Search engine optimization (SEO) is always changing. What works for your business’ digital marketing strategy today may not work next week. Google is always changing their algorithms to stay one step ahead of those that try to game the system. Sitemaps are an aspect of search engine optimization that have been around for a long time and many wonder whether they still provide any value to your website’s SEO strategy.
First, let’s define what sitemaps are in detail. Sitemaps are seen as a blueprint of your website and are organized in a hierarchical structure. They can be tailored for human visitors (HTML sitemaps) or for the search engine bots that crawl websites (XML sitemaps). An HTML sitemap will resemble a table of contents seen in books and will show each page according to how it’s organized within your website.
An XML sitemap is written in plain text and allows the search engine bots to easily crawl and navigate your website. The quicker your website’s content is crawled when it’s updated, the sooner your website will begin ranking for new content. Website visitors are unable to see XML sitemaps since they can only be edited on the backend of a website. The XML sitemap also reveals your website’s most important pages, when your website was updated as well as how often it’s updated. If your website has a lot of content, XML sitemaps can help the search engines find content that is buried deep within your website and cannot be easily found.
HTML sitemaps are not integrated into websites as often as 6 or 7 years ago because website navigation has drastically changed. Websites now have drop-down menus, strong interlinking capabilities and easy-to-use search bars which are built into the more sophisticated websites. HTML sitemaps will benefit websites with large amounts of content that date several years back but are useless for websites with very few pages.
XML sitemaps, on the other hand, are much more important and beneficial towards your brand’s SEO strategy. They’re seen as an aid to search engines when their bots are crawling a website. However, search engines are capable of crawling a website without the aid of an XML sitemap, it just happens very slowly without one. The best way to increase the rate at which your own website is indexed is to publish new content with greater frequency. For news websites like Fox News, Washington Post or CNN, search engine bots don't leave the website since content is constantly being published. Even with an XML sitemap integrated into a website, certain pages could still be ignored by the search engines if they contain duplicate content or don’t have much content at all.
For our beginners that may be reading this post, below is an excellent Youtube video tutorial that will show you how to create an XML sitemap for your website and then submit it to Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools). You should already have Google Search Console integrated into your website on the backend. If your business uses Wordpress as it’s content management system, you’ll be able to create an XML sitemap via the Yoast SEO plugin.
In conclusion, yes sitemaps are still important for SEO, notably XML sitemaps. If you’ve ever run an SEO checkup scan of your website on SEOsitecheckup.com, you’ll notice that whether your website has sitemaps is factored into the overall SEO score. However, sitemaps are not as important as they once were and HTML sitemaps are slowly becoming a thing of the past. According to Google, XML sitemaps are strongly recommended if any of the following applies to your website.
- You have a large website with thousands of pages.
- Your website uses a large archives system.
- Your website is new and doesn’t have many links pointing to it.
- Your website uses rich media content (digital advertising, popup ads, videos).
Ultimately, the best SEO practices are making sure you’re following textbook practices for on-site SEO, publishing interesting and original content for your readers and continuously building links to your website from external websites. As you continue to fertilize your website using these practices, it will continue to grow and generate more traffic.
Are you a small business owner in Nashville, Tennessee that needs help building an effective SEO strategy? John Mann SEO Consulting can help. We are a small digital marketing company and offer services such as search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, email marketing and content marketing and development. To schedule your free consultation, complete our contact form or give us a call at 615-491-9819.