The Difference Between an XML Sitemap and an HTML Sitemap

If you’re not familiar with web development, you may not even know that there’s more than one type of sitemap. Both XML and HTML sitemaps benefit your site in different ways. While it’s true that their names are based on the type of code they were written in, what’s more important is the context of each. Let’s dive into the specifics of how each will influence your website.

The Importance of an XML Sitemap

The XML sitemap is an SEO tool designed specifically to encourage search engines like Google and Bing to crawl and index your website, helping them find the pages within. This is especially important for pages that are not linked in the header menu and are less visible in your internal linking efforts. With an XML sitemap, you’ll be able to point Google directly to every page on your site, no matter how obscure. 

Customers can’t see the XML sitemap on your site unless they know precisely the URL to enter. There’s no reason for visitors to come looking for it because it’s just a long list of all of the URLs on your site with some basic information formatted in XML. 

However, it still serves an important role in your website’s indexation levels. Without an XML sitemap, some of your website’s pages may never be discovered, which means they can never rank. To make certain that search engines can find your XML sitemap, link to it from your robots.txt file and submit it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

XML sitemaps should be updated whenever pages are added, moved, or removed, so most sites set up an automated process to republish their XML sitemap daily or weekly. If you’re updating your XML sitemaps manually, make sure to set a reminder to do it regularly. When you redesign your website, updating your XML sitemaps should definitely be part of the process.

The Importance of an HTML Sitemap

Unlike the XML sitemap, the HTML sitemap is designed to improve user experience. Although somewhat out of fashion, the goal of the HTML sitemap is a noble one: to allow users to find any major page of the website with a single click. 

Many websites will have links to these sitemaps in the footer navigation, but you can list them anywhere your users will find them. Once a user navigates to your sitemap, they should see an easy-to-read list of every major page of your site. Some sites have stopped offering an HTML sitemap because their header navigation contains enough rollover or meganav links that it acts like an HTML sitemap embedded directly on every page. 

Keep in mind that while the XML sitemap is purely for functionality, the HTML sitemap should be made with the user experience in mind. Try to create an easy-to-follow list that shows pages in alphabetical order or in an order that best represents the flow of your business.

So Which Sitemap Do I Need?

The short answer is that you need an XML and maybe an HTML sitemap (if your header navigation is thin). The XML sitemap will help search engines index your site while the HTML sitemap will allow your user base to better navigate your site and find the pages that they need. They may serve very different purposes, but together they can help your website thrive.

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