which is why developers around the world and even Google produced tools and plugins that assist webmasters and SEOs with sitemap generation and management.
For WordPress websites, the Yoast SEO plugin already has a built-in XML sitemap generator which is used by a large number of webmasters. You can also install Google XML Sitemaps to create them as well.
After creation, it’s a best practice to submit the generated sitemap to Google Search Console. Click the “Sitemaps” button in the sidebar of your Google Search Console property, then just put your sitemap URL Slug in the space provided and click submit.
3. Priority Pages
In sitemaps, there’s a Google protocol where you can give scores to your page between 0.1 to 1 – 1 being the highest. Pages that have higher scores are given priority in crawling and they’re also more regularly crawled than lower scored pages.
The best practice here is to assign higher scores to pages that are more regularly updated or more important pages. Having these pages crawled more often by Google is important since you want Google or other search engines to SEE and KNOW what changes you made and how those changes added more value to the page.
Since it’s up to you as the webmaster to assign these scores, you need to remember that it’s not a best practice to give ALL your pages the same score to give priority to all of them. Google crawlers are constantly improved and they also function through algorithmic processes. This means that they’ll have a harder and longer time understanding which pages are regularly updated as compared to other, static pages.
4. Avoid Noindexed Pages
Putting noindex tags in your pages means that you don’t want those pages showing up in the search results. This could encompass a lot of pages such as log-in, checkout, resource, or WordPress pages. This is self-explanatory but avoid including pages that you’ve labeled as noindex in your sitemap.
Your sitemap should contain only the pages that you WANT to show up in the search results which is why intentionally or accidentally including noindexed pages in your sitemap is contradictory and causes errors in your Google Search Console coverage report. This is easily avoided by being mindful of the pages included in your sitemap and by doing regular sitemap check-ups.
If one way or another, you included a noindexed page in your sitemap, this is what it would look like after you validate the appropriate fixes:
5. Link to the Sitemap
This is a simple practice that we’ve been doing as long as I can remember. After generating a sitemap, we always link the sitemap in the website’s footer to make it a sitewide link. This is just an additional measure for crawlers to find the sitemap. Since we want it to be visible all the time whenever search engines crawl our website
Us webmasters and SEOs need to understand the importance of sitemaps and how it brings about massive benefits to our websites. It’s already considered a foundational strategy to set-up and optimize a sitemap for most SEOs since they’re a big help for improving search visibility and presence.
Use the best practices I’ve mentioned to step up your sitemap processes and thereby improve your overall SEO efforts. Do you know any other best practices for sitemap generation and optimization? Comment them down below!