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Does a XML sitemap really help?

December 6, 2009

Webmasters and SEO professionals often use XML sitemaps to help their web pages get crawled and indexed. There has been some debate, however, on whether XML sitemaps really work. Critics contend its use is equivalent to “placing a band aid on a deep wound when a tourniquet maybe required”. They argue that cloaking a poor URL structure with a XML sitemaps only hides the fact that the site needs fixing. Although there is some merit to their reasoning, I believe that XML sitemap should be used and that the benefits of using them are still highly desirable.

XML sitemaps provide webmasters with another avenue for search engines to find a site’s new pages and content. It tells search engines that certain pages exist even if crawlers can’t find it immediately in the traditional manner. This is incredibly useful if one’s site structure is complex. Content that is neatly tucked away deep in the site structure might have difficulty being found but XML sitemaps can inform the crawlers to look for those pages. This may decrease the amount of time needed for new pages to be found and indexed.

XML sitemaps are also universally recognized by most major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. In particular, XML sitemaps can be added to a site’s Google Webmaster Tools as well as Bing Webmaster Tools account. Using these tools allow webmasters to actively inform the search engines of your site’s URL structure and any new pages that might have been added.

Be aware that XML sitemaps merely assists spiders; it cannot replace a traditional site structure. I experimented with the idea that XML sitemaps is sufficient to get pages indexed even if those pages cannot be reached by users. Not surprisingly, those pages never got indexed. It would seem Google was smart enough to not index pages that users cannot reach.

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