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The ABCs of sitemap.xml

7 minutes of reading
The ABCs of sitemap.xml
Category SEO

Sitemaps are a vital part of an overall strategy to optimize your site, but that’s only part of the story. To get the most out of your sitemap, it’s important to understand its role in search engine optimization and also why you should be including one on every single page of your site that could potentially benefit from it. This way, you can ensure you’re getting the best possible return on investment when using a sitemap to help improve your site’s performance in Google search results and other major indexes like Bing and Yahoo!


What is a sitemap?

A sitemap.xml is a file that acts as a listing of the pages on your site. When you send this file to Google and other search engines, they will be able to crawl your website more efficiently and accurately. Search engine crawlers can use it as an index of all your pages, so they know where to go when looking for new content.

How do Google and other search engines use sitemap.xml?

Google uses your site map to crawl through your website and find out what pages exist. A site map is a text file that lists all the URLs on your website, together with additional information about each one. When someone visits your site, Google automatically crawls the pages in order to index them. The sitemap tells them where those pages are. That means the more up-to-date your sitemap, the faster you’ll appear in search results.


There are two basic types of maps:


The typical example of an HTML sitemap is a list of links, at the bottom of a web page, showing readers what’s on the site. However, this kind of sitemaps have limited SEO value. If before the rise of header-based navigational rollovers – which offer visitors deep access into a site – HTML sitemaps were helpful. They provided shortcut links to pages, which transferred link authority and thus boosted rankings.


XML helps makes information easy to read by machines. It efficiently lists all of the site’s URLs (simply text document that is marked up with tags that tell a website’s web crawlers about various kinds of data on the site). When a bot visits a site, it first downloads the robots.txt file which specifies instructions on what to do such as what to visit and which ones to ignore. One option for creating the file is to reference your sitemap and to direct the bot off to crawl the list of URLs.

An XML sitemap has exact rules. Once created, the sitemap can be generated automatically. Ideally, it should require no human input. Watch your URLs often because out of date, inaccurate, and duplicates can quickly take over if you don’t.


Maps are also divided due to the format:

  • XML;
  • RSS, mRSS, Atom 1.0;
  • .txt extension with UFT-8 code;
  • Google site.

Regardless of the sitemap format, the file size can be up to 50 MB (uncompressed) and contain a list of 50,000 URLs. If your site is more extensive and exceeds these values, you need to break it down into smaller parts and then group it into an index.

Static or dynamic

Another division can be distinguished due to the nature of the map’s work. A static sitemap is based on the use of an online generator to create a file that is placed in the main directory of the site (public_html directory). In this case, it is required to create the file every time the address list is updated. However, in order to make this task easier and not to waste time creating files manually, it is worth using the dynamic map, which is automatically updated with a new address. Then we create a map once, the rest is the magic of automation.

Many people forget, but you can also divide the map according to the type of elements you save. If your website is mostly multimedia, make a separate map for graphic files and a separate map for video files so that crawlers can recognize them faster.

SEO benefits of using a map

  • A sitemap is an XML file that allows search engines and site visitors to view all of your website’s pages in an organized fashion. A sitemap makes it easier for search engines to navigate your site, because they can find relevant content with ease.
  • It also provides navigation assistance for visitors as well, so you’re able to pinpoint specific pages from one central location. They are very helpful if you have hundreds or thousands of pages on your site. Visitors will also appreciate being directed to certain pages based on their needs and/or interests.
  • Finally, maps allow web developers to see the layout and flow of their sites more clearly before publishing them online, because they give a bird’s eye view of the entire website at once. If any changes need to be made before launch, then there are plenty of opportunities for adjustments along the way.

Common issues and resolutions

A sitemap is an important part of your website, but sometimes they’re made more complicated than they have to be. They often come in two flavors: XML and HTML. Which one you choose depends on what you’re going for, but both will help keep your site indexed properly by the search engines. Choosing the right type of sitemap is crucial because every page has to be tagged properly so that it knows which URL it is linking to on your site.

Also, you can not fortget about couple things.

  • Only use valid URLs.
  • Remove 404 error pages and redirects from the file.
  • Do not use Polish letters and special characters.
  • If the map contains more than 50,000 addresses and weighs more than 50 MB, you need to break it up into smaller parts.
  • Include the language versions of your site.
  • Remember to update the map.
  • Don’t include pages with duplicate content.
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How to create a sitemap.xml?

You can either create one yourself or automatically generate it by adding in your site map page. If you want to manually create a sitemap, you need to update the file every time your content changes – which is easy if you do so using Google Sites’ publishing tools.

The easiest way is to use the Screaming Frog tool. With its help, an XML sitemap is generated. It also allows you to find broken pages with error code 404 – then you should fix the broken address. Otherwise, Google robots may incorrectly index your page. Screaming Frog also allows you to build a map of the described graphics. But there are many more generators.

During creating a map you have to use tags. Which ones are manadtory and how to use them?

Mandatory tags:

  1. <urlset> (tag referring to the protocol),
  2. <url> (tag referring to the URL),
  3. <loc> (an address location tag).

Optional tags:

  • <lastmod> (tag informing about the last modification of the file),
  • <changefreq> (a tag that sends information to robots when they should index the page),
  • <priority> (tag determining the validity of the address in relation to others on the list).

How to submit your map?

The map is ready, what’s next? Simply generating it does not give us anything yet, it should be placed on the server. The link to the map must be sent to GSC. To do this, use the “Indexing – Sitemap – Add / Test Sitemap – Submit” tab.

Creating map for WordPress with plugin

The platform itself does not generate site maps. In this case, it is recommended that you use the free Yoast SEO plugin. It creates a map automatically, and you don’t have to upload it to the server.


All in all, sitemaps are an effective tool for optimizing your website and the presence of one will go a long way in improving your site’s rankings. With this list you should now know how to properly use them and they can benefit both novice and experienced webmasters alike. The map won’t solve all your problems, but it will certainly facilitate communication with robots – and that’s what you should care about if you want to rank high.

Aleksandra Pietrzak
Curator at the National Museum in Poznań, graduate of Art History at the Jagiellonian University and Contemporary Art at the Pedagogical University of Krakow, curator of exhibitions and author of scientific and popular texts. A lover of contemporary art, literature and travel.
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