You’ve probably heard that XML sitemaps are a key piece of any successful SEO campaign and are a must-have for any eCommerce website.
At first glance, adding an XML sitemap seems quite a simple task. However, if you Google for the ways to add / set up / optimize this type of a sitemap, you’ll find a multitude of contradictory articles, which may lead to wild misconceptions and confusions about this SEO tool.
In the article, we’ll try to clear things up, and explain how XML sitemaps work for eCommerce stores. You will learn about:
- XML sitemap structure,
- the best way to create an XML sitemap,
- Video and Image sitemaps,
- XML sitemap validation,
- limitations on sitemap files,
- automated XML sitemaps solutions (for Magento and Magento 2).
Ok, so… what is a typical XML sitemap?
As the name implies, an XML sitemap is a literal map of a website that communicates its structure along with important info about its pages, links, images, etc. to the search engines.
In a nutshell, it is a roadmap that guides the crawlers to all important site areas.
XML sitemap for Web pages
XML sitemap structure
The XML Sitemap protocol must include a set of the structured mandatory XML tags. Also, it may come with some optional ones. Below is the list of the tags that are most frequently used in XML sitemaps.
These tags let online merchants create sitemaps that contain store URLs, the date of the latest page modification, the frequency of content alterations and the indexing priority of each pages (in comparison with the other store pages).
An XML sitemap usually starts with the standard “<?xml> “ tag that is followed by some required attributes.
Next goes the iteration of the “<urlset>” tag with one or more “xmlns” attributes that refer to a namespace which outlines the XML schema structure. XML sitemap URLs come with both a <url> tag and a <loc> tag nested within.
Other types of tags you can see on the screen-shot below are optional.
Creating an XML Sitemap
To create an XML sitemap, follow the steps below:
1. create a text file, name it ‘satemap’ and add the .xml extension when saving;
2. add the following snippet (this tells the search engines how this sitemap is encoded):
3. Add the list of relevant store URLs before the closing </urlset> tag. E.g.:
For each URL, you can also specify:
- the date when this page was modified (using the <lastmod> tag),
- the average modification frequency of the page (with the help of the </changefreq> tag),
- and the page priority for indexation (ranges from 0.0 to 1.0 and is added with the </priority> tag).
That’s basically it! Easy, isn’t it? But… there are so many extra things to consider. Read on to learn more.
Image and Video sitemaps
XML format is generally accepted by Google and Bing.
Additionally, Google supports extended sitemap syntax for some types of media, that includes video, images, and other hard-to-parse content on your eCommerce website or blog.
Indexed images can drive a nice portion of targeted traffic to a website. Given, that eCommerce stores may big amounts of visual content, it’s a good idea to make the search engines aware of it.
This sitemap type can be generated as a separate file or be a part of the existing XML sitemap.
This is how a basic Image Sitemap looks like:
Using this structure and tags, you can specify a page where the crawlers can find images to index (it’s possible to add up to 1,000 image links here).
Also, here you can add such info as image title, caption and location info.
Summing up, an image sitemaps can communicate to the search engine robots the following information:
- image type,
- image alt text,
- title of the image,
- subject matter,
- and even geo location.
And the last thing to know is that images are generally indexed a lot slower than pages. In this regard, it is advised to host them on a different server, as it may speed up the indexation process.
To learn more about Image sitemaps, visit Google’s Webmaster resources.
XML Video Sitemaps
For the search engine crawlers, video content is hard to identify and index. Creating video sitemaps will help them locate and index it correctly. Also, such sitemaps will increase the possibility that your videos will show up as a rich snippet in the search results.
It’s possible to either create a separate video sitemap or add all info about your store videos in the existing XML sitemap.
Here is what the standard XML sitemap with a video section looks like:
As you can see, all tags that are used to create this type of a sitemap are similar to those, used for the standard XML one.
In addition for each video, you can specify your video location, describe its content and specify what it is about.
Additionally, for this sitemap, you can also add tags such as a rating, number of views, restrictions, etc.
Here are the basic rules to follow when creating a video sitemap:
- This sitemap should include not more than 50,000 videos and be 50 MB max. In case you exceed these limits, create and submit multiple sitemaps.
- Check your robots.txt file. This file shouldn’t block any page with your videos.
Make sure that each video is equipped with title, description, thumbnail URL, raw video file location and/or the player URL, play page URL.
- A Video Sitemap relates to video pages. So is there’s no video content on the pages you’ve submitted to your Video sitemap, it will have negative impact on further crawling of this content type on your website.
Note that to make Google bother to crawl your separate video sitemap entry, you need to have quite an authoritative website. Even well-rank websites with such sitemaps have to wait for a while until Google discovers them.
However, adding video sitemaps can pay back well:
• pages with videos that are included into such a sitemap have higher changes of getting video rich snippets;
• and pages that contain videos as well as are rich in content (text and images), also tend to have better rankings and get crawled more often.
To learn more about Video sitemaps, visit Google’s Webmaster resources.
When your sitemap is ready, you need to validate it to make sure the file(-s) is error-free.
It can be done with the standard functionality of Google Webmaster Tools. After adding your sitemap, go to Optimization – Sitemaps. This is the place, where you can run tests of your sitemap files.
Alternatively, you can use some other tools for this task. For examples, this sitemap validation tool.
Limitations on sitemap files
And last but not least, when it comes to XML sitemap files, there are some limitations you should be aware of.
For any sitemap file, the limit is 50,000 URLs OR 50 MB (uncompressed), whichever limit is reached first.
If the number of the URLs mentioned above exceeds these limits, generate several sitemap files. Next, upload all files, (e.g. sitemap.xml, sitemap-1.xml, sitemap-2.xml) etc. to your site.
Besides, you should upload the sitemap index file, to inform Google that there are multiple sitemap files on your website. You can name this file sitemap-index.xml. You will need to submit this file to the search engines.
Below is an example the index file with references to each generated sitemaps:
Note that some eCommerce platforms let you automate sitemap generation process.
Have something to say on the topic? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.