As an SEO, many people ask me whether they should create an HTML or XML sitemap, and I’m shocked at how many times I come across a website that is missing one or both of these sitemaps. Read below to learn about each sitemap and its importance.
First, let’s establish the basic difference between XML and HTML sitemaps.
An HTML sitemap provides a general overview of the site. Users who navigate there see a list of all the pages on the website, making it easy to find a page that they may be looking for. If it’s difficult to navigate through your website (or if your site has a lot of pages), an HTML sitemap might be crucial in helping users get to the right place.
If a user is unable to find the information they want, then the chance that they leave and try another website is highly likely. You could lose out on a potential sale or even hurt your standing with the search engines, since they may not want to send another user to your site if people can’t find what they’re looking for.
While the primary purpose of an HTML sitemap may be for the user, it may also contribute to your search ranking. A sitemap makes your website more user-friendly and emphasizes to search engines that you focus on making sure your users have a good experience.
An XML sitemap is built for the search engines. This file allows the search engine behind the curtain of your website and points the search engine’s crawler directly to the right information. The XML sitemap contains a list of URLs like its HTML counterpart, but it also contains other data that the search engines might find interesting, such as the last time the URL was updated.
It also allows you to set which URLs are more important, meaning the URLs that Google and other search engines crawl more frequently for ranking changes.
Submit your XML sitemap via Google Search Console. Rather than waiting for Google to find your sitemap, you can give them the sitemap directly and expedite indexing and inclusion of new pages in the search results. This action is especially important if you have a large website, as Google often omits or misses certain pages. If they have your sitemap, you will more likely see every page of your website indexed.
So Which Should I Use?
The short answer is both!
In reality, both sitemaps serve important, distinct purposes. One serves the users who come to the site and helps them navigate hard-to-reach places. One services the search engines and their bots. It allows you to direct search engine crawlers, which increases the likelihood that search engines index every single page within your website.
As a result of having both sitemaps, your site may perform better in the search results and greatly benefit your SEO efforts. If every single page of your site is indexed, then all of your content can be correctly analyzed and factor into your placement on the SERPs.
If users don’t needlessly leave your website because they don’t think you have the page they want, then you build confidence with search engines. They can know they can send users to your website, and they will find answers. These factors can increase the overall traffic that your website receives—which means more sales and more money for your business.
Important Note: Maintenance!
It’s not only important to set up and implement both of these sitemaps, but you also need to update them with the most recent additions to your site. For example, say you are adding an additional page to your site to improve your SEO performance for a specific segment of your business. If you don’t update your HTML sitemap with that new page, users may end up leaving your website without ever finding information about that service.
If you don’t update your XML sitemap, then you run the risk of the search engines skipping that page the next time they crawl your website. If the search engine doesn’t crawl and index that webpage, you aren’t going to receive additional authority on that subject because the search engine won’t know that it’s there!
Many CSMs (content management systems) for websites automate this process, so each time you add a page to the site, the system updates these two files for you. So overall, a regularly updated sitemap shouldn’t be a very difficult goal to achieve.
Sitemaps are a critical piece to any site structure. They serve both search engines and users as a place to provide a list of all the pages on your website.
Many people ask me, “Should I have an HTML or XML sitemap?” The truth is, any website can greatly benefit from using both. The omission of an XML sitemap could result in pages from your website being left out of a search engine’s index and, thus, low performance in the search results. The omission of an HTML sitemap could result in a higher bounce rate from your website and limit your conversion rate.
If you want the maximum number of users to come to your website—and stay there—you must make sure you correctly set up and update both an HTML and XML sitemap.