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Are there any specific advantages or disadvantages in generating an XML based sitemap in place of a simple txt based sitemap (list of URLs)?

I realize that in the XML format I can set priority and last-modified date, but it is not clear what benefit, if any, in terms of SEO, etc, this provides. (For instance, what benefit would there be to setting a low priority, other than possible reducing robot crawl load?) Explicitly stating this information also increases the probability of a mistake -- some modification date not getting updated correctly, etc.

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  • See also: The Sitemap Paradox -- XML sitemaps are not great. They help much in getting pages indexed and ranked. It is much better just to link to the pages from somewhere. Aug 20, 2017 at 11:50

3 Answers 3

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There is no fundamental disadvantage to text-only sitemaps aside from what you've touched on. Setting the priority and last-modified date can affect the crawl frequency and on a large site with both frequently and infrequently changing content that can be very important.

XML sitemaps can also carry media information (e.g. video sitemap) and if you have that kind of site that may be important to you.

But if you have a smaller site with mostly set/static content there is probably very little functional difference between text and XML sitemaps.

Explicitly stating this information also increases the probability of a mistake -- some modification date not getting updated correctly

No more of a risk that somehow outputting the wrong URLs in the text version

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This is not an answer, but a caveat for XML sitemap wizard users. I recently did a tech & SEO overview of a site rebuild where an XML sitemap was auto-generated by a wizard. She failed to review it and see that all the URL's were like **new.**site.com/page.asp - the dev server where the site was built!

Typing out a txt sitemap has the advantage of deliberate attention. In this age of auto-generated pages, there are many opportunities for auto-generated blunders. This site was only 40+ pages, but hitting links and copy/paste is a welcome break to debugging.

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  • This does seem to partially answer the question. It is also a good observation. I wonder how many people made the same mistake?? Auto-generated sitemaps can become a mess rather quickly if something goes awry. I manual sanity check is always advisable at least for a period.
    – closetnoc
    Feb 3, 2016 at 5:13
  • Using an online wizard to create an XML sitemap means you, like myself, aren't fluent with XML syntax. That would also mean you may not recognize corrupt syntax. A UTF-8 .txt sitemap is perfectly sufficient for smaller sites that don't change content on a daily basis. Always better to stick with something you can create, and correct by yourself - just by eyeballing the code. Dec 18, 2018 at 0:40
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My (in no way SEO professional) take on this 8 years later using the information from Google employees that has popped up in the meantime.

Classic Sitemap

From my experience, this is what most plugins and extensions will generate for you. So running each Sitemap Protocol-defined tag through the process of elimination:

This means if we drop the unused tags, we're left with an XML sitemap consisting of the <loc> tags exclusively, which information-wise is equivalent to a new line separated text file.

The only difference is the sitemap file will surely be larger due to the XML tags overhead.

Annotated Sitemap

The above applies unless you're ready to invest into having a language and desktop/mobile annotated sitemap.

If you want to provide information updates about your URLs and establish relationships between them and alternate URLs, it might make sense to use an XML sitemap, which can list both canonical and alternate URLs in one file and provide modification dates. Source

If you do provide modification dates, make sure you use timestamps:

it is much better to just specify the time stamp directly so that we can look into our internal systems and say we haven’t crawled since this date therefore we should crawl again. <…> So what I’d really recommend is using the timestamp. Source

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