Boost your ecommerce SEO with XML sitemaps

Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for ecommerce success. One important but often overlooked technical ecommerce SEO tactic is implementing an XML sitemap.

Key Insights

  • An XML sitemap is a file that lists all pages on your site to help search engines crawl and index your content.
  • XML sitemaps allow faster indexing of new products and changes for ecommerce sites.
  • Best practices include listing all pages, updating frequently, prioritizing key pages, compressing files, and monitoring for errors.
  • Properly formatted XML sitemaps improve the technical SEO of ecommerce sites by optimizing crawl efficiency.
  • Steps to implement sitemaps involve using a generator, adding XML elements, hosting files, submitting to search engines, and updating robots.txt.
  • Checking Search Console and diagnosing issues helps ensure your XML sitemap is working properly for maximum SEO benefit.

What exactly is an XML sitemap?

An XML sitemap is a file that provides search engines like Google with a list of all the pages on your website. It serves as an index of your site’s content and provides important details about each URL in order to help search bots crawl and index your pages more efficiently.

Structurally, an XML sitemap is an XML-formatted file that contains a list of <url> elements for every page on your site. Each <url> tag contains child elements with key information about that page:

LocationThe page URL defined in a element
Last modifiedThe date the page was last updated, enclosed in a tag
Change frequencyHow often the page changes – can be always, hourly, daily, weekly, etc.
PriorityThe relative importance of this page compared to others on your site, indicated via a element

By providing this XML-based machine-readable index of your website, an XML sitemap makes crawling and indexing your site significantly faster and easier for search engines.

Why should ecommerce sites use an XML sitemap?

Here are some key reasons why implementing an XML sitemap is particularly important for ecommerce SEO:

1. Get new products indexed faster

When you continually add new products to your online catalog, you want those new product pages to get crawled and indexed by search engines as quickly as possible. An XML sitemap that lists new product URLs helps speed up their discovery.

2. Notify search engines of updated content

If you regularly update existing product pages – pricing, inventory, images, descriptions, etc. – your XML sitemap can ping search engines about those changes so refreshed content gets re-crawled.

3. Improve indexing of dynamic product URLs

Ecommerce sites often use dynamic product URLs with parameters like /product?id=12345. By listing these types of URLs in a sitemap, you help search bots properly crawl and index dynamic product pages.

4. Supplement your robots.txt file

Your robots.txt file simply tells search engines which pages NOT to crawl. An XML sitemap specifically lists the pages you want indexed, so they complement each other.

5. Indicate important priority pages

The <priority> element lets you indicate pages like category or home pages that are particularly important. Search engines may crawl high-priority pages first.

6. Diagnose website indexation issues

If certain product or category pages are not getting indexed properly, a sitemap helps you identify and troubleshoot those URLs having issues.

7. Competitive analysis

As a bonus, peeking at a competitor’s XML sitemap can provide insight into their product catalog structure, new product launch timing, etc.

Best practices for ecommerce XML sitemaps

Follow these tips to maximize the SEO value and effectiveness of your ecommerce XML sitemaps:

Include all pages – List all product, category, brand pages. Don’t leave anything out that you want indexed.

Update frequently – Regenerate and resubmit your sitemap regularly as your site’s content changes.

Prioritize important pages – Use <priority> tags to indicate pages like category or home pages that should be crawled first.

List image URLs – Include image sitemaps listing important product image URLs.

Compress sitemap files – Use GZIP compression on your XML sitemap files to optimize crawling.

Avoid index bloat – Split up one giant sitemap into smaller more manageable chunks if exceeding 50,000 URLs per file.

Leverage sitemap index – For large ecommerce sites, use a sitemap index file pointing to individual sitemaps.

Submit to search engines – Specifically submit your sitemaps to Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines for proper indexing.

Fix crawl errors – Diagnose and fix any crawl errors reported for your sitemap URLs.

Monitor and update frequently – Check search engine tools for issues and regenerate your sitemap as new pages get added.

Step-by-step guide to creating an XML sitemap

Here is a quick step-by-step guide to generating and implementing an XML sitemap to improve your ecommerce site’s technical SEO – Note that some of the steps below may be automated for your CMS or ecommerce platform:

1. Use a sitemap generator

Use a free online XML sitemap generator tool to easily create your initial XML sitemaps.

2. Add key elements

For each URL, make sure to include critical elements like <loc>, <lastmod>, <changefreq>, <priority>.

3. Host sitemap files

Upload your sitemap file(s) to your web server, typically in your main website root directory.

4. Compress sitemaps

Enable GZIP compression on your XML sitemap files to optimize crawling and page load performance.

5. Submit to search sngines

Ping Google, Bing and other search engines to submit your sitemaps for indexing.

6. Update robots.txt

Add entries pointing to your sitemaps files within your main robots.txt file.

7. Configure 301 redirects

Setup proper 301 redirects if any URLs have changed recently to avoid dead links.

8. Monitor and refresh frequently

Check search engine tools for errors, and regenerate your sitemap as new product pages get added.

Taking the time to implement a comprehensive and well-structured XML sitemap can provide a significant technical SEO boost for ecommerce sites. Improving URL crawl efficiency leads to better product page indexation, and ultimately higher rankings and more organic traffic.

XML sitemap FAQs

What are the key benefits of using an XML sitemap?

The main benefits are: faster indexing of new content, notification of updated pages, better crawling of dynamic URLs, supplementing robots.txt, prioritizing important pages, diagnosing issues, and competitive analysis.

How often should I update my XML sitemap?

Ideally, regenerate and resubmit your sitemap every time you publish new content or products on your site. Weekly or monthly updates are recommended at minimum.

Can I use an XML sitemap for my non-ecommerce website?

Yes, XML sitemaps can benefit any website – ecommerce or informational. Any site with new content being added regularly should utilize sitemaps.

What is the maximum number of URLs I can include in a sitemap?

Google recommends sitemaps contain no more than 50,000 URLs each. For larger sites, break up your sitemap into multiple files.

How do I submit my XML sitemap to Google?

You can submit an XML sitemap to Google Search Console by going to Index > Sitemaps and entering your sitemap URL there.

Should I include images in my XML sitemap?

Yes, having a separate image sitemap listing your important product images can help Google crawl those assets.

What is a sitemap index file?

A sitemap index is a parent sitemap file that lists and points to individual sitemap files. It allows you to break up one giant sitemap into multiple smaller ones.

How can I tell if my XML sitemap is working?

Search for random URLs from your sitemap in Google and make sure they are indexed. Check Search Console for sitemap-related errors.

Can competitors access my XML sitemap?

Yes, your XML sitemaps are publicly accessible. Competitors can review your sitemap for insights into your content strategy.

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About the author

Daniel Lee

With over a decade's worth of experience, I am an accomplished digital marketer who thrives on creating bespoke SEO and content marketing strategies for a diverse range of clients, from innovative start-ups to established billion-dollar enterprises. Drawing from my Master's degree in International Marketing from the University of Law, and business coaching training from the renowned Møller Institute at Cambridge University, I'm committed to delivering results that drive substantial growth and competitive success for my clients. I look forward to being part of your success story.

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