What is XML sitemap priority & sitemap change frequency & are they needed for SEO?

XML Priority
Slickplan
By Slickplan
Mar 23, 20228 min read

We are back at it again with another hotly debated topic; one that even the bots have opinions on the matter; sitemap priority. There are many views on this one, however, we’re not here to try to convince you one way or the other. We will, on the other hand, provide you with the facts so you can decide. Let’s take a look.

What is sitemap priority?

In a world where everyone has an opinion, the meaning of sitemap priority is one thing the masses actually seem to agree on…for the most part. There seem to be two main opinions but in the end, the choice is yours; we’re going over the details so you can decide.

One of the many tools at a webmaster’s disposal, the function of sitemap priority is to assign a level of importance, or priority, with a numeric value for a page or pages which indicates to search engines how critical some pages are within your site only.

What does a sitemap XML priority tag look like?

XML priority tags, shown below in bold, are written as such. First identifying the tag, writing the numerical value (further explained below), and closing it out.

<url>
  <loc>https://slickplan.com/blog</loc>
  <changefreq>weekly</changefreq>
  <priority>0.7</priority>
</url>
<url>
  <loc>https://slickplan.com/</loc>
  <priority>1.0</priority>
</url>

What are the sitemap priority levels?

Listed numerically, sitemap priority values, or levels, go from 1.0 down to 0.0. The most important, prominent and high-quality pages will be labeled with a 1.0 – this is usually always the homepage. The numbers then go down, signifying pages of less importance. That’s not to say that a page marked 0.0 is useless though; it just means it isn’t as significant as the homepage.

So again – 1.0, 0.9, 0.8, 0.7, 0.6, 0.5, 0.4, 0.3, 0.2, 0.1, and 0.0.

How to assign sitemap priorities

When working with a sitemap creator, these attribute tags may be something you want to consider using. Some XML generators will actually automatically place priority tags in the file for you. If left unassigned, the default is to give the homepage a 1.0 and all other pages .5 levels. However, you may want to do this by hand depending on the size of your site and how much control you have over that process. Here are some general guidelines on what the typical levels given to various parts of sites are. Keep in mind you’re viewing this as starting at the top and counting down to less priority.

1.0-0.8

Homepage, product information, landing pages.

0.7-0.4

News articles, some weather services, blog posts, pages that no site would be complete without.

0.3-0.0

FAQs, outdated info, old press releases, completely static pages that are still relevant enough to keep from deleting entirely.

XML sitemap priority SEO: how will it benefit your site?

This is generally where the disagreements begin amongst the two parties. Some folks use them religiously and some think they’re a crock. As mentioned, we’ll be keeping our opinion to ourselves and just reporting the facts. These attributes — priority, changefreq, lastmod, urlset xmlns, no index, etc. — all fall under what’s called sitemap protocol. Sitemap priority allows a search engine to compare the value of pages within a single site. Importantly, it doesn’t compare the values of those pages to the values of pages on other sites. There’s no cross-checking. With that being said, this won’t have any influence over page search engine result rankings. It will, however, in theory, offer pages that you deem more important more often than other pages your site offers.

Note that this is different from canonical URLs because the importance of a page could have many factors. For instance, there may be multiple versions of a page for the various types of devices we use, i.e., desktop, mobile, and AMP. But this has nothing to do with selecting a value of importance and Google can choose a canonical page for you if you decide not to do so manually.

The other issue here is one that John Mueller of Google addressed directly, noting that priority tags and changefreq don’t really matter to Google Search Console and, in turn, play no real role in indexing and search engine results pages (SERPs). Google has even put it in writing, adding that they “do not currently consume the <priority> attribute in sitemaps.”

Although search engines don’t pay attention to these attributes, many people still believe that adding priority tags to a sitemap file does at least motivate search engines to index and crawl all pages and, in turn, index some pages first. Theoretically, this has an effect on search results.

What is sitemap change frequency (changefreq)?

In XML files, change frequency indicates (and in theory triggers Google to act on it) how often specific page’s within your site’s HTML code or text are being updated. This does not include changes to Flash or altering images. It’s really as simple as that.

What are the 7 XML sitemap changefreq attributes?

1. Always

These page types are constantly changing and will include index pages on major news publications, Google News, stock market data, and social bookmarking categories.

2. Hourly

These pages update every hour and will also include major news publications as well as weather services and forums.

3. Daily

Pages updated on average once per day and include things like blog posts, smaller web forum pages, message boards, and classified ads.

4. Weekly

Updates typically occur once per week, these pages will include website directories, product pricing pages, and smaller blogs.

5. Monthly

These are updated once per month, give or take, and include category pages, FAQs, and sometimes Help Desk articles that change slightly. Refer to the section above for guidelines on what is considered to be a change frequency trigger.

6. Yearly

Updates on these pages happen on an annual basis and are typically your contact page, "About" page, login pages, and registration pages.

7. Never

As the name suggests, these pages never ever get updates. These are really old blog posts, press releases, notifications about updates that never need updating, and completely static pages.

How to assign XML sitemap changefreq

XML change frequency tags, or changefreq, shown below in bold, are written as such. First, identify the tag, write the rate it changes using a value listed in the above section, and close it out. You can always use a sitemap validator afterward to check your work.

<url>
  <loc>https://slickplan.com/blog</loc>
  <changefreq>weekly</changefreq>
  <priority>0.7</priority>
</url>

Sitemap change frequency SEO: how will it benefit your site?

Change frequency, as previously mentioned by John Mueller, just isn’t something Google is paying attention to, which sort of makes including changefreq attributes irrelevant. On the contrary, we’ve also mentioned that many people still believe these XML tags to be relevant and useful because they tell the crawlers how often changes are made to pages and when they’ll need to be rechecked. Whether that’s hourly, one and done for the year, or anything in between. This is beneficial to your site because it gives Google a far richer understanding of your site, allowing the search engine to properly suggest pages. Additionally, it helps you (and Google) prioritize new and updated pages rather than older pages or ones that are less pertinent.

Sitemap templates and imports with most crawlers do not include these attribute tags because they are specific to your site and can be added later as needed.

Final points

We mentioned we wouldn’t be putting a specific opinion into this, but we would be providing the facts. Some would argue the facts lead you to a pretty straightforward conclusion. Whether or not you think some of these tags do anything worthwhile is completely up to you, but we hope you came away with more information and a better perspective than you had before. On the flip side, there’s a pretty direct correlation between the frequency tags and priority numbers, which can actually be to your benefit because you’ve just identified the most important pages, the most updated pages, the ones of less importance, and maybe even some dead ends too. You can now devote some attention to getting rid of unnecessary bits as well as fixing problem areas. So, in the end, even if Google isn’t paying attention, for your benefit, maybe you still should.

FAQs

  • Does sitemap priority really matter?

    It depends on who you ask. To Google's John Mueller the answer is no. They could care less and that's saying something. But some people still find them useful and depending on how creative you get, there may or may not be merit to that answer.

  • Does Google use sitemap XML?

    Google does use sitemap XML. It is their preferred file type in dealing with sitemaps. They will however accept RSS, mRSS, Atom 1.0, and text files when dealing with your domain. The XML version is just what happens to work best for them. Not up for debate.

  • Do Bing and other search engines use sitemap XML?

    Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others (thankfully) have this one in common. They all utilize the same sitemap files for submission purposes. XML, RSS, mRSS, Atom, and text files. This is a tremendous relief because you can make what you need once and spread it around.