Your Guide to XML Sitemaps – What You Need to Know

You're not alone. Here's why you should know, and what to know about it.

Whether you’re in content or SEO, you should know about sitemaps. Why? An XML sitemap is a direct message to Google’s search engine. And how many chances do we get to directly communicate with Google?

Usually taken for granted, an optimized XML sitemap is essential to getting your new and updated content — pages, images, and videos — crawled and indexed by Google.

What You Should Know About XML Sitemaps

There are still many search marketers who aren’t confident in sitemap best practices (more on this later). Google has a great resource that tells you exactly what they’re looking for in a good sitemap but we’ve put together a quick, little guide below.

How to Create a Sitemap

If you search for XML sitemap generator, there should be a number of free websites you can use to generate your sitemap. Screaming Frog is also a great option to create all five types of sitemaps with their paid version. Most content management systems also have plugins like Yoast for WordPress to auto-populate the sitemaps.

Types of Sitemaps

What types of sitemaps you need and how many could vary based on how many types of content you have. Do you have a lot of videos? You should have a video sitemap. Is your business, global? Then you should have a HREFLANG sitemap.

Here are the different types:

  • XML Sitemap: This is generally what most people have. It’s an overarching sitemap that can include page urls, their priority, and associated meta data.
  • Sitemap Index: Basically, a sitemap for sitemaps. This is a necessary sitemap if you have more than a few sitemaps to submit.
  • Video and Image Sitemaps: These are great when you have a website with a ton of rich media. These allow you to better rank in the video and image tags of Google search.
  • HREFLANG Sitemap: These sitemaps should be put into use if you have websites internationally. A HREFLANG sitemap can create a handshake between a website and its international counterparts letting Google know that the content comes from the same brand. They will rank your local website higher if there is a HREFLANG connection. Additionally, it can help mitigate duplicate content penalties if there are many websites with the same messaging.

Your XML Sitemap Checklist

Are you sure your site is being indexed properly? Is all your content accounted for and crawled by Google? Are all your pages linked properly to each other? This checklist will help make sure you’re not missing anything, when submitting an XML sitemap.

The XML sitemap

Mobile XML sitemap


Images: XML sitemap


Video sitemap




Google Webmaster Tools: XML sitemaps

Bing Webmaster Tools: XML sitemaps

Recently, we surveyed 110 search marketers a part of our ongoing efforts to help SEOs understand the technical aspects of search engine marketing.

What we found was a common problem: many search marketers, ranging from a small agency to enterprise business level, do not know where their XML sitemaps are located and how to submit them.

Here are our findings.

33.8% of search marketers don’t know where their XML sitemaps live.


Where you can find your sitemap?

Asking your webmaster should be your first course of action. Generally, a sitemap should be located in the root directory. For example, the Yoast plugin in WordPress defaults sitemaps like this:


3.3% of Search Marketers have More Than 50 XML Sitemaps per Domain


72.5% only have one to five sitemaps (a majority of 40% having one). But there are a few that have more than fifty. Since Google allows you to have 50,000 URLs within each sitemap file, companies with more than fifty sitemaps are usually enormous e-commerce sites with hundreds of thousands of pages.

How do you know how many XML sitemaps you have?

Chances are, your site has one to five. Each sitemap holds up to 50,000 URLs and must be under 10MB. If you don’t know how many sitemaps you have, ask your webmaster. Use a sitemap index file to list out all of the sitemaps available on your site.


23% of users don’t know or do not submit their sitemaps to Google Search Console.


While there are several other search engines (Bing, Yahoo, Ask), it doesn’t make sense for sitemaps not to be submitted to Google, which holds 63.8% of market share in search.

How do you submit your XML sitemap to Google Search Console?

You can make your sitemap available to Google in one of two ways: submit it on Google Search Console or add it to your robots.txt file. Before you submit your sitemap to GSC, you must verify your site with Google. Then “add/test” your sitemap in GSC. Get the instructions here.

Are you migrating or redesigning your site? Make sure you have an XML sitemap strategy.

Do you have questions? Do you need us to go into specifics? Comment below!

5 Responses to Your Guide to XML Sitemaps – What You Need to Know

  1. Avatar Brian McDowell says:

    Great article Suray! I would like to add that XML sitemaps act as a tie breaker for duplicate content issues (one step above the canonical). Make sure that the URLs for all your unique content are included and remove duplicates. This is where some tools like ScreamingFrog lack in verification. Do not include information that is blocked by robots.txt or that have the “noindex” directive. Also do not include redirects or pages that canonical to another destination (exemptions for site migrations). Be cognizant of thin content and consider removing faceted results if you have yet to implement a way to manage them internally. These exclusions will make sure we get the most out of our bot crawl allowance. Google has a great resource on XML sitemap best practices here

    Brian McDowell
    President, SERP Strategies

  2. Excellent post Surya and great timing for us too. We were just having some deeper conversations about this very topic and your post is a nice resource for any web operator or SEO. Some of the stats you shared were eye-opening too.

    • Avatar Surya Ram says:

      Thanks Bill. I think sitemaps are a gray area between webmasters and SEOs. But having the knowledge to guide your webmaster in building it out is a huge plus.

  3. Avatar Kishori says:

    Great Article Surya! How often do you recommend websites submit the XML sitemap to Google?

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