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The Ultimate Guide to XML Sitemap Optimization: Best Practices and How-To

The Ultimate Guide to XML Sitemap Optimization

Are search engines unable to find your site? XML sitemap optimization can help you with indexing. 

This is crucial for big sites like e-commerce or news sites that update often. Without a good sitemap, search engines might miss critical pages. This can hurt your rankings.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to optimize your XML sitemap. We’ll cover the basics, best practices, and advanced tips. This will help your site get noticed and improve its search rankings. Let’s get started!

What is a Sitemap?

A sitemap is a file that lists all the pages on your website. It helps search engines find and index your content.

post sitemap-OM

XML vs. HTML Sitemaps

XML Sitemaps are for search engines. They guide search engines to your important pages, improving indexing and SEO.

HTML Sitemaps are for users. They help visitors navigate your site, enhancing user experience and SEO.

Importance for SEO

Why are XML sitemaps important for SEO? The answer is, they help search engines discover your pages. 

Having a sitemap can greatly improve your SEO. For larger and more complex websites, having an XML sitemap is essential. It ensures that search engines efficiently crawl your key pages, boosting your site’s visibility and rankings.

Creating an XML Sitemap

Creating an XML sitemap is essential for ensuring that search engines can efficiently crawl and index your site.

Technically, your sitemap doesn’t even need to be in XML format – a text file with a new line separating each URL will suffice. However, to use advanced features like hreflang, you need XML sitemaps. It’s important to remember that not every website needs a sitemap, but for larger and more complex sites, it’s a crucial tool.

In this section, we’ll guide you through creating an XML sitemap and optimizing it for better SEO.

Recommended Tools and Plugins

To generate your sitemap, you can use various tools and plugins:

1. Yoast SEO Plugin: Ideal for WordPress users. It automatically creates and updates your XML sitemap.


2. Google XML Sitemaps: Another great plugin for WordPress. It supports all kinds of WordPress-generated pages and provides detailed settings for sitemap configuration.

3. XML-Sitemaps.com: A free online tool that generates XML sitemaps for any website. It’s useful for those who don’t use WordPress or prefer an external tool.

xml-sitemap generator-OM

Step-by-Step Guide

Follow these steps to create your XML sitemap:

1. Choose a Tool

Select a plugin or tool from the recommended list above.

2. Install and Configure

If you’re using WordPress, install your chosen plugin (e.g., Yoast SEO or Google XML Sitemaps) and configure the settings to generate your sitemap. For external tools like XML-Sitemaps.com, follow the on-screen instructions to generate your sitemap.

3. Generate the Sitemap

Run the plugin or tool to create your sitemap. For plugins, this typically involves navigating to the sitemap settings in your WordPress dashboard and clicking a button to generate the sitemap. For online tools, enter your website URL and let the tool crawl your site to generate the sitemap.

4. Verify the Sitemap

sitemap validator

Ensure that the sitemap is correctly formatted and accessible. For plugins, the sitemap URL is usually something like yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml. Visit the sitemap URL provided by the tool or plugin to make sure it’s working properly.

Creating your sitemap is just the beginning. Next, we’ll dive into best practices for optimizing your sitemap to ensure it effectively boosts your SEO.

Best Practices for Sitemap SEO Optimization

Optimizing your XML sitemap is crucial for improving your site’s SEO. Here are some best practices to ensure your sitemap is effective:

1. Prioritizing High-Value Pages

Include your most important pages in the sitemap. Think about your top products, services, or key content pieces. These are the pages you want search engines to find and index first.

2. Excluding Low-Quality or Duplicate Content

Keep low-quality or duplicate pages out of your sitemap. Search engines prefer quality over quantity. This helps them focus on your best content, boosting your overall site quality.

3. Regular Updates

Regularly update your sitemap with new content. This tells search engines about recent changes, ensuring your latest content gets indexed quickly.

4. Use Robots Meta Tag Over Robots.txt

For managing indexing, use the robots meta tag rather than robots.txt. This method is more precise, allowing you to control indexing on a page-by-page basis. Use robots.txt only when necessary to save the crawl budget.

5. Don’t Include ‘noindex’ URLs

Exclude URLs marked with ‘noindex’ from your sitemap. Including them can confuse search engines, sending mixed signals about what should be indexed.

6. Avoid Non-200 HTTP Status Codes

Ensure that your sitemap does not include URLs returning non-200 status codes, such as 404 or 500 errors. These URLs can waste the crawl budget and negatively impact SEO.

7. Don’t Worry Too Much About Priority Settings

Priority settings in sitemaps are often ignored by search engines. Instead, focus on ensuring all important pages are included. Proper site structure and internal linking are more impactful for SEO.

gary-illyes-tweet-sitemap priority setting


8. Keeping the Sitemap Clean and Updated

Regularly review and clean up your sitemap. Remove outdated links and fix any errors. A clean, up-to-date sitemap is more effective and helps maintain your site’s credibility with search engines.

Following these best practices will help ensure your sitemap is working hard to improve your site’s SEO. Next, we will cover how to submit your sitemap to search engines and monitor its performance.

Submitting and Monitoring Your Sitemap Optimization

Submitting your sitemap to search engines and monitoring its performance are crucial steps in ensuring your SEO efforts are effective.

1. How to Submit Your Sitemap

Submitting your sitemap tells search engines about your site’s structure, helping them crawl and index it more efficiently.

2. Submitting to Google Search Console

  1. Log In: Access your Google Search Console account.
  2. Navigate to Sitemaps: Go to the “Sitemaps” section.

Submit Sitemap URL: Enter your sitemap URL (e.g., yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml) and click “Submit.”

Google Search Console for Sitemap Submission

3. Submitting to Bing Webmaster Tools

  1. Log In: Access your Bing Webmaster Tools account.
  2. Navigate to Sitemaps: Go to the “Sitemaps” section.
  3. Submit Sitemap URL: Enter your sitemap URL and click “Submit.”

4. Monitoring Sitemap Performance

After submission, it’s important to monitor your sitemap’s performance to ensure it’s working effectively.

5. Regular Checks

Check for any errors or issues reported by the search engines. This can include broken links, incorrect URLs, or indexing issues. For example, if you submitted a sitemap with 1,000 URLs but only 700 are indexed, you need to identify and fix the reasons for the missing 300 URLs.

6. Using Sitemaps for Diagnostics

Sitemaps can help identify and fix indexing errors. Regularly review your sitemap reports to find and address any issues. This ensures your site remains crawlable and indexed correctly. Here’s how you can address indexing issues:

  1. Check Excluded URLs: In Google Search Console, look at the “Excluded” section to see which URLs aren’t indexed and why.
  2. Resolve Errors: Fix any errors like 404s or server issues for these URLs.
  3. Improve Content Quality: Ensure the excluded pages have unique, high-quality content that adds value.
  4. Update and Resubmit: After making changes, update your sitemap and resubmit it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Monitoring and updating your sitemap ensures that it continues to serve its purpose effectively. Next, we will explore advanced techniques for further optimizing your XML sitemap.

Advanced XML Sitemap Optimization Techniques

Once your basic XML sitemap is set up, you can take it further with these advanced techniques:

1. Dynamic Sitemaps

For large sites that update often, use dynamic sitemaps. These auto-update with new content, so search engines always know about your latest changes. This saves you from manually updating your sitemap.

2. Hreflang Tags

If your site has content in multiple languages, add hreflang tags. These tags tell search engines which language and region each page targets, helping users find the right content. This boosts your international SEO.

3. Sitemap Index Files

For very large websites, use sitemap index files. They list multiple sitemaps, making it easier to manage lots of URLs. This is useful if your site exceeds the URL limit for a single sitemap.

sitemap index-OM

4. Handling Media Files

If your site includes many images, videos, or news articles, create specialized sitemaps for them. These media sitemaps help search engines discover and index your media content more effectively, improving your visibility in image and video searches.

Implementing these advanced techniques ensures your sitemap continues to enhance your site’s SEO performance. Next, we’ll discuss when it might be appropriate not to create a sitemap.

Instances When You Don’t Necessarily Need A Sitemap

While sitemaps are beneficial for most websites, there are situations where they might not be necessary. Also, sitemaps are just a suggestion to Google, not a directive.

garry illyes on sitemaps- linkedin post

Small Websites

If your website is small and all pages are easily discoverable through internal linking, you might not need a sitemap. Search engines can find and index your content without additional help. John Mueller from Google mentioned in a Google Office Hours Hangout that if your site has fewer pages and good internal linking, a sitemap might not be necessary. You can watch his explanation in this video:

Single-Page Websites

For single-page websites, a sitemap is usually unnecessary. All your content is on one page, so search engines don’t need a sitemap to navigate your site.

Well-Structured Sites

If your website has excellent internal linking and clear navigation, search engines can effectively crawl your site without a sitemap. This includes sites where all pages are easily reachable through the main navigation or internal links.

Static Websites

Static websites with few updates don’t benefit much from a sitemap. If your content rarely changes, search engines can easily keep track of your site without needing frequent updates through a sitemap.

Gary Illyes from Google highlighted that about 80% of content discovery by Googlebot is through following links, while only 20% is through sitemaps.

This means that if your site has robust internal linking and is well-structured, a sitemap might not significantly impact your SEO.

By understanding these scenarios, you can decide whether creating a sitemap is necessary for your website. Next, we will cover the importance of indexability in SEO.

Importance of Indexability in Sitemap SEO Optimization

There are over 200 search engine ranking factors, but indexability is one of the most important. Without proper indexing, your pages won’t appear in search results, no matter how good the content is.

How Sitemaps Improve Indexability

Sitemaps help search engines find your important pages. They provide a list of your URLs, guiding search engines through your site. This is crucial for large or complex websites. It ensures new or updated content gets crawled and indexed quickly.

Common Indexing Issues and Solutions

Even with a good sitemap, you might face indexing issues. Here are common problems and how to fix them:

  • Crawl Errors: Use Google Search Console to find and fix crawl errors like 404 pages or server errors. Make sure your server is stable and pages are accessible.
  • Blocked Resources: Check that important resources (like CSS and JavaScript files) aren’t blocked by robots.txt. Search engines need these to understand your site’s layout and functionality.
  • Duplicate Content: Avoid duplicate content. It can confuse search engines and hurt your rankings. Use canonical tags to show the preferred version of a page.

By focusing on indexability and fixing common issues, you can boost your site’s visibility and rankings. 


So, that’s a wrap! Create and update your XML sitemap using tools, follow best practices, submit to search engines, monitor performance, use advanced techniques, and ensure indexability for effective SEO.

Now that your technical SEO is taken care of, don’t ignore the importance of off-page SEO. Need help with link building? Check out our link-building services to enhance your site’s visibility and drive more traffic. Get in touch with us today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal file size for an XML sitemap?

Keep it under 50MB and no more than 50,000 URLs per sitemap.

Should I include paginated URLs in my sitemap?

Yes, include paginated URLs to help search engines crawl through your entire content structure.

How do I handle URLs that change frequently?

Use dynamic sitemaps to automatically update these URLs.

Is it necessary to use the lastmod tag in my sitemap?

Yes, the lastmod tag helps search engines know when content was last updated.

Can I include non-HTML files in my XML sitemap?

Yes, you can include PDFs and other non-HTML files to help search engines index them.

Ekta Chauhan

Ekta Chauhan

Ekta is a seasoned link builder at Outreach Monks. She uses her digital marketing expertise to deliver great results. Specializing in the SaaS niche, she excels at crafting and executing effective link-building strategies. Ekta also shares her insights by writing engaging and informative articles regularly. On the personal side, despite her calm and quiet nature, don't be fooled—Ekta's creativity means she’s probably plotting to take over the world. When she's not working, she enjoys exploring new hobbies, from painting to trying out new recipes in her kitchen.


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