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Are XML Sitemaps A Google Ranking Factor for SEO?

We know that XML sitemaps are intended to assist Google, but with many suggesting that they play a significant role in search rankings, are they actually a ranking factor? 

In this article, we’re going to take a look at XML sitemaps, how they differ from HTML sitemaps, and the weighting they have on search rankings (if any).

Let’s cut to it.

What is an XML sitemap?

An XML sitemap is a text file marked up with tags that identify types of data. These sitemaps are designed to guide search engine bots to find a website’s URL in order to index.

Typically, the URL for an XML sitemap lives at the root of the domain. For example;

When a search engine spider visits a website, they first access the robots.txt file, which references the XML sitemap, which in turn sends the bot off to crawl the list of URLs.

The purpose of an XML sitemap is to help Google (and other search engines) find and crawl all of a website’s important pages.

What is an HTML sitemap?

An HTML sitemap is a clickable list of pages on a website (an unordered list on every page of a site). The point of an HTML sitemap is to give users some sort of direction and navigable order in the midst of chaos.

Simply put, HTML sitemaps are designed for humans.

Are XML sitemaps a ranking factor?

Now that we know what an XML sitemap is, and how it differs from an HTML sitemap, we can dissect the notion of whether or not XML sitemaps are a ranking factor.

Although having an XML sitemap is recommended for SEO best practices, there is an emerging school of thought that points to the fact that XML sitemaps are inconsequential to search engine rankings.

So – are XML sitemaps a ranking factor, or are they merely a recommended best practice?

According to Google’s Gary Illyes, there is no problem or ranking disadvantage associated with not having an XML sitemap.

What exactly does this mean?

Well, it means that sitemaps won’t be used in ranking and that having a sitemap offers no significant ranking advantage. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t have one – XML sitemaps are shown to have an effect on indexing, not necessarily on ranking. So, what is the solution?

Build an easily navigable site [for humans and bots]

The best thing to do is to build a website that has a structure that is easy for Google to understand and is easily navigable for users. If you find yourself having to resort to an HTML sitemap to find your way around a site, then the navigation and structure of that site should be relooked. Sure, massive sites with thousands and thousands of pages could use an HTML sitemap but for your average site – not so much.