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How (and why) to regularly update your sitemap for Google

Need to update your sitemap for better search engine visibility? This article delivers a straightforward guide on how to do just that, ensuring search engines can quickly index your latest content. Dive in to keep your site competitive in the search results.

Key takeaways

  • Your sitemap acts as a tour guide for search engines to understand website structure and should be updated when your site changes or new content is added.
  • To maintain an effective sitemap, it must be regularly reviewed, manually checked and updated using tools or CMS integrations.
  • Errors such as broken links or incorrect URLs should be promptly fixed.
  • Submitting and monitoring a refreshed sitemap via Google Search Console is key for proper indexing. Automated tools and a consistent review schedule can help manage sitemap accuracy, especially for sites with dynamic or extensive content.

Understanding the importance of sitemap updates

Generic visual sitemap example

A site without a sitemap is like a city without street signs for a search engine.

There are many types of sitemaps out there but the one Google and others are looking for are site updates in is the XML sitemap.

Sitemaps organize your website effectively, facilitating better navigation and SEO by clarifying page hierarchy and relevance to visitors and search engines alike.

They’re like a tour guide for search engines, helping them understand your site’s structure, prioritizing pages based on importance and staying updated on how often and when pages change or new content is added.

Maintaining an updated sitemap is like shining a spotlight on your website, enhancing its visibility and discoverability. This proactive approach ensures new content is swiftly indexed, elevating your search rankings.

Additionally, correctly categorizing content in a sitemap streamlines your website’s structure, leading to clearer pathways for users and assisting them in navigating your site more effectively.

Recognizing when to update your sitemap

Text guide for when to update XML sitemap, after: adding/modifying content, rebranding, domain change or major redesign

Just as a city map needs to be updated with new streets and landmarks, your sitemap needs to reflect changes on your website ASAP.

Updates are often triggered by changes such as:

  • adding, removing or modifying content
  • rebranding
  • domain changes
  • major website redesigns

The evolution of your website’s content strategy, which includes the addition or removal of pages, necessitates corresponding updates to the site map.

Should your website encounter technical issues affecting its performance or functionality, it may also necessitate an immediate sitemap update.

Lastly, any insights gained from user research, testing or feedback that reveal new aspects of the user journey should be reflected in an updated sitemap too.

The impact on search results

An updated sitemap is a compass guiding search engine crawlers to prioritize indexing your most important web pages.

Metadata such as change frequency in the sitemap signal how frequently a page might be updated, affecting its indexing. Even though Googlebot ignores changefreq and priority settings when doing a crawl, assigning accurate priority values can still be beneficial for other search engines in understanding your content structure.

Accordingly, high-quality content should be emphasized in the sitemap to give your site the best shot at being indexed to your liking, potentially improving your search results in the process.

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Step-by-step guide to refreshing your sitemap

After you design a sitemap, you shouldn’t consider that the end of the game.

Significant changes to your website’s layout, design or functionality warrant a sitemap refresh to accurately mirror the new site structure.

On top of that, regular updates to your sitemap enhance SEO by keeping search engines up-to-date with your site’s most recent and important content.

An updated sitemap.xml file can be generated using online tools like our sitemap generator, by following these steps:

  1. Enter your website’s URL
  2. Download the new sitemap file
  3. Simply upload the new sitemap file using either a file manager tool provided by web hosting control panels or an FTP program
  4. Place the file in your website’s root directory
  5. To confirm a successful sitemap update, visit '[yourdomain.com]/sitemap.xml' to ensure it displays correctly

Reviewing your current sitemap

Prior to updating your sitemap, a review of the existing sitemap is required.

To do this, you first need to find your sitemap by checking common URLs such as '/sitemap.xml' or other variations like '/sitemap-index.xml', which are generally placed in the root directory of your website.

Once the existing sitemap is located, you can utilize a sitemap validator w3cr tool to initiate a crawl of the sitemap URL, detecting any broken links or other issues within.

Making necessary adjustments

Having reviewed your sitemap, the next step involves making adjustments. Here are some actions you can take:

  • Remove URLs of pages that no longer exist or are not intended to be indexed
  • Update or remove broken links and redirects
  • Fix 404 errors to maintain an error-free map

When adding new pages to your sitemap, include updated URLs along with the last modification date, change frequency and priority information.

Finally, ensure the sitemap.xml file is placed in the root directory, follows proper sitemap protocol with the correct opening and closing tags, includes URL entries formatted correctly with required and optional tags, and properly handles any mixed content and encoding issues.

Leveraging Google Search Console and Bing for sitemap submission

When your sitemap is done with updates, the next step is its submission.

Google Search Console (GSC) is your go-to platform for this process given that it’s the world’s most used search engine.

GSC accepts various sitemap formats, such as:

  • XML
  • RSS
  • Atom 1.0
  • Plain text

The URLs should be UTF-8 encoded and fully qualified.

The Sitemaps report in GSC provides a user-friendly interface for sitemap submission, tracking history and checking parsing errors.

Google attempts to crawl newly submitted sitemaps promptly while maintaining an independent crawl schedule for the site, details of which are available in the Sitemaps report.

The report also offers insights into the last crawl request status for every sitemap and detailed error information if applicable.

For troubleshooting submission issues, Google Search Console will continue trying to fetch and process the sitemap for several days if errors persist.

Submitting your new sitemap

Submitting an XML sitemap via Google Search Console

Submitting your updated sitemap to Google Search Console is a straightforward and hassle-free process:

  1. Go to GSC and click "Sitemaps"
  2. Add the complete URL of your sitemap file and click "submit"
  3. Ensure that the sitemap URL you submit does not redirect
  4. Verify that the sitemap is submitted through the Sitemaps report or the Search Console Sitemaps API correctly

Note that you can submit up to 500 sitemap index files per site in a GSC account.

While submitting a sitemap index through the Search Console can expedite the indexation of web pages, it does not ensure that all pages will be indexed.

Submitting an XML sitemap via Bing Webmaster Tools

Submitting to Bing via Webmaster Tools is another smart move and the process is similar:

  1. Go to Bing Webmaster Tools and click "Sitemaps"
  2. Click "Submit sitemap" in the top right
  3. Enter your sitemap URL and hit "Submit"
  4. Look for the "Success" status code

Monitoring sitemap status

Post-submission, monitoring your sitemap’s status in GSC is crucial to confirm successful crawling and indexing.

Check for crawl errors such as 404 errors, parsing errors or URL structure issues in the Coverage report and promptly fix them.

Back in the Sitemaps report you can find details on the URL submitted, sitemap type, last submission date, latest crawl status and number of discovered pages.

You can identify the status of your latest sitemap crawl in the report, which can be ‘Success,’ ‘Has errors’ or ‘Couldn’t fetch’ and consult the report for troubleshooting fetch errors.

After updating your sitemap, verify its presence by navigating to your domain’s sitemap.xml and resubmit if necessary.

You can also use the URL Inspection Tool in Google Search Console to verify individual page indexation status within your sitemap.

For detailed reporting on index coverage and identifying any errors, click on a sitemap in the GSC Sitemaps report.

Automation tools for sitemap updates

The task of updating a sitemap manually, particularly for a large website, can seem overwhelming (and for a large site it is overwhelming).

Automation tools come to the rescue here, simplifying the process by generating a sitemap automatically.

These tools can be beneficial for websites with frequently updated content, as they’re capable of automatically reflecting changes in the website’s published content.

Some popular automation tools for generating and updating XML sitemaps include:

  • Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress
  • Google XML Sitemaps plugin for WordPress
  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider
  • XML-Sitemaps.com

Using these tools can save you time and ensure that your sitemap up to date is always maintained.

Once updated, these automation tools facilitate the submission of the XML sitemap to search engines via platforms like Google Search Console.

There is a way to have your automatically update itself, it’s called a dynamic sitemap and it requires coding expertise. Very much worth the effort for a site that gets updated often or ecomm sites with hundreds of changing product pages.

XML sitemap generators

The right tools go a long way, XML sitemap generators serve as indispensable tools, aiding in the creation of XML sitemaps that bolster a website’s SEO by facilitating effective content crawling and indexing by search portals.

Several generators are available, offering various features. Some popular options include:

  • Slickplan’s XML sitemap generator: our free service for generating XML sitemaps for websites
  • XML-Sitemaps: provides a free XML sitemap generation for small websites up to 500 pages

These generators can help you create a well-structured sitemap for your website, improving its visibility and search engine rankings.

CMS integration

Sitemap updates can be seamlessly integrated with various content management systems (CMS). WordPress users, for instance, can benefit from plugins like Yoast SEO, which automatically generates a XML sitemap and creates an index sitemap file, simplifying the process of sitemap management.

Plugins for WordPress, such as the XML Sitemap Generator for Google provide advanced settings for sitemap customization.

Other CMS platforms including:

  • Drupal*
  • Wix
  • ExpressionEngine*
  • PrestaShop
  • concrete5*
  • Joomla*
  • HubSpot

*In addition to WordPress, Slickplan has CMS plugins for these content management systems too.

Managing multiple sitemaps for large sites

An array of many, many webpages that would require a sitemap index file

What exactly does a large site mean in this context?

50,000 pages or a sitemap file larger than 50MB.

If that’s your site, pay attention, this part is for you, because you’ll need to break down your sitemap into multiple sitemaps.

But don’t fret, in the next few sections we’ll take you through segmenting your sitemap and creating a sitemap index file that allows you to submit many sitemaps at once.

Creating a sitemap index

An index file is essentially a table of contents for your sitemaps.

What markup language is used for a sitemap index file?

It’s structured in XML format and begins with the <sitemapindex> root tag.

Each individual sitemap’s information is encapsulated using the <sitemap> tag. The URL location of each individual sitemap is specified within the <loc> tag in the sitemap index file.

As per Google, "you can submit up to 500 sitemap index files for each site in your Search Console account."

Segmenting sitemaps

One XML sitemap segmented into many for easier indexing

Look at segmenting sitemaps like dividing a large city map into smaller districts for easier navigation. This allows for more targeted crawling by search engines, which can be especially beneficial for bigger sites with diverse content.

Segmenting sitemaps can help identify specific areas of a site where indexing issues occur, allowing for quicker resolution and improved indexation.

Consistently updating the XML sitemap and assigning priority values to pages could assist in managing a limited crawl budget by search engine bots, allowing for efficient indexing of the most important pages.

For websites with content that grows over time, such as news publications, segmenting sitemaps can also involve using date naming conventions to ensure efficiency in crawling and indexing.

Creating a hierarchical structure of sitemaps can improve the organization of content and enhance a website’s topic authority.

For large websites, it is recommended to set up sitemap indexes for each parent theme to manage sitemaps efficiently. Structuring sitemaps hierarchically allows for granular reporting and increased sample data for troubleshooting.

Establishing rules for sitemap naming conventions, organization, hierarchy, sitemap generation and limits on URLs and indexes is important when briefing development teams on sitemap creation.

Ensuring sitemap accuracy with manual checks

Despite automation tools and CMS integration simplifying sitemap updates, the value of manual checks cannot be understated.

Periodic manual checks of a sitemap ensure that key pages are accurately represented, which benefits both site management and indirectly aids SEO by highlighting pages that require attention. In some cases, it may even be necessary to manually create a sitemap to ensure accuracy and proper representation.

This is naturally much easier for smaller sitemaps.

Identifying errors manually

Sitemap report with HTTP status codes highlighted

Like being a detective, manual checks for errors involve looking for broken links, unintended redirects and URLs that are no longer relevant or have been intentionally removed from the website.

It’s crucial to verify that all URLs in the sitemap respond with a 200 status code, indicating that the pages are accessible without errors such as 404 or 500.

Ensure included pages are not blocked by robots.txt, do not contain a no-index meta robots tag, have a canonical version and meet the XML file format standards.

Check for uniformity and completeness in sitemap URLs, including the presence of HTTP/HTTPS protocols and 'www' if applicable.

Be judicious when selecting pages to include in the sitemap, ensuring high-quality pages are indexed and avoiding overloading search engine resources which might neglect important content.

Updating your sitemap manually

Updating your sitemap manually might be tedious, but it’s worth the effort to ensure all important pages are included. CMS content can have sitemap updates automated through external programs that hit the CMS API, utilizing a date field for the <lastmod> tag.

For static pages without an easy last modification date, automating sitemap updates can involve using the 'last full published' date or omitting the date altogether.

However, manual sitemap updates are necessary for new or updated website content like blog posts and product pages not automatically captured by CMS-generated sitemaps.

Best practices for sitemap maintenance

Sitemap maintenance isn’t a one-off task, rather it’s a continuous process. Conducting regular reviews of a sitemap ensures that it remains an accurate representation of the website’s structure.

The 'priority' attribute within a sitemap can be used to indicate the importance of pages, with values ranging from 0.1 to 1.0, guiding search engines to prioritize critical content.

To optimize crawl budget allocation and prevent confusion for search engines, follow these steps when creating a sitemap:

  1. Include only URLs that you want search engines to index
  2. Exclude 'noindex' URLs from the sitemap file
  3. Place the sitemap in the root directory of the website, typically at /sitemap.xml, for easy access by search engines

By following these steps, you can ensure that your sitemap is effective in helping search engines understand and index your website.

Regular review schedules

When maintaining an effective sitemap, consistency is of paramount importance.

Establishing a regular review schedule for your sitemap ensures that it remains updated with the most recent changes to your website’s content.

As a rule of thumb, regularly audit your sitemaps at least once a month, or more frequently if your website undergoes many changes, to maintain an accurate and effective sitemap.

Handling dynamic content

Sitemap maintenance poses a unique challenge when dealing with dynamic content. A sitemap model designed as a tree structure can streamline management of dynamic content across your site.

Sitemap trees can be rendered into site navigation menus, which also facilitate the creation of XML sitemaps.

Adherence to the standard sitemap protocol as outlined on sitemaps.org is crucial for the XML sitemap to be effectively crawled and indexed by search engines.

Summary

The big takeaway: your website needs a reliable map to guide search engines and users. A well-structured, updated and accurate sitemap serves as this guide.

Whether you’re manually updating your sitemap or using automation tools, regular reviews and adherence to best practices are crucial. By maintaining your sitemap, you’re not only improving the user experience but also boosting your SEO efforts and enhancing your website’s visibility. So, let’s keep those XML sitemaps updated and let them guide the way to your content.

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Frequently asked questions

  • Can you update a sitemap?

    To visualize a sitemap, use an online tool to upload your XML sitemap to transform it into a clear, interactive and editable visual sitemap displaying your website's structure.

  • Does sitemap update automatically?

    No, a static sitemap does not update automatically, it must be manually updated. After generating the sitemap, it needs to be uploaded to the website's root directory. Dynamic sitemaps do though.

  • How often should you update your sitemap?

    You should update your sitemap whenever you make significant changes to your site, like adding or removing pages, to help search engines discover and index your content efficiently. This enhances search rankings and user experience.

  • How do I keep my sitemap up to date?

    In order to keep your sitemap up to date, you should republish your entire website. This will update the sitemap and ensure the latest content is included. Remember to clear your cache afterwards for the most recent version.

  • Why is it important to keep my sitemap updated?

    It's important to keep your sitemap updated because it helps search engines understand your website's structure, prioritize pages and stay on top of changes, fostering prompt indexation of new content and improving site rankings in search results.

Steve Tsentserensky

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