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XML Sitemaps Don’t Make the World Go ‘Round, But They Can Support Your SEO Campaign

Many SEOs sit on the fence, divided by this choice: do I use an XML sitemap or not? Since Google (and the other search engines following suit) adopted XML sitemaps as a way for webmasters to communicate site details, there has been a constant rumble of discontent. Many choose to submit their sitemaps, but the rest claim that sitemaps either do no good, or worse, can negatively affect SEO efforts. It’s time to put all of that behind you and realize that yes, XML sitemaps actually can positively support your SEO campaign.

What Is an XML Sitemap?

An XML sitemap is an XML file that lists all the URLs of your website, but also contains details about those pages for the search engines. This includes the date the page was last updated, its priority compared to other pages on the same site, and that page’s update frequency (hourly, weekly, monthly, etc.).

How and Why Should You Use an XML Sitemap?

Once you’ve created your sitemap, it’s time to submit that file to the search engines. Google, Yahoo!, and MSN all provide easy options for submitting your sitemap. All three search engines provide some form of a webmaster tools program. There’s Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo! SiteExplorer, and Live Search Webmaster Center.

More important than how, though, is why you should submit an XML sitemap. The truth is, it can speed up the process of getting your website content indexed and ranked in search engines. Additionally, there is increased potential for more of your pages to be indexed than if you had not submitted a sitemap at all. XML sitemaps give you an opportunity to pass extra information to the search engines that allows them to optimize their crawl of your site.

When you submit your XML sitemap to the search engines, you can receive helpful information back based on that data. This is most noticeable with Google Webmaster Tools. When you submit your sitemap there, you are given information on how often Google downloads the file, a summary of URLs in the sitemap compared to the number of pages Google has indexed, and much more.

How to Create an XML Sitemap

These days, it’s relatively simple to create an XML sitemap. In many cases, these sitemaps can be automatically generated by your website. Many CMSs (content management systems) offer sitemap automation, and many more webmasters are savvy enough to automate the process themselves. If you don’t fall into that club, rest assured there are ways of building XML sitemaps on your own-and it’s free. Just visit AuditMyPC.com, XML-Sitemaps.com, or gSiteCrawler.com, and you’ll be on your way to creating an XML sitemap.

Why Some SEOs Claim You Shouldn’t Use Sitemaps

MYTH: XML sitemaps can hide site architecture problems.
FACT: Though a sitemap clearly labels the architecture of your website, you may be neglecting structural and even usability issues that affect human visitors. An XML sitemap can speed up the process of indexing and ranking your content, but it cannot improve the functionality of your website.

MYTH: Theoretically, a well-optimized site doesn’t need an XML sitemap.
FACT: Some SEOs claim that a site designed “the right way” won’t need an XML sitemap, and that the search engines will crawl and index the site regardless. While this is true to some extent, narrowing the focus of a bot to a hierarchy of information of your choosing is, in fact, “the right way” to design a site.

MYTH: Using a sitemap can become a crutch.
FACT: Submitting an XML sitemap is a huge step toward SEO success, not the end of it. Regular SEO efforts of keyword research, title tags, link building, and so forth are all needed to get your site indexed and ranked.

MYTH: XML sitemaps can feed outdated information to indexers.
FACT: That’s true of any website content, though. If your site has an outdated sitemap or if your sitemap is not formatted correctly, you could actually harm your indexing by preventing search bots from indexing your site. So if you find that your newer content is not being indexed, update or remove the sitemap to see what happens the next time your site is crawled.

What Should You Do?

First of all, don’t neglect your website and the core SEO principles. As you go through the process of optimizing your website, take care to create a strong site architecture and an internal linking structure, and exercise all appropriate keyword targeting tactics. With all of those elements in place, take the next step and submit an XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. This will ensure that the search engines have all the necessary information about your website in order to crawl it quickly and efficiently.

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