XML site maps are a powerful SEO tool that can help your e-commerce product pages land at the top of search engine results pages.
The goal of any e-commerce site is to drive sales – but first it must drive traffic. That’s where site maps can play a critical role.
E-commerce site maps are just that: maps of the content on your online store. There are two kinds of site maps. XML (extensible markup language) site maps, which are designed to help search engines find and rank you on their search engine results pages, and HTML (hypertext markup language) site maps, which are designed to help visitors to your online store find the products they’re after and discover other products they may also want to purchase.
In this article, we’ll focus on XML site maps – an essential tool for your e-commerce site’s SEO success. These maps help search engines understand the pages and products on offer at your e-commerce site that you want to show up on search engines results pages (SERPs). This happens through search engine indexing. This process involves collecting, parsing and storing data. It’s what allows search engines to quickly match organic user searches to relevant content.
Whether you have a massive e-commerce site with thousands of pages or you’re just launching your online store, XML site maps can boost your SEO by helping search engines find existing, new and updated pages.
How XML site maps for e-commerce work
A well-organized XML site map for an e-commerce site lists all the URLs or web addresses on the site that you want search engines to index. This map allows search engines to understand the structure of your site, how you’ve prioritized pages and products, and how pages, products and images relate to each other.
Search engines use XML site maps to crawl your website and index pages to ensure relevant content is delivered to searchers. By making it easier for search engines to understand and index your content, an XML site map can help drive traffic and sales. According to Gary Illyes, an analyst on the Google Search team, XML site maps are the second most important source for Google to discover URLs after its algorithm.
Fast fact: In 2005, Google became the first search engine to introduce XML site maps. Yahoo and Microsoft soon followed.
Google cites three key benefits of XML site maps for e-commerce sites:
- XML site maps are extensible and versatile, which means you can provide extra information about images, video, news content and localized versions of pages.
- They provide the most information about your URLs.
- Many content management systems (CMS) have plugins for generating site maps, making what can be a complex task, especially if you’re dealing with thousands of pages, straightforward.
Since Google was the first search engine to introduce XML site maps and remains the go-to search engine for most of the world, here we share its list of best practices:
- Be selective. Only include the URLs you want to see listed in Google’s SERPs.
- If you have multiple versions of a page with different URLs, only include one version on your XML site map. However, if you want to highlight both, then annotate the URLs to indicate the different versions. Be sure to list the complete URL.
- Pay attention to the size of your XML site map file. The format is limited to 50 megabytes (uncompressed) or 50,000 URLs. If you have more, Google recommends creating multiple site map files, indexing them in one file and submitting the site map index file through Google Search Console.
- Make sure the site map file is UTF-8 encoded.
- Start by determining which URLs you want to show up in search results. Google calls these the canonical URLs. They are the most representative from a set of duplicate pages that offer essentially the same content but may reflect such factors as regional, device or protocol variants. Select the URL you prefer and include that in the site map instead of all URLs that lead to the same content.
- Once you know which URLs you want to include in the site map, you have three ways to generate an XML site map, depending on the size and architecture of your site:
- You can have your CMS do it for you. For example, Shopify, WordPress, Wix and Squarespace will automatically create and update XML site maps.
- If you have a manageable number of URLs, say 50 or less, you can manually create a site map by using a text editor such as Windows Notepad or Nano and XML schema protocol. According to Site maps.org the protocol format “consists of XML tags and must:
- Begin with an opening <urlset> tag and end with a closing </urlset> tag.Specify the namespace (protocol standard) within the <urlset> tag.Include a <url> entry for each URL, as a parent XML tag.
- Include a <loc> child entry for each <url> parent tag.”
- If you don’t have a CMS and your e-commerce site is too complex for manual mapping, there are a number of site map generators you can use, such as Inspyder Site map Creator or Site map Writer Pro.
- Submit your XML site map to Google. While its web crawlers will eventually find you, submitting directly will speed up the process and allow you to flag any processing errors. Google offers a few ways to submit your XML site map:
- Submit using the Site maps report in Search Console. This will allow you to see when Googlebot accessed the site map and any potential problems.
- Programmatically submit a site map using the Search Console API.
- Use Google’s ping tool.
XML site maps list your e-commerce site’s essential pages to make sure search engines can find, index and give them priority ranking on their results pages. They are an important tool to optimize your SEO strategy.