There are many factors that can make or break how your website ranks in search engines. Out of all these factors, there’s one that’s highly important, yet highly overlooked: the sitemap file. Because search engines are constantly improving their crawl algorithms, a lot of website owners think that having a sitemap is useless when it comes to SEO. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Why a sitemap is important
A proper SEO campaign is like a relationship – if there aren’t two parties involved, it won’t work. In this case, one of the parties is represented by the search engines, while the other party is represented by you. In order for search engines to do a good job when crawling and ranking your site, you have to give them a hand by pointing out what and how they should crawl. Pretty much like giving them a map. A sitemap, that is.
Search engines rely on a set of pre-defined instructions when it comes to crawling sites, but what if the general instructions don’t apply to your website? That’s where the sitemap file comes in handy – it gives you the power to create a set of instructions of your own that will allow search engines to crawl your site more efficiently.
Using your sitemap to boost your rankings
Despite its name, the sitemap doesn’t just give search engines a map of your site, but also gives them a lot of information about the pages, such as which pages that should be crawled first, which pages are prone to being modified frequently and which pages are duplicates.
To illustrate the importance of these tiny bits of information, imagine this simple scenario: you have a website that, for whatever reason, has multiple pages with the same content; without a sitemap, search engines will crawl all your pages and mark them as duplicate content, making your rankings plunge down. However, making use of the canonical tags, a sitemap file can tell search engines that, even though there are multiple pages with the same content, they are all pertaining to one page, and that page should be the only one indexed.
This is just one of the scenarios where having a sitemap file can prevent a SEO disaster, but it should be enough to convince you of its importance.