6

I'm not getting more content or recommendations for sitemap practice in SEO. Is submitting a sitemap an outdated practice in SEO or is it necessary to submit a sitemap for SERP?

7

We have another question here that ask why items in the sitemap are not ranked better: The Sitemap Paradox. Google's John Mueller has this to say about common SEO misconceptions regarding sitemaps:

  • The Sitemap file isn't meant to "fix" crawlability issues. If your site can't be crawled, fix that first.
  • We don't use Sitemap files for ranking.
  • Using a Sitemap file won't reduce our normal crawling of your site. It's additional information, not a replacement for crawling. Similarly, not having a URL in a Sitemap file doesn't mean that it won't be indexed.
  • Don't fuss over the meta-data. If you can't provide useful values (eg for priority), leave them out & don't worry about that.

He does say how sitemaps actually are useful to webmasters:

In addition to using Sitemaps extensively for "non-web-index" content (images, videos, News, etc.) we use information from URLs included in Sitemaps files for these main purposes:

  • Discovering new and updated content (I guess this is the obvious one, and yes, we do pick up and index otherwise unlinked URLs from there too)
  • Recognizing preferred URLs for canonicalization (there are other ways to handle canonicalization too)
  • Providing a useful indexed URL count in Google Webmaster Tools (approximations from site:-queries are not usable as a metric)
  • Providing a basis for useful crawl errors (if a URL included in a Sitemap file has a crawl error, that's usually a bigger issue & shown separately in Webmaster Tools)

On the webmaster-side, I've also found Sitemaps files extremely useful:

  • If you use a crawler to create the Sitemaps file, then you can easily check that your site is crawlable and see first-hand what kind of URLs are found. Is the crawler finding your preferred URLs, or is something incorrectly configured? Is the crawler getting stuck in infinite spaces (eg endless calendar scripts) somewhere? Is your server able to handle the load?
  • How many pages does your site really have? If your Sitemap file is "clean" (no duplicates, etc), then that's easy to check.
  • Is your site really cleanly crawlable without running into duplicate content? Compare the server logs left behind by Googlebot with your Sitemaps file -- if Googlebot is crawling URLs that aren't in your Sitemap file, you might want to double-check your internal linking.
  • Is your server running into problems with your preferred URLs? Cross-checking your server error log with the Sitemaps URLs can be quite useful.
  • How many of your pages are really indexed? As mentioned above, this count is visible in Webmaster Tools.

Granted, for really small, static, easily crawlable sites, using Sitemaps may be unnecessary from Google's point of view once the site has been crawled and indexed. For anything else, I'd really recommend using them.

Sitemaps are neither necessary nor sufficient for SEO, but they can be useful.

  • This is a great overview that explains sitemaps and their usage much better than I elaborated to. Good answer Stephen. – zigojacko May 29 '14 at 16:27
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Submitting a sitemap isn't really an SEO technique at all...

A search engine does not require a sitemap in order to crawl and index pages from a website unless it consists of an extremely complex architecture and deep hierarchical level of content.

It can be beneficial to submit sitemaps and for images/videos in the likes of Google Webmaster Tools just so you can monitor what content from your site is getting indexed.

There are far better practices to focus on than sitemaps.

Edit

For the record here if you have read any of my comments on this thread...

I'm not saying don't create/submit a sitemap, I'm just debunking the widely perceived impression on the web that sitemaps are important for SEO. That's just nonsense and has been for many years now.

  • 4
    Google claim to use Sitemaps to resolve duplication issues, and of course they can assist discovery of content that otherwise might not be discovered. And as you point out, they're useful for monitoring indexation if submitted to Webmaster Tools. So still a valid part of SEO. – GDav May 29 '14 at 9:25
  • I disagree GDav - it's a (largely) insignificant practice that is overhyped in the industry by everyone bleating on about sitemaps all the time. Submitting a sitemap isn't going to make one iota to the performance of a website over another than hasn't submitted a sitemap. It's perhaps a recommended task to take in a list of about 500 but it's far from the top of the priorities. – zigojacko May 29 '14 at 11:33
  • I agree they're over-hyped and widely misunderstood, but the original question asks whether they're an outdated SEO technique. I think the answer to that is "no". Actually, someone from Google gave a talk entitled Sitemaps: Oversold, Misused or On The Money?, some conclusions of which are covered here (goo.gl/DIL1TG). Though it's from 2008, I don't think any of the advantages described here have become irrelevant or insignificant. – GDav May 29 '14 at 14:49
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    At risk of sounding like a broken record (see my comment on Taylor Taff's answer), if content is not easily discoverable by web crawler's such as GoogleBot (quoted from your linked FAQ article) then you're failing as a designer/developer at the first hurdle. If you build a great site, there simply isn't any necessity in submitting a sitemap except for your own reference. A useful precautionary measure sure but certainly not a particularly important SEO technique. – zigojacko May 29 '14 at 15:46
  • Again, I agree with your basic premise, but I disagree with the conclusion as it relates the the question asked. In practice, clients' sites are not ideal and change is slow, especially when dealing with large corporations. If I can mitigate an issue now at low cost with a Sitemap, or cure it in the medium-long term when the client has sign-off, budget allocation, etc., which do I do? Both. So is a Sitemap an outdated technique? I'd say no. – GDav May 30 '14 at 9:49
0

In short sitemaps are still important and should be used.

In the eyes (and words) of Google:

Sitemaps are a way to tell Google about pages on your site we might not otherwise discover.

Bing views sitemaps in a similar way:

Sitemaps are an excellent way to tell Bing about URLs on your site that would be otherwise hard to discover by our web crawler.

The two largest (western) search engines both suggest that you provide sitemaps for your website.

If you follow the protocol set out by sitemaps.org then they will list both the pages(urls) and provide a hierarchy which the crawlers will drill through. This hierarchy will help the crawlers find new content more quickly.

  • 1
    No. That's false. They're not "important" and don't "have to be used" at all. That is misleading information. I'm sorry but if you're relying on sitemaps to tell Google about pages that they may not discover then you've got bigger problems to worry about on your site. Sure, if you have no option but to use a complex hierarchy onsite that crawlers would find difficult, then sitemaps would be definitely advisable otherwise there is no SEO value to them at all... – zigojacko May 29 '14 at 15:41
  • @zigojacko - I do not believe the answer is false. Obviously I am speaking in general terms, there will be exceptions. I would suggest you perform a test of the crawl rate and indexing of 1) pages added to a site and added to a sitemap. vs 2) added to the site but not added to the sitemap . The quicker a new page is indexed the better. This would be classed as SEO... – Taylor Taff May 29 '14 at 17:37
  • We've carried out plenty of such tests previously, as have many other people in the industry. And a sitemap doesn't get a page indexed quicker though. That's my point! – zigojacko May 30 '14 at 9:17
  • @TaylorTaff doesn't say they "have to be used", but he does make the valid, referenced point that the 2 dominant search engines recommend using them. Unless I've missed something, nobody has asserted that a Sitemap gets a "page indexed quicker" and that isn't what the original question asked. – GDav May 30 '14 at 9:55

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