No. 13 – SEO Advent Tip

Posted on 13. Dec, 2011 by in Digital Marketing

Day 13 of the bigmouthmedia SEO Advent Calendar – and today’s daily treat is more about XML sitemaps – what are they and how to optimise them. You can read day 12 here.

Why are XML Sitemaps good for search?Xml Sitemaps

An XML sitemap is a useful tool that helps search engines to find pages on a website. As the XML sitemap is updated, search engines can be ‘pinged’ to make them aware of the changes to the site, meaning new pages can be crawled and indexed faster.
What’s more, an XML Sitemap can provide search engines with a complete and up-to-date view of the entire site, and can also give them extra information on how often pages on a site change, the date each page was last modified and the relative importance of different pages on the site. Additionally, when search engines discover duplicate URLs on site, they use the URLs listed within XML Sitemaps to determine which URLs to show within their search results.
Also note: every search engine will read your robots.txt file before crawling your site, so make sure you reference your XML Sitemap in your Robots.txt file.

What elements to include in your XML Sitemap

Location – URL 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.
Change Frequency – Indicates how frequently the content at a particular URL is likely to change.
Last Modification – Time at which the URL was last modified. This particular information allows crawlers to avoid re-crawling documents that haven’t changed.
Priority – Values range from 0.0 to 1.0 while the default is set to 0.5. This value does not affect how your pages are compared to pages on other sites — it only lets search engines know which pages you deem most important for the crawlers.

How to make an optimised XML Sitemap

There are many online and downloadable tools to choose from to create the perfect XML sitemap for your website, here is a number of them which I like to use:
Screaming Frog– This tool allows you to crawl your site and fetches key onsite information about the entire site. This is a relatively new feature on this tool and is turning out to be a fundamental option which I use on a weekly basis. It’s great for larger sites too. – Upon starting at BMM, this was one of the first website tools that I was handed. Like many others, the tool is free for up to 500 URLs.
Excel spread sheet– Simply by creating a number of formulas in Excel you will be able to generate a list of URLs with the various parameters you need. Once this is complete you then have to import into a notepad file and change to a standard UTF-8 file type.

What’s UTF-8?

Direct quote from the UTF website:
UTF-8 stands for Unicode Transformation Format-8. It is an octet (8-bit) lossless encoding of Unicode characters. UTF-8 encodes each Unicode character as a variable number of 1 to 4 octets, where the number of octets depends on the integer value assigned to the Unicode character. It is an efficient encoding of Unicode documents that use mostly US-ASCII characters because it represents each character in the range U+0000 through U+007F as a single octet. UTF-8 is the default encoding for XML.”

Other XML Sitemaps 

As XML sitemaps are a way to tell search engines about pages on your site that could go unnoticed, additionally we can create different types of XML sitemaps:

  • Images – Image sitemaps are not a separate entity but are a Google supported extension to the existing Sitemap protocol which allows site owners to submit image information to Google.
  • Video – one of the most popular rich media formats.
  • Mobile – Search engines crawl and index sites specially designed for mobile phones.
  • Geographical (KML) – Specifies the format of the geo content
  • News – Controls which content you submit to Google News

Hopefully this has given you some insight about creating the perfect XML sitemap. Check back tomorrow for our next Advent blog post.

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