XML Sitemap

XML sitemap information

A Sitemap is a file that contains the exhaustive list of internal URLs of a website. This file has a XML format. It can provide major search engines with information on the URLs of a website they could not otherwise discover by themselves.

In order to understand what a sitemap.xml is, you must understand how search engine crawlers work (also called Web spiders, Web crawlers or bots) – Google’s crawlers or Bing’s.

Creating an XML sitemap file for SEO

When a search engine spider or robot first comes to your website the crawl wil start by downloading and parsing the robots.txt file.

  • they analyze the rules defined in the file to see what URLs they are allowed to download
  • If robots.txt allows them, they download the website’s root, i.e. https://www.example.com/
  • they analyze the content of this page and extract primarily the list of internal links.
  • all these internal links are in turn downloaded (if the rules of the robots.txt file does not disallow it), and their internal links are extracted
  • the process of downloading and analyzing links continues until there are no other new links to extract.

So, we can make the following observation: if a specific URL is not accessible from the root or recursively in its descendants, then a robot cannot magically find it. It is the reason xml sitemaps were originally created for: so that the Webmaster of a website can indicate to robots the URLs they could not find alone.

How to generate a sitemap.xml

There are 3 ways to generate sitemaps :

  • manually, by creating an XML file. This method is usually not recommended, unless you really know what you are doing! You need to at least use an XML editor to create this file.
  • by doing a development process specific to your website: this method is very powerful and is going to take into account all your website’s problems and particularities. Pay attention to the maximum number of URLs that goes into a sitemap. Sometimes you need to split them into multiple files.
  • using a software that generates sitemaps automatically. For example using WordPress and Yoast. It involves minimal work and the results are very professional.

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