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Glossary Definition: XML Sitemap

An ever-growing glossary of SEO Jargon

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What is an XML Sitemap?

An XML sitemap is a popular format of sitemap that helps search engines index websites more efficiently. The Sitemap protocol is supported by Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.

Unlike HTML sitemaps, XML sitemaps aren't used or seen by visitors; instead, the XML-based Sitemap protocol provides search engines with meta data about individual pages of a website, in addition to their URLs.

Creating and submitting an XML sitemap is especially useful for websites that have pages that aren't easily crawled, such as with dynamic websites and less accessible technologies such as flash and AJAX.

XML Sitemap Example:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
  <url>
    <loc>http://www.springboardseo.com/</loc>
    <lastmod>2013-04-04</lastmod>
    <changefreq>weekly</changefreq>
    <priority>1.0</priority>
  </url>
  <url>
    <loc>http://www.springboardseo.com/services/</loc>
    <lastmod>2013-04-04</lastmod>
    <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
    <priority>0.8</priority>
  </url>
  <url>
    <loc>http://www.springboardseo.com/services/seo/</loc>
    <lastmod>2013-04-04</lastmod>
    <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
    <priority>0.5</priority>
  </url>
</urlset>

XML sitemap tags include:

  • <url>: Indicates the information that changes for each URL (Required tag)
  • <loc>: Contains the absolute URL or locator for a page (Required tag)
  • <lastmod>: Specifies when the file was last updated
  • <changefreq>: Indicates how often a file is usually changed
  • <priority>: Indicates the file's relative importance within the site

Avoid the temptation of setting every URL to daily frequency and maximum priority, as unrealistic settings risk having the sitemap completely ignored by search engines.

Creating XML Sitemaps

Creating large sitemaps manually is unrealistic for even those truly dedicated to manual markup. We recommend using one of the third party sitemap generators below (You can always optimize your sitemap once it's generated):

  • Web-Site-Map.com: Online XML sitemap generator which allows at least 3500 URLs free, and usually closer to 5000
  • XML-Sitemaps.com: Online XML sitemap generator which allows 500 URLs for free, and usually closer to 5000
  • Google Sitemap Generator: Detects website changes and makes automatic sitemap updates

Submitting XML Sitemap to Search Engines

After placing the sitemap in the website's root directory, let the search engine's know it's there. You may:

  • Submit directly to search engines, via:
  • Specify its location in the site's robots.txt file by adding the following line: Sitemap: http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml
  • Send an HTTP request through the address bar of a browser to: search_engine_URL/ping?sitemap=sitemap_url Example: http://www.google.com/ping?sitemap=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.yoursite.com%2Fsitemap.xml

    Note: Everything after /ping?sitemap= must be url encoded, as in the example above.

    A successful request will return an HTTP 200 response code.

Quick Tips

  • For very large websites, create separate sitemaps for pages, video, and other content types
  • An XML sitemap may contain no more than 50 000 URLs per file
  • If multiple XML sitemaps are used, they will need an XML sitemap index file
  • When submitting to search engines, submit only the sitemap index file if there is more than one sitemap
  • The size limit for a single XML sitemap is 10MB
  • XML sitemaps can be compressed using gzip to reduce their file size
  • Do not include in an XML sitemap:
  • XML sitemaps must use UTF-8 encoding
  • Validate Your Sitemap

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