Do I need a website sitemap? The surprising answer and other SEO facts.
Given the near-universal prevalence of sitemaps across the web, the question “Do I need a website sitemap?” seems largely redundant. Surely, the answer must be “yes” since most sites have one!
As it turns out, this is one of the many persistent SEO myths on the internet. It’s right up there with the long-debunked use of meta keywords to improve your rankings with search engines.
During JDay USA 2022 I interviewed SEO expert Yannick Gaultier on the topic of SEO myths. In this interesting interview, he busts some long-held SEO beliefs. Have a listen and then scroll down for a summary.
Myth #1 – I need a website sitemap to rank well in search engines.
As discussed in the interview, Google is very clear that sitemaps are not needed for most sites with less than 500 pages. As long as the internal linking structure on the site is thorough, Google will very likely index your site just fine.
There are some cases where a sitemap is useful to speed up the indexing of newer sites or sites with a lot of unlinked pages (such as landing pages for example). But even in these cases, there is no benefit for search engine rankings by using a sitemap.
Myth #2 – I don’t need an image sitemap.
As noted above, most sites don’t need sitemaps. However, image sitemaps can be helpful for sites that have a lot of media.
For example, an image gallery may have many sizes of each image. An image sitemap would list the main/largest size and exclude the thumbnails. This prevents redundancy in search results and likely leads to higher rankings in search results (according to this research).
Myth #3 – I need an HTML sitemap.
Most of the sitemaps we think about are written in XML, a markup language similar to HTML. XML files are designed for robots to understand, and are not very useful for humans to read.
On the other hand, HTML sitemaps were designed specifically for humans to read. They were very common before the entire web was indexed by Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.
HTML sitemaps may be a useful navigation tool for website visitors, but they likely have no impact on your search engine rankings.
Again, one exception may be sites that do not have a comprehensive internal linking structure. In these cases, fixing the architecture of your site is probably a better long-term fix for SEO than using an HTML sitemap.
Myth #4 – Sitemaps can not hurt your SEO.
In the interview, Yannick makes the point that a sitemap containing every page and image on your site may actually hurt your overall SEO performance.
For example, your sitemap should not contain links to pages that are redirected to other pages: only canonical links should be included. And as noted above, image sitemaps should not contain links to thumbnails nor to your logo.
On large sites, search engines could eventually stop crawling some pages of the site entirely because your sitemap continually requests them to index pages that are useless (i.e. redirected, duplicated, etc…).
Have questions about sitemaps and SEO?
If you have any questions about sitemaps or SEO in general, feel free to reach out to Yannick through his website.
What SEO myths do you have to debunk with your clients?
When you are building websites, you may run into clients (and sometimes marketers) who insist on using debunked SEO methods. We’d love to hear about these myths in the comments below!