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XML vs. HTML Sitemaps; Do I Need Both for SEO?

By Kristen Baumert

SEO
The process of building a new website doesn’t happen overnight; it takes months of planning and development. The architecture of your website, built alongside search engine optimization considerations, ensures that Google and other search bots can index the pages of your site based on the content themes outlined in both the HTML and XML sitemaps. Both are especially important for  SEO because they allow for the indexation of keyword links, URL updates, the relevance of the URL itself and its relation to the rest of the site, and in general provides a better user-experience for visitors navigating the site.

The Two Types of Sitemaps


Traditional sitemaps have been HTML, which are static files in which the first and second levels of your website structure are outlined for users to easily find pages based on topics. A visitor on the site can then easily find what they are looking for, such as the “contact us” page, by finding the HTML sitemap. This type of sitemap can help gain ranking in search queries because the site will be considered more user-friendly.

An XML sitemap’s main function is to help search engine spiders index all URLs within the website and their metadata. An XML also contains URL information about the behind-the-scenes updates, the importance of a URL in correlation to the site, the frequency of changes, and its relation to the rest of the site.


What Changed

For many years, the coding used to create web pages has been HTML. During the years 1999-2001 the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C, which is the governing body of the Internet, decided to discontinue using HTML and replace it with XHTML (Extensible Hyper Text Markup Language), which is almost identical to HTML and XML (Extensible Markup Language).

With the addition of new browsers and devices being used, the HTML code had to be written with stricter rules. XHTML ended up being the more mature version of HTML in this way. XML is able to take extensive information and condense it into a document that provides structure and organization to large chunks of data.


Benefits of a Sitemap


  • Providing a direct path for search engine robots to follow.
  • A quick overview of the site for users.
  • Utilizes important keyword phrases.
  • Updating search engine robots that updates are made and how often.
  • Show areas of the website not found through the general layout of the browser interface.
  • Better navigation if the site uses Ajax, Silverlight, or Flash content that is not normally processed by a search engine.
  • Indexing recommendations even if there are very few external links from site pages.

Aptera’s Recommendations for SEO Best Practices


Is there a need to have both types of sitemap? In a word, yes!

The HTML sitemap’s function is general use of keyword links and better user experience which are desired by search bots indexing the site.  The XML sitemap provides more in-depth information to the search bots. This information, including metadata, help to improve rankings by providing better navigation and any updates done to the site and how often they occur, which are both ranking factors. The XML sitemap tells a search bots (inclusions), while it complements the robots.txt file, which tells search bots what URLs they should not follow or index (exclusions).

At  Aptera, we recommend both the HTML and XML. Each provide different functions to help improve search engine ranking factors. It doesn’t matter if a client is making site improvements,  building a new site, or just asking for recommendations during a discovery, a priority is placed on search engine optimizations as well as the user experience in design and operation. 

Interested in hearing more?