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How Website XML Sitemaps Benefit Site SEO Plus SERPs Ranking

Generally, Website XML Sitemaps (see this website RSS sitemap for example) are some of the most resourceful tools for any website mapping. And they are usually free and simple to use by everyone as long as they are online. These tools are particularly important because a search engine like Google uses its bots to grab your site map and feed it to search results.

That said, if you are using the AIOSEO Plugin for your WordPress website SEO needs, you must have come along or even used the XML Sitemaps Protocol without even knowing. Overall, this is a setup dashboard where even the Robots.txt settings option is usually found.  The robots.txt editor in AIOSEO allows you to set up a robots.txt file for your overall website.

Eventually, these settings will override the default robots.txt file that WordPress creates. By creating a robots.txt file with AIOSEO you have greater control over the instructions you give web crawlers about your site. It’s important to realize, that just like WordPress, All in One SEO generates a dynamic robots.txt so there is no static file to be found on your server.

The content of the robots.txt file is stored in your WordPress database and displayed in a web browser. That said, to get started with your own website’s custom Robots.txt file setup, all you’ll need is to click on Tools in the All in One SEO menu. That aside, it’s time to switch back to our topic of the day — to learn more about the role of Website XML Sitemaps in detail.

What Website XML Sitemaps Really Entails

By definition, Website XML Sitemaps are an easy way to inform search engines about website pages that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site).

In particular, so that search engines like Google and Bing can more intelligently crawl the site.  Web crawlers usually discover pages from links within the site and from other sites. Sitemaps supplement this data to allow crawlers that support Sitemaps to pick up all URLs in the Sitemap and learn about those URLs using the associated metadata.

However, using the Sitemap Protocols does not guarantee that web pages are included in search engines. But, it uniquely provides hints for web crawlers to do a better site crawling job. Sitemap 0.90 is offered under the terms of the Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License with wide adoption. Including support from Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft.

In short, Website XML Sitemaps are a way of organizing a website, identifying the URLs and the data under each section. Previously, they were primarily geared toward the users of the website. However, in terms of Google’s XML Sitemaps format, they were designed specifically for search engines. Whilst, allowing them to find the data faster and easier.

The Main Website XML Sitemaps Format

In this section, we’ll clearly describe the schema format for the website XML sitemaps protocol in detail. So, you should stick with us till the end if you want to learn more… Having said that, the basic website XML sitemap protocol format consists of key elements called XML tags. All data values in a Sitemap must be entity-escaped. The file itself must be UTF-8 encoded.

The sitemap must usually:
  • Begin with an opening <urlset> tag and end with a closing </urlset> tag.
  • Specify the namespace (protocol standard) within the <urlset> tag.
  • Include a <url> entry for each URL, as a parent XML tag.
  • Include a <loc> child entry for each <url> parent tag.

All other tags are optional. Support for these optional tags may vary among search engines. Refer to each search engine’s documentation for details. Also, all URLs in a Sitemap must be from a single host, such as www.example.com or store.example.com. For further details, you can refer to the sitemap file location to gather more detailed information.

By the same token, besides the illustration sample below, you can also see the key example with multiple URLs as elaborated further. The following example shows a website sitemap that contains just one URL and uses all optional tags. It’s also good to note that the optional tags are marked down in italics. Just to avoid the confusion that may arise.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/</loc>
      <lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
      <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
      <priority>0.8</priority>
   </url>
</urlset> 

XML Tags Definition

The available XML tags are described below.

AttributeDescription
<urlset>requiredEncapsulates the file and references the current protocol standard.
<url>requiredParent tag for each URL entry. The remaining tags are children of this tag.
<loc>requiredURL of the page. This URL must begin with the protocol (such as http) and end with a trailing slash if your web server requires it. This value must be less than 2,048 characters.
<lastmod>optionalThe date of the last modification of the page. This date should be in W3C Datetime format. This format allows you to omit the time portion if desired, and use YYYY-MM-DD.

Note that the date must be set to the date the linked page was last modified, not when the sitemap is generated.

Note also that this tag is separate from the If-Modified-Since (304) header the server can return, and search engines may use the information from both sources differently.

<changefreq>optionalHow frequently the page is likely to change. This value provides general information to search engines and may not correlate exactly to how often they crawl the page. Valid values are:

  • always
  • hourly
  • daily
  • weekly
  • monthly
  • yearly
  • never

The value “always” should be used to describe documents that change each time they are accessed. The value “never” should be used to describe archived URLs.

Please note that the value of this tag is considered a hint and not a command. Even though search engine crawlers may consider this information when making decisions, they may crawl pages marked “hourly” less frequently than that, and they may crawl pages marked “yearly” more frequently than that. Crawlers may periodically crawl pages marked “never” so that they can handle unexpected changes to those pages.

<priority>optionalThe priority of this URL is relative to other URLs on your site. Valid values range from 0.0 to 1.0. This value does not affect how your pages are compared to pages on other sites—it only lets the search engines know which pages you deem most important for the crawlers.

The default priority of a page is 0.5.

Please note that the priority you assign to a page is not likely to influence the position of your URLs in a search engine’s result pages. Search engines may use this information when selecting between URLs on the same site, so you can use this tag to increase the likelihood that your most important pages are present in a search index.

Also, please note that assigning a high priority to all of the URLs on your site is not likely to help you. Since the priority is relative, it is only used to select between URLs on your site.

Entity Escaping

By all means, your website sitemap file must be UTF-8 encoded (you can generally do this when you save the file). As with all XML files, any data values (including URLs) must use entity escape codes for the characters listed in the table below.

CharacterEscape Code
Ampersand&&amp;
Single Quote&apos;
Double Quote&quot;
Greater Than>&gt;
Less Than<&lt;

In addition, all URLs (including the URL of your Sitemap) must be URL-escaped and encoded for readability by the web server on which they are located. However, if you are using any sort of script, tool, or log file to generate your URLs (anything except typing them in by hand), this is usually already done for you. Please check to make sure that your URLs follow the RFC-3986 standard for URIs, the RFC-3987 standard for IRIs, and the XML standard as well, just to be sure.

Below is an example of a URL that uses a non-ASCII character (ü), as well as a character that requires entity escaping (&):

http://www.example.com/ümlat.php&q=name

Below is that same URL, ISO-8859-1 encoded (for hosting on a server that uses that encoding) and URL escaped:

Below is that same URL, UTF-8 encoded (for hosting on a server that uses that encoding) and URL escaped:

Below is that same URL, but also entity escaped:

Sample XML Sitemaps

The following example shows a Sitemap in XML format. The Sitemap in the example contains a small number of URLs, each using a different set of optional parameters.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/</loc>
      <lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
      <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
      <priority>0.8</priority>
   </url>
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/catalog?item=12&amp;desc=vacation_hawaii</loc>
      <changefreq>weekly</changefreq>
   </url>
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/catalog?item=73&amp;desc=vacation_new_zealand</loc>
      <lastmod>2004-12-23</lastmod>
      <changefreq>weekly</changefreq>
   </url>
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/catalog?item=74&amp;desc=vacation_newfoundland</loc>
      <lastmod>2004-12-23T18:00:15+00:00</lastmod>
      <priority>0.3</priority>
   </url>
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/catalog?item=83&amp;desc=vacation_usa</loc>
      <lastmod>2004-11-23</lastmod>
   </url>
</urlset>

Using XML Sitemaps Index Files (To Group Multiple Sitemap Files)

You can provide multiple Sitemap files, but each Sitemap file that you provide must have no more than 50,000 URLs and must be no larger than 50MB (52,428,800 bytes). If you would like, you may compress your Sitemap files using gzip to reduce your bandwidth requirement; however the sitemap file once uncompressed must be no larger than 50MB. If you want to list more than 50,000 URLs, you must create multiple Sitemap files.

If you do provide multiple Sitemaps, you should then list each Sitemap file in a Sitemap index file. Sitemap index files may not list more than 50,000 Sitemaps and must be no larger than 50MB (52,428,800 bytes) and can be compressed. You can have more than one Sitemap index file. The XML format of a Sitemap index file is very similar to the XML format of a Sitemap file.

The Sitemap index file must:
  • Begin with an opening <sitemapindex> tag and end with a closing </sitemapindex> tag.
  • Include a <sitemap> entry for each Sitemap as a parent XML tag.
  • Include a <loc> child entry for each <sitemap> parent tag.

The optional <lastmod> tag is also available for Sitemap index files.

Note: A Sitemap index file can only specify Sitemaps that are found on the same site as the Sitemap index file. For example, http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap_index.xml can include Sitemaps on http://www.yoursite.com but not on http://www.example.com or http://yourhost.yoursite.com. As with Sitemaps, your Sitemap index file must be UTF-8 encoded.

XML Sitemap Index Sample

The following example shows a Sitemap index that lists two Sitemaps:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<sitemapindex xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
<sitemap>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/sitemap1.xml.gz</loc>
      <lastmod>2004-10-01T18:23:17+00:00</lastmod>
   </sitemap>
   <sitemap>
      <loc>http://www.example.com/sitemap2.xml.gz</loc>
      <lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
   </sitemap>
</sitemapindex>

Note that: The website Sitemap URLs, like all values in your XML files, must be entity escaped if we may add.

Sitemap Index XML Tag Definitions

AttributeDescription
<sitemapindex>requiredEncapsulates information about all of the Sitemaps in the file.
<sitemap>requiredEncapsulates information about an individual Sitemap.
<loc>requiredIdentifies the location of the Sitemap.

This location can be a Sitemap, an Atom file, an RSS file, or a simple text file.

<lastmod>optionalIdentifies the time that the corresponding Sitemap file was modified. It does not correspond to the time that any of the pages listed in that Sitemap were changed. The value for the lastmod tag should be in W3C Datetime format.

By providing the last modification timestamp, you enable search engine crawlers to retrieve only a subset of the Sitemaps in the index i.e. a crawler may only retrieve Sitemaps that were modified since a certain date. This incremental Sitemap fetching mechanism allows for the rapid discovery of new URLs on very large sites.

Other XML Sitemap Formats To Know

The Sitemap protocol enables you to provide details about your pages to search engines, and we encourage its use since you can provide additional information about site pages beyond just the URLs. However, in addition to the XML protocol, we support RSS feeds and text files, which provide more limited information.

Syndication Feed

Equally, you can provide an RSS (Real Simple Syndication) 2.0 or Atom 0.3 or 1.0 feed. Generally, you would use this format only if your site already has a syndication feed. Note that this method may not let search engines know about all the URLs on your site. Why? Well, since the feed may only provide information on recent URLs.

Although search engines can still use that information to find out about other pages on your site during their normal crawling processes by following links inside pages in the feed. Make sure that the feed is located in the highest-level directory you want search engines to crawl. Search engines extract the information from an RSS sitemap feed as shown below:

  • <link> field – indicates the URL
  • modified date field (the <pubDate> field for RSS feeds and the <updated> date for Atom feeds) – indicates when each URL was last modified. Use of the modified date field is optional.

Text File

You can provide a simple text file that contains one URL per line. The text file must follow these guidelines:

  • The text file must have one URL per line. The URLs cannot contain embedded new lines.
  • You must fully specify URLs, including the http.
  • Each text file can contain a maximum of 50,000 URLs and must be no larger than 50MB (52,428,800 bytes). If your site includes more than 50,000 URLs, you can separate the list into multiple text files and add each one separately.
  • The text file must use UTF-8 encoding. You can specify this when you save the file (for instance, in Notepad, this is listed in the Encoding menu of the Save As dialog box).
  • The text file should contain no information other than the list of URLs.
  • The text file should contain no header or footer information.
  • If you would like, you may compress your Sitemap text file using gzip to reduce your bandwidth requirement.
  • You can name the text file anything you wish. Please check to make sure that your URLs follow the RFC-3986 standard for URIs, the RFC-3987 standard for IRIs
  • You should upload the text file to the highest-level directory you want search engines to crawl and make sure that you don’t list URLs in the text file that are located in a higher-level directory.
Sample text file entries are shown below

XML Sitemaps File Location

The location of a Sitemap file determines the set of URLs that can be included in that Sitemap. A Sitemap file located at can include any URLs starting with but can not include URLs starting with .

If you have permission to change , it is assumed that you also have permission to provide information for URLs with the prefix . Examples of URLs considered valid in include:


URLs not considered valid in include:



Note that this means that all URLs listed in the Sitemap must use the same protocol (http, in this example) and reside on the same host as the sitemap. For instance, if the Sitemap is located at , it can’t include URLs from .

URLs that are not considered valid are dropped from further consideration. It is strongly recommended that you place your Sitemap in the root directory of your web server. For example, if your web server is at example.com, then your Sitemap index file would be at .

In certain cases, you may need to produce different Sitemaps for different paths (e.g., if security permissions in your organization compartmentalize write access to different directories).

If you submit a Sitemap using a path with a port number, you must include that port number as part of the path in each URL listed in the Sitemap file. For instance, if your Sitemap is located at , then each URL listed in the Sitemap must begin with .

XML Sitemaps And Cross Submits

To submit Sitemaps for multiple hosts from a single host, you need to “prove” ownership of the host(s) for which URLs are being submitted in a sitemap. Here’s an example. Let’s say that you want to submit Sitemaps for 3 hosts:

www.host1.com with Sitemap file sitemap-host1.xml
www.host2.com with Sitemap file sitemap-host2.xml
www.host3.com with Sitemap file sitemap-host3.xml

Moreover, you want to place all three Sitemaps on a single host: www.sitemaphost.com. So the Sitemap URLs will be:



By default, this will result in a “cross submission” error since you are trying to submit URLs for www.host1.com through a Sitemap that is hosted on www.sitemaphost.com (and the same for the other two hosts). One way to avoid the error is to prove that you own (i.e. have the authority to modify files) www.host1.com. You can do this by modifying the robots.txt file on www.host1.com to point to the Sitemap on www.sitemaphost.com.

In this example, the robots.txt file at http://www.host1.com/robots.txt would contain the line “Sitemap: “. By modifying the robots.txt file on www.host1.com and having it point to the Sitemap on www.sitemaphost.com, you have implicitly proven that you own www.host1.com.

In other words, whoever controls the robots.txt file on www.host1.com trusts the Sitemap at to contain URLs for www.host1.com. The same process can be repeated for the other two hosts. And now, you can go ahead and submit the Sitemaps on www.sitemaphost.com.

When a particular host’s robots.txt, say http://www.host1.com/robots.txt, points to a Sitemap or a Sitemap index on another host; it is expected that for each of the target Sitemaps, such as , all the URLs belong to the host pointing to it. This is because, as noted earlier, a Sitemap is expected to have URLs from a single host only.

Validating Your XML Sitemap

The following XML schemas define the elements and attributes that can appear in your Sitemap file. You can download this schema from the links below:

For Sitemaps: http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd
For Sitemap index files: http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/siteindex.xsd

There are a number of tools available to help you validate the structure of your Sitemap based on this schema. You can find a list of XML-related tools at each of the following locations:

http://www.w3.org/XML/Schema#Tools
http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2000/12/13/schematools.html

In order to validate your Sitemap or Sitemap index file against a schema, the XML file will need additional headers as below.

Sitemap:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>
<urlset xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
         xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd"
         xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
   <url>
      ...
   </url>
</urlset>

Sitemap Index File:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>
<sitemapindex xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
         xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/siteindex.xsd"
         xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
   <sitemap>
      ...
   </sitemap>
</sitemapindex>

Extending The XML Sitemaps Protocol

You can extend the Sitemaps protocol using your own namespace. Simply specify this namespace in the root element:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>
<urlset xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
         xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd"
         xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"
         xmlns:example="http://www.example.com/schemas/example_schema"> <!-- namespace extension -->
   <url>
      <example:example_tag>
         ...
      </example:example_tag>
      ...
   </url>
</urlset>

Informing Search Engine Crawlers

Once you have created the Sitemap file and placed it on your web server, you need to inform the search engines that support this protocol of its location. You can do this by considering some of the following key submission procedures:

The search engines can then retrieve your Sitemap and make the URLs available to their crawlers. You can also start submitting your Sitemap via the search engine’s submission interface. To submit your Sitemap directly to a search engine, which will enable you to receive status information and any processing errors, refer to each search engine’s documentation.

Specifying Your Sitemap Robots.txt File Location

You can specify the location of the Sitemap using a robots.txt file. To do this, simply add the following line including the full URL to the sitemap:

Sitemap: 

This directive is independent of the user-agent line, so it doesn’t matter where you place it in your file. If you have a Sitemap index file, you can include the location of just that file. You don’t need to list each individual Sitemap listed in the index file.

You can specify more than one Sitemap file per robots.txt file.

Sitemap: 

Sitemap: 

Submitting Your Sitemap Via An HTTP Request

To submit your Sitemap using an HTTP request (replace <searchengine_URL> with the URL provided by the search engine), issue your request to the following URL:

<searchengine_URL>/ping?sitemap=sitemap_url

For example, if your Sitemap is located at , your URL will become:

<searchengine_URL>/ping?sitemap=http://www.example.com/sitemap.gz

Does URL encode everything after the /ping?sitemap=:

<searchengine_URL>/ping?sitemap=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.yoursite.com%2Fsitemap.gz

You can issue the HTTP request using wget, curl, or another mechanism of your choosing. A successful request will return an HTTP 200 response code; if you receive a different response, you should resubmit your request. The HTTP 200 response code only indicates that the search engine has received your Sitemap.

And, not that the Sitemap itself or the URLs contained in it were valid. An easy way to do this is to set up an automated job to generate and submit Sitemaps on a regular basis.

Note: If you are providing a Sitemap index file, you only need to issue one HTTP request that includes the location of the Sitemap index file; you do not need to issue individual requests for each Sitemap listed in the index.

Steps To Start Excluding Content

study by HubSpot found that, without submitting a new URL to Google through a sitemap, it took Google an average of 1,375 minutes to crawl the page (that is 23 hours). However, when submitting an updated sitemap to Google Search Console, this dropped to just 14 minutes. Never leave a SERP like Google to find new content on its own.

It can result in delays without indexing your page. But, it takes just minutes when you manually do so. On the other hand, the time taken to crawl and index a completely new domain can differ significantly. More so, depending on whether or not any external links exist, how frequently these links are crawled, etc. You don’t need to manually submit your site or page.

May it be on the search engine result pages for the likes of Google, Bing, Yandex, or even the rest. Not as long as it’s linked from somewhere else on the web. But, doing so can speed up the process of the search engines finding your content.

The Sitemaps protocol enables you to let search engines know what content you would like indexed. To tell search engines the content you don’t want indexing, use a robots.txt file or robot meta tag. See robotstxt.org for more information on how to exclude content from search engines.

Takeaway Notes:

By all means, an XML Sitemap is an effective and necessary SEO tool for very large sites. But, if you’re a small to medium-sized website with good internal linking, a Sitemap XML is not needed — it’s just overrated. Even before you search, Google organizes information about web pages in its Search index. The index is like a library, if I may add.

Except that it contains more info than all the world’s libraries put together. If your website isn’t in Google’s index, it won’t be found when users search. Google needs to know that your site exists to crawl and index it. There is no set length of time that it takes for Google to index your website or URL. That said, what we can be confident about is that it’s a lot faster.

Resource Reference: Using The Robots.txt File Tool In All In One SEO

Finally, I hope this guide on Sitemaps was helpful to or even to your SEO Team. But, if you’ll require more support or guidance on this or more related blog topics, please feel free to Contact Us and let us know how we can sort you. By the same token, you can also share all your additional inputs, suggestions, recommendations, or contribution questions (for FAQ Answers).

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