I’ve always held the belief that XML sitemaps are an important technical aspect to an effective marketing campaign, especially when it comes to blog and search engine marketing. However, this belief was only supported in theory. Sure, every piece of marketing advice and documentation pointed to why XML sitemaps were beneficial, but there wasn’t any data to back up that claim. It was a search engine optimization assumption, in that because this technology was supported by Google and all the other major engines, it made sense to include it in a comprehensive marketing campaign. The question is, does this actually help the engines index your site better or faster? Or is this just a myth pushed by myself and the rest of the SEO community to justify the addition? Couldn’t search engines find and index your site or blog easily on their own?
What is an XML Sitemap?
I don’t want to get ahead of myself and dive right into the data without first explaining the theory and definition behind XML sitemaps. Simply put, a sitemap is a list of all the pages within your website. There really are two versions, an HTML sitemap, and an XML sitemap. The HTML version is a basic table of contents for your site. Think of it as a list of links to all the pages in your site. Although nice to have, after searching for quite a while, I couldn’t find any solid data supporting the SEO value of an HTML sitemap. It might help users trying to find a specific page buried deep into the archives of your site, but if you structure your build better in the development phase, you should have absolutely no need for an HTML sitemap.
XML sitemaps are very different than HTML sitemaps. First off, XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language, and is essentially the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) recommended standard for creating formats and sharing data on the Web. In other terms, it’s a stripped down version of data that makes it easy to syndicate or format information using technologies such as RSS. XML contains both the data and the description of the data, so in an XML sitemap, you’ll have all the pages, their importance, how often they’re changed, and other information that is valuable to the engines. XML also allows the data to be shared very easily across the web, because it contains no formatting. All this basically means is that XML sitemaps are a road map for engines, containing everything they need to know to easily index and find all the information in your site. You can find more information on how search engines incorporate and read XML sitemaps, as well as the proper formatting and how to create one, on sitemaps.org.
Does an XML Sitemap Help?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is a resounding yes. Over at SEOmoz.org, a user posted some data about his XML sitemap experiment, and the results speak for themselves:
Although the experiment used a blog, the data here can be extrapolated for any website.
Without an XML sitemap submitted to the search engines, Google took an average of 1375 minutes to index a new blog post, and Yahoo took an average of 1773 minutes. That’s almost a full day for Google to find the information and longer than a day for Yahoo. Keep in mind this experiment took place on a popular, frequently updated blog, so the engines are used to crawling this site. With a sitemap submitted to the engines, Google took an average of 14 minutes to index the new post and Yahoo took an average of 245 minutes. This is a significant difference, and in the fast-paced internet information age, that difference could mean the gap between success and failure. Bottom line, because of the incredible speed in which an engine crawled the site with an XML sitemap, and the fact that these XML sitemaps provide so much valuable data to the engines, it’s imperative that your blog and your website both have an XML sitemap, and that its submitted to the engines on a regular basis or each time you update.
Here at iePlexus, we incorporate compliant XML sitemaps into both our clients’ websites and blogs as part of our service. For the website, we submit the sitemap on a regular basis, and for the blog, it’s submitted automatically on each update of the site. Now that we have the data to support the value of XML sitemaps, I realize I was right all along.