Explaining the Sitemap SEO Myth

Featured Image

It seems to me that the most common SEO misconception that occurs is the one regarding the sitemap. I often see discussions on business forums about SEO and a very common advice people get when they ask what to do to improve their website’s SEO is to submit a sitemap to Google.

First of all, you need to understand that the term sitemap usually refers to two very different things:

  1. XML Sitemap
  2. HTML Sitemap

In their essence, they are basically the same thing. They contain the same data structured for different purposes. XML Sitemap is the one you submit to Google through the Google Webmaster Tools. HTML sitemap is supposed to be used by actual users, not just bots.

Now that we got this covered, I can tell you that submitting an XML sitemap to Google is almost completely useless. Why? Because, if you need to tell Google where your pages are in order for Google to index them, then you did something terribly wrong with your internal linking structure and it’s most certainly not the best user experience.

If Google’s bot can’t find your content, how do you think a user will? Google is not stupid. Their engineers are very smart people that spend the vast majority of their time trying to improve the search results. If a certain URL couldn’t be indexed when the bot tried to index your website because it didn’t find an internal link it could follow to that URL, what do you thing Google will think about that URL now that they have it in your XML Sitemap? Do you think they would assign any ranking value to something even the site owner obviously thinks is so unimportant that you can’t find an internal link to it?

Here is a small Q&A about XML Sitemaps:

Q: Does submitting an XML sitemap makes Google index my website?
A: It might, but it doesn’t guarantee you that it will be indexed; Google’s words, not mine.

Q: Should I submit an XML sitemap to Google?
A: You can if you want, but if some pages of your website are only indexed because of the sitemap, your site has serious problems. Basically, if you did your internal linking structure properly, there is no need to submit an XML sitemap to Google.

Q: I submitted a sitemap but Google still doesn’t want to index majority of my URLs, why?
A: Because, XML sitemap has nothing to do with the number of pages Google can index on a certain website. The number of pages that can be indexed is largely determined by your PageRank, which is largely determined by the number and strength of your backlinks. So if you want your website to be indexed and have a proper internal linking structure, getting relevant, quality backlinks is a much better and useful approach that actually solves your problem.

Q: Will submitting an XML sitemap improve my search result ranking positions?
A: No. Sitemap is not a ranking factor.

Need help with your Magento store’s SEO? Request a quote!


About Toni Anicic

eCommerce Consultant

SEO. Professional gaming. Home-brewed beer. Magento Certified Solution Specialist.

Read more posts by Toni / Visit Toni's profile

15 comments

  1. Hi toni i like your point.
    However i can see that you are using google xml sitemap plugin to generat xml sitemap, so can you tell me that have you checked the options in sitemap setting for pinging google or Bing and one more thing i need to know do you use the wordpress update services list which is by default set to pingomatic in settings> writing which is used to notify many other services that you blog got an update.

  2. I know this article is old but it still feels fairly relevant. I agree in some aspects but sitemaps do have a place. In many cases for large websites that launch side modules or addons, a sitemap is a great way to get the pages indexed while the site integrates the new content.

  3. I know that internal linking is enough. I have experienced it before in one of my jobs website. I did not use a sitemap then and all (and even more) than I expected of my pages were indexed by Google. However, my other site was indexed faster with an XML so in this case, XML is good in some cases.

  4. Tomas, SEO best practice: if there is a URL that needs to be indexed and rank for something – link to it. So if you are holding to this best practice, XML sitemap is useless.

  5. @Tony bro… I’m interested… could sitemaps help with hardly indexable content in case of extensive AJAX usage etc?
    What about flash, silverlight…?
    I got your point: Why submit sitemap if site is well SEO formed already and google can index it all without help.

    But what happens if google really can’t follow links by itself. Yes I know, all sites should be html based, but what if not?

    Let’s say I have new Matrix 4 movie site full of flash effects etc…
    Can I have some benefits out of submitting site to google?

  6. haha…. mixed feelings about your post. Part of me says yep you’re right, but than again I got a feeling that Sitemaps have their place. True about submitting them manually as they are happily picked up by the bots…. interesting tee see which way the comments go. Cheers GWD

  7. The post you made is quite challenging. I am using google webmaster tool and I assume that this is a good idea until I found your post. Thanks for this information.

  8. Uwe,

    Very interesting, I didn’t notice this issue with Magento’s sitemaps till you pointed it out. I’ll do some research on it when I catch some time, to see if any penalties might occur.

    I don’t think Google would penalize you in rankings, but it might find it as an attempt to get the bot to index your site more often than needed and start ignoring your sitemap completely.

  9. Hi,

    working in the field of semantic web, we have developed an extension for Magento to publish offerings in a semantic E-Commerce format.

    http://www.magentocommerce.com/magento-connect/semantium+-+semantic+e-commerce/extension/2838/semantium_msemanticbasic

    That is working fine, but we depend on well-done Google sitemaps, which can be created in the Mage backend.

    A revision of these pointed out that they lack a correct implementation of the lastmod feature, indeed, its always set to the date the sitemap.xml was created.

    That is quite inefficient as pages get crawled which haven’t changed. In the worst case, this could result in an SEO penalty.

    Could you confirm this? If so, I think the issue should be forwarded to the Dev team.

  10. @Alan,

    I believe they still support this sitemap XML program in Google Webmaster Tools because a well formated sitemap can tell them a lot about your website’s structure, which might not be extremely apparent from your internal linking structure (especially if it’s a very large website with complicated navigation and lots of internal links that need to be followed on every URL). It doesn’t necessarily help you, it might as well hurt you. I once saw a significant drop in the number of indexed pages after an XML sitemap was submitted.

    @quicoto

    As far as I can tell, sitemap has nothing to do with the speed of indexing. That sitemap is automatically generated through the plugin that makes our HTML sitemap and I didn’t submit it to Google. Although there is a reference to it in the robots.txt file (also placed there by a plugin).

  11. It’s clear you don’t need to submit a sitemap, and that submitting a site map sfsd isn’t going to magically improve a poorly ranking page — BUT the sitemap program exists for a reason. Has anyone tried to devine what google does with that sitemap information?

  12. And what about the new pages like new blog posts?

    I didn’t make any test but I believe it’s much faster having the XML sitemap updated at the same time you post.

    This post is alrady on Google but surprise, you have a sitemap.xml updated 😛

    http://inchoo.net/sitemap.xml

  13. quicoto,

    I’m not saying DO NOT, I’m saying if you made a good internal linking structure, XML sitemap is useless. All of the links that can be indexed are already indexed.

  14. So, you’re saying “do not submit the XML sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools”.

    And yes you got the point saying “if that page can only be found by XML sitemap you have a problem”.

    Indeed. But I think you should have both. Good navigation with internal links and XML sitemap.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <s> <strike> <strong>. You may use following syntax for source code: <pre><code>$current = "Inchoo";</code></pre>.