XML sitemaps are powerful tools that belong in every eCommerce and web publishers toolbox. Not many people use them effectively, though. (Or at all!)
In this post: How to use them, how to get the most out of them, and some mistakes to watch out for.
Don’t depend exclusively on XML Sitemaps
XML sitemaps should be considered a supplementary or “support” tactic. You should design your site such that it’s “naturally” crawl-able by search engine spiders.
That means you should have straight links to all of your pages. Never depend on XML sitemaps for getting pages indexed. (This isn’t just dodgy SEO – it’s bad navigation, which is absolutely fundamental to any site or business!)
For more on this topic see how to set up crawling paths.
When to use XML Sitemaps?
If you have a website with 100 pages or less and it’s irregularly updated and/or generally static, you don’t need an XML sitemap. There’s no harm in having one, especially if you’re preparing for future expansion – but you’ve probably got more important things to worry about for now.
If you have a site with 1,000 pages or more, frequent changes, and/or lots of new content added regularly…then yes, you should be using XML sitemaps.
If you have a large website with over 10,000 pages, or one with deep content (content that requires more than 4 clicks from the homepage to reach), then you absolutely need to use XML sitemaps.
How Many Sitemaps Does My eCommerce Website Need?
However a much more effective and easier to maintain configuration, is to use multiple sitemaps. We suggest breaking up your sitemaps into logical groupings such as:
- Products Only – This XML file will list only individual products, and will be modified as new products are added/removed.
- Categories Only – This XML file will have only the category or department pages.
- Boilerplate Pages – This XML file will have the static boilerplate pages like “contact us”, “about us”, privacy, TOS, etc.
- Editorial Pages – This XML file will have links to any editorial, articles, or informational sections and pages your website may have.
- Blog – This XML file will have links to your blog pages. It should have listing for individual posts, archives, tags, author pages and any other templates you are using.
You can have more than one sitemap per segment, but it’s really unlikely that you’ll ever need to. (If you have 50,000 products, for instance, surely you’re better off getting rid of the weaker performing ones altogether so that you can focus on the good ones!)
Common XML Sitemap Mistakes
- Listing files that are blocked in Robots.txt. Don’t include files you are blocking from being indexed.
- Not changing the <Last Modified> tag. This is an optional tag but if you are going to include it make sure you update it whenever a file changes.
- Submitting files that no longer exist. Remove files that no longer exist on your website from all XML files.
- Submitting duplicate files with parameters. Duplicate content on an eCommerce website is a bad thing, don’t create that situation if you can avoid it
- Not pinging after an update – When you update an XML sitemap, the best thing to do is ping the search engines, while they will eventually find the new file, being proactive speeds up the process.
Sitemaps can be a powerful tool to ensure that your website is properly indexed. If you implement it intelligently, you can get lots of value with minimum effort and maintenance required.