What is an XML Sitemap?
An XML sitemap, as the name suggests, is a map of website URLs so that search engines such as Google can efficiently crawl and index all pages on your website. If your website is a book, then the sitemap is the table of contents.
More than that, sitemaps can also provide more essential information about a page to a search engine crawler such as its publishing date, change frequency, and its relative importance against other pages. Information about common media types such as images and videos can also be included in a sitemap.
XML stands for “Extensible Markup Language” which is much like HTML code. Websites use this language to create sitemaps. Since this is a standard, search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, or Yandex accepts the same sitemap format.
How is it relevant for SEO?
We want our most important web pages to be crawled and indexed by search engines. Else, these web pages will not appear in their search result pages. Although search engines can typically follow the internal links between these pages, crawlers can better understand the structure of your website if you have an updated sitemap. Especially if it is a large and complex website. Moreover, since you are providing additional information about the web page, such as the frequency of updating content, search engines will have a better idea as to when is the best time to update their index with your updated content.
For more information about the standard protocols for creating XML sitemaps, visit sitemap.org.