The 2 sitemap types you need to be aware of are HTML and XML sitemaps. With an HTML sitemap, you mostly guide your visitors throughout the site. With XML sitemaps, you guide the search engines to index URLs. Both have weaknesses and strengths. You should be aware of them when you run a website.
The main purpose of XML is to make information really easy to read by machines. They give the search engine a list of all the site’s URLs, those that you want to have indexed.
At its basis, this sitemap is a text file. You use different tags to identify different data types. Usually, the URL is something like:
Some examples of tags that can be included in XML sitemaps are:
- Lastmod – This identifies when the last update date for the content.
- Priority – Presented as a number raging between 0 and 1, it shows how important the content is. 1 is the highest value. That is why you use it for the homepage and other very important site pages.
- Hreflang – Shows URLs that target other languages. The attribute is optional and can also be present on the web page, not just in the sitemap.
As the search engine bot visits the site, it accesses (when present) robots.txt. This includes instructions, like the URLs the search engine will ignore and the URLs it will index. As a result, the XML URL has to be referenced.
Remember that you have to follow specific markup rules whenever you create XML sitemaps. After creation, generation ideally happens automatically, without humans having to intervene. However, the sitemaps have to be checked often for the existence of errors.
XML Sitemaps – Limits
- Presence does not guarantee indexation – These sitemaps should be seen as recommendations but at the end of the day, it is the search engine that decides if a URL is indexed or not.
- Link authority is not passed – As opposed to the regular HTML links, XML URLs will not pass any link authority.
As opposed to XML, the HTML sitemap is a formatted link. It is usually placed right at the bottom of the site and shows the reader what is present. Typically, HTML sitemaps have a very limited SEO value. This is why they are not really mentioned when talking about SEO trends.
Before header-based rollovers, these were really useful for site owners. Search engines used them to find pages. As a result, link authority was being passed. Rankings went up.
Nowadays, most HTML sitemaps are just replicating links present in the footer or the header. Web developers use other options as the main navigation form.
In some circumstances, although limited, the HTML sitemap offers SEO value. This includes:
- Search engines cannot access the site’s regular navigation system.
- The main site navigation does not have links to all important pages.
- Some pages on your site are very important. But, search engines cannot find them. The site’s structure places them inside the navigational structure.
- Google Analytics shows you that your visitors use the sitemap. (This also means you should investigate why the visitor bypasses the normal navigation menu.)
Having an HTML sitemap on your site does no SEO harm. You should simply see it as extra helpful internal linking. However, when you place a very high priority on it, some problems might appear.
Both HTML and XML sitemaps have some specific purposes. However, they do not drive organic search traffic in a considerable way. If this is your goal, you need to optimize the site’s navigation. This always helps both bots and visitors. You do need the XML sitemap and you should add it to your Google Search Console. But, when you build a good XML sitemap, automation takes care of the rest.