The Sitemaps protocol allows a webmaster to inform search engines about URLs on a website that are available for crawling. A Sitemap is an XML file that lists the URLs for a site. It allows webmasters to include additional information about each URL: when it was last updated, how often it changes, and how important it is in relation to other URLs in the site. This allows search engines to crawl the site more intelligently. Sitemaps are a URL inclusion protocol and complement robots.txt, a URL exclusion protocol.
Sitemaps are particularly beneficial on websites where:
- some areas of the website are not available through the browsable interface
- webmasters use rich Ajax, Silverlight, or Flash content that is not normally processed by search engines.
- The site is very large and there is a chance for the web crawlers to overlook some of the new or recently updated content
- When websites have a huge amount of pages that are isolated or not well linked together, or
- When a website has few external links
Google first introduced Sitemaps 0.84 in June 2005 so web developers could publish lists of links from across their sites. Google, MSN and Yahoo announced joint support for the Sitemaps protocol in November 2006. The schema version was changed to "Sitemap 0.90", but no other changes were made.
In April 2007, Ask.com and IBM announced support for Sitemaps. Also, Google, Yahoo, MS announced auto-discovery for sitemaps through robots.txt. In May 2007, the state governments of Arizona, California, Utah and Virginia announced they would use Sitemaps on their web sites.
The Sitemaps protocol is based on ideas from "Crawler-friendly Web Servers," with improvements including auto-discovery through robots.txt and the ability to specify the priority and change frequency of pages.
The Sitemap Protocol format consists of XML tags. The file itself must be UTF-8 encoded. Sitemaps can also be just a plain text list of URLs. They can also be compressed in .gz format.
A sample Sitemap that contains just one URL and uses all optional tags is shown below.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd"> <url> <loc>http://example.com/</loc> <lastmod>2006-11-18</lastmod> <changefreq>daily</changefreq> <priority>0.8</priority> </url> </urlset>
The Sitemap XML protocol is also extended to provide a way of listing multiple Sitemaps in a 'Sitemap index' file. The maximum Sitemap size of 10 MB or 50,000 URLs means this is necessary for large sites.
An example of Sitemap index referencing one separate sitemap follows.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <sitemapindex xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"> <sitemap> <loc>http://www.example.com/sitemap1.xml.gz</loc> <lastmod>2014-10-01T18:23:17+00:00</lastmod> </sitemap> </sitemapindex>
The definitions for the elements are shown below:
|<urlset>||Yes||The document-level element for the Sitemap. The rest of the document after the '<?xml version>' element must be contained in this.|
|<url>||Yes||Parent element for each entry.|
|<sitemapindex>||Yes||The document-level element for the Sitemap index. The rest of the document after the '<?xml version>' element must be contained in this.|
|<sitemap>||Yes||Parent element for each entry in the index.|
|<loc>||Yes||Provides the full URL of the page or sitemap, including the protocol (e.g. http, https) and a trailing slash, if required by the site's hosting server. This value must be shorter than 2,048 characters. Note that ampersands in the URL need to be escaped as
|<lastmod>||No||The date that the file was last modified, in ISO 8601 format. This can display the full date and time or, if desired, may simply be the date in the format YYYY-MM-DD.|
|<changefreq>||No||How frequently the page may change:
"Always" is used to denote documents that change each time that they are accessed. "Never" is used to denote archived URLs (i.e. files that will not be changed again).
This is used only as a guide for crawlers, and is not used to determine how frequently pages are indexed.
Does not apply to <sitemap> elements.
|<priority>||No||The priority of that URL relative to other URLs on the site. This allows webmasters to suggest to crawlers which pages are considered more important.
The valid range is from 0.0 to 1.0, with 1.0 being the most important. The default value is 0.5.
Rating all pages on a site with a high priority does not affect search listings, as it is only used to suggest to the crawlers how important pages in the site are to one another.
Does not apply to <sitemap> elements.
Support for the elements that are not required can vary from one search engine to another.
The Sitemaps protocol allows the Sitemap to be a simple list of URLs in a text file. The file specifications of XML Sitemaps apply to text Sitemaps as well; the file must be UTF-8 encoded, and cannot be more than 10 MB large or contain more than 50,000 URLs, but can be compressed as a gzip file.
A syndication feed is a permitted method of submitting URLs to crawlers; this is advised mainly for sites that already have syndication feeds. One stated drawback is this method might only provide crawlers with more recently created URLs, but other URLs can still be discovered during normal crawling.
It can be beneficial to have a syndication feed as a delta update (containing only the newest content) to supplement a complete sitemap.
Search engine submission
If Sitemaps are submitted directly to a search engine (pinged), it will return status information and any processing errors. The details involved with submission will vary with the different search engines. The location of the sitemap can also be included in the robots.txt file by adding the following line to robots.txt:
The <sitemap_location> should be the complete URL to the sitemap, such as: http://www.example.org/sitemap.xml (however, see the discussion). This directive is independent of the user-agent line, so it doesn't matter where it is placed in the file. If the website has several sitemaps, multiple "Sitemap:" records may be included in robots.txt, or the URL can simply point to the main sitemap index file.
The following table lists the sitemap submission URLs for several major search engines:
|Search engine||Submission URL||Help page||Market|
|Baidu||http://zhanzhang.baidu.com/dashboard/index||Baidu Webmaster Dashboard||China,Hong Kong,Singapore|
|Bing (and Yahoo!)||http://www.bing.com/webmaster/ping.aspx?siteMap=||Bing Webmaster Tools||Global|
|http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ping?sitemap=||Submitting a Sitemap||Global|
|Yandex||http://webmaster.yandex.com/site/map.xml||Sitemaps files||Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkey|
Limitations for search engine indexing
Sitemaps supplement and do not replace the existing crawl-based mechanisms that search engines already use to discover URLs. Using this protocol does not guarantee that web pages will be included in search indexes, nor does it influence the way that pages are ranked in search results. Specific examples are provided below.
- Google - Webmaster Support on Sitemaps: "Google doesn't guarantee that we'll crawl or index all of your URLs. However, we use the data in your Sitemap to learn about your site's structure, which will allow us to improve our crawler schedule and do a better job crawling your site in the future. In most cases, webmasters will benefit from Sitemap submission, and in no case will you be penalized for it."
- Bing - Bing uses the standard sitemaps.org protocol and is very similar to the one mentioned below.
- Yahoo - After the search deal commenced between Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft, Yahoo! Site Explorer has merged with Bing Webmaster Tools
Sitemap files have a limit of 50,000 URLs and 50 megabytes per sitemap. Sitemaps can be compressed using gzip, reducing bandwidth consumption. Multiple sitemap files are supported, with a Sitemap index file serving as an entry point. Sitemap index files may not list more than 50,000 Sitemaps and must be no larger than 10MiB (10,485,760 bytes) and can be compressed. You can have more than one Sitemap index file.
As with all XML files, any data values (including URLs) must use entity escape codes for the characters ampersand (&), single quote ('), double quote ("), less than (<), and greater than (>).
Multilingual and multinational Sitemaps
In December 2011, Google announced the annotations for sites that want to target users in many languages and, optionally, countries. A few months later Google announced, on their official blog, that they are adding support for specifying the rel="alternate" and hreflang annotations in Sitemaps. Instead of the (until then only option) HTML link elements the Sitemaps option offered many advantages which included a smaller page size and easier deployment for some websites.
One example of the Multilingual Sitemap would be as followed
If for example we have a site that targets English language users through http://www.example.com/en and Greek language users through http://www.example.com/gr, up until then the only option was to add the hreflang annotation either in the HTTP header or as HTML elements on both URLs like this
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com/en" > <link rel="alternate" hreflang="gr" href="http://www.example.com/gr" >
But now, one can alternatively use the following equivalent markup in Sitemaps:
1 <url> 2 <loc>http://www.example.com/en</loc> 3 <xhtml:link 4 rel="alternate" 5 hreflang="gr" 6 href="http://www.example.com/gr" /> 7 <xhtml:link 8 rel="alternate" 9 hreflang="en" 10 href="http://www.example.com/en" /> 11 </url> 12 <url> 13 <loc>http://www.example.com/gr</loc> 14 <xhtml:link 15 rel="alternate" 16 hreflang="gr" 17 href="http://www.example.com/gr" /> 18 <xhtml:link 19 rel="alternate" 20 hreflang="en" 21 href="http://www.example.com/en" /> 22 </url>
- M.L. Nelson; J.A. Smith; del Campo; H. Van de Sompel; X. Liu (2006). "Efficient, Automated Web Resource Harvesting" (PDF). WIDM'06.
- O. Brandman, J. Cho, Hector Garcia-Molina, and Narayanan Shivakumar (2000). "Crawler-friendly web servers". Proceedings of ACM SIGMETRICS Performance Evaluation Review, Volume 28, Issue 2. doi:10.1145/362883.362894.
- "Sitemaps XML format". Sitemaps.org. 2008-02-27. Retrieved 2012-05-05.
- "About Google Sitemaps". Google.com. Up-to-date as of June 2013. Check date values in:
- "Multilingual and multinational site annotations in Sitemaps". Google Webmaster Central Blog. Pierre Far. May 24, 2012.
- Official website
- "Major Search Engines Unite to Support a Common Mechanism for Website Submission". Google. Nov 16, 2006.
- Google news groups