What is an XML sitemap and do I need one to SEO my site for Google?
(The XML Sitemap protocol) has wide adoption, including support from Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft
No. You do NOT, technically, need an XML Sitemap to optimise a site for Google if you have a sensible navigation system that Google can crawl and index easily.
HOWEVER – in 2016 – you should have a Content Management System that produces one as a best practice – and you should submit that sitemap to Google in Google Webmaster Tools. Again – best practice.
Google has said very recently XML and RSS are still a very useful discovery method for them to pick out recently updated content on your site.
An XML Sitemap is a file on your server with which you can help Google easily crawl & index all the pages on your site. This is evidently useful for very large sites that publish lots of new content or updates content regularly.
Your web pages will still get into search results without an XML sitemap if Google can find them by crawling your website if you:
- Make sure all your pages link to at least one other in your site
- Link to your important pages often, with (varying anchor text, in the navigation and in page text content if you want best results)
Remember – Google needs links to find all the pages on your site, and links spread Pagerank, that help pages rank – so an XML sitemap is not quite a substitute for a great website architecture.
Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.
Most modern CMS auto-generate XML sitemaps and Google does ask you submit a site-map in webmaster tools, and I do these days.
I prefer to define manually my important pages by links and depth of content, but an XML sitemap is a best practice in 2016 for most sites.