So, you hear SEOs talk a lot about sitemaps, right? XML sitemaps.
Is an XML sitemap really that important for your website?
In short, yes. Yes, it is.
What is the fundamental thing we need search engines to do with our website?
To crawl it, right?
In order to be ranked, we need our website, and the pages within it, to be discovered.
Websites can be discovered without a sitemap – and I’m talking about an XML sitemap, not a HTML sitemap page on your site.
You should have this as well but I’m specifically talking about an XML sitemap, here.
You can have your site crawled, indexed and ranked without an XML sitemap.
However, providing one to Google helps them help you.
Last week, I talked about making life easier for search engines.
This is something you always want to do because, quite frankly, not doing so in a landscape where everyone else does, means you hinder your ranking ability.
Yes, not having an XML sitemap hinders your ranking ability.
A sitemap doesn’t directly affect your rankings.
It affects the discoverability of pages – pages, not your website, pages.
What I mean by this is that you could have your site discovered, indexed, rendered, and ranked whilst certain pages are yet to be discovered.
You see, pages are key in SEO. They’re assets. Important ones.
When SEOs use the term ‘we’re ranking for these keywords’, what is actually ranking?
Is it the keywords? No.
When you rank for keywords, it means you have pages that are ranking for those keywords.
In order for the pages to be ranked, they must be discovered.
Why wait for Google to discover your pages when you could tell them about them?
Why wouldn’t you tell Google of your pages when your competitors do?
And when you tell Google of your pages, why would you tell them of ones that do not need to be crawled?
A mistake I see very often are XMLs that contain errors in them – like 404 pages, for example.
This isn’t a page that needs to be in an XML. It’s not a page that should be in an XML.
Yet, chances are, your XML may contain them – and other errors in them.
Typically, for two reasons:
- Your CMS is unable to auto-generate an XML sitemap
- You don’t have an SEO liaising directly with Devs
Let me address the second point, first.
A major mistake brands make is to develop their websites without SEO involvement, and continue to have it run without SEOs.
You might have a Dev person that is able to generate an XML sitemap for you – and if you do, great.
However, you can’t expect a Dev person to know the best practices involved in having an XML in order for you to thrive in search.
This is work for an SEO person.
In other words, creating the rules and guidelines for an XML sitemap needs to be carried out by an SEO, and then fed into the Dev person who will implement XML generation based on the recs provided by SEO.
It is not a Dev person’s job to know, or create best practice recommendations, which they then implement.
You wouldn’t expect a Writer to be able to create content with targeted keywords without having received the targeted keywords from SEOs.
You shouldn’t expect Devs to execute work that will impact SEO without having liaised with SEO.
Work that impacts SEO should involve SEO.
Now, to the first point – having a CMS that’s unable to auto-generate an XML.
This would present an excellent opportunity to have SEOs and Devs working closely together.
Consider an XML to be essential.
Working off of this premise, if you have a situation where you’re not able to auto-generate an XML every time a new page is published on your site, this would be a project that needs to be prioritised quite highly.
You can get by with workarounds for a little while.
However, this capability, is one that you’ll need to invest in.
The investment in it will require a commitment to have SEOs and Devs resourced on this – let’s call it – project. This project.
If you’re not convinced that this is something that requires your investment, consider this –
Ranking highly with your pages requires them to be discovered by Google.
Submitting an XML to Google, that’s up to date, makes it easy for them to discover your pages.
In order to have an XML that’s up to date, you need your CMS to be able to create and re-generate one on a daily basis.
This process, of updating on a daily basis, needs to be streamlined.
This process needs to be efficient.
This process needs to be automated.
We’re not in web 1.0 anymore.
A CMS needs to be able to auto-generate an XML sitemap.
If you have one that is unable to do so, this capability needs to be worked on.
If you do not have this capability, you’ll be making your ranking ability less-easy.
You know, SEO, sometimes, comes down to who can make adjustments, quicker.
It sometimes comes down to who makes discoverability and understanding easier for Google.
It sometimes comes down to who has the best internal operations.
When you do not have a state of the art web functionality and your competitors do, they’re more likely to outperform you in the SERPs.