HTML Sitemap vs. XML Sitemap for SEO

Not sure if you should use HTML sitemap or XML sitemap for SEO? We provide a brief comparison between both the sitemaps and the benefits.

Photo of Brodey Sheppard
Brodey Sheppard

There’s no way to determine whether a sitemap will benefit an SEO campaign. But there’s no harm in creating one.

It helps guide search engines and users to know about your website without having to crawl or read the content of its pages. Plus, it contains basic information like when it was created and last updated, which speeds up and simplifies the page indexing process.

Html Sitemap Vs Xml Sitemap

That being said, the main problem arises when it comes to choosing the type of sitemap for a particular website - HTML or XML site maps? We’ll be comparing both the sitemap types in this article to determine which is better than the other.

Before that, it makes sense to know a bit more about a sitemap. We’ve also explained the steps involved to create a sitemap for your SEO campaign using a few popular tools.

What Is A Sitemap?

Let’s understand the basic concept of a sitemap before diving into the depths of this informative guide. A sitemap is basically a list of links representing a part of or the entire website. It can also include relevant information related to its content, such as content rating, last update time, run-time, creation date and more.

What Does A Sitemap Do

A sitemap is not essentially required for SEO; however, it’s a good idea to implement it in your SEO campaign as it helps search engines gather information regarding your web pages. Even then, creating a strong website structure with contextual links within the paragraphs of your content is important.

There are two types of sitemaps - HTML sitemap and XML sitemap. They help web crawlers discover large websites, new websites, websites with rich content and unlinked websites.

The Difference In Crawling Mangools

1. HTML Sitemap In SEO

The list of formatted links, which represent your web pages in HTML format, is what’s referred to as an HTML sitemap. These links are usually included at the bottom of your website pages to give visitors an overview of the content your website offers.

HTML has always proved to be useful, providing web crawlers links to the pages on your website. This helps boost the SEO ranking of a site. Today, the popularity of HTML sitemaps has been overtaken by XML sitemaps, but they still play a crucial role in SEO.

2. XML Sitemap In SEO

XML sitemaps are lists of URLs that come in the form of the standard, machine-readable language that Google tends to prefer. The mark-up language gives metadata, tags and the required context to the list to help search engines identify the data type.

You’ll mostly find the URL for any XML sitemap at the root of its domain, which allows bots to access it easily. Now, when bots visit a website, they first access the robots.txt file - it’s a list of URLs and instructions referring to your XML sitemap. This helps the bot identify which URLs to crawl and which to ignore.

HTML Sitemap Vs XML Sitemap - A Brief Comparison

HTML sitemaps are created for the understanding of users, while XML sitemaps are specifically created for search engine spiders. The XML file helps the search engine spiders quickly extract all the important details of a site.

On the other hand, an HTML sitemap helps users find pages on your website that they have been looking for. While an XML sitemap makes your website search-engine-friendly by allowing crawlers to know which URLs to crawl, an HTML sitemap boosts your SEO ranking by making the site user-friendly.

After all, search engines rank websites higher when they ensure easy navigation and provide visitors with a better user experience.

Html Vs Xml Infographic

HTML Sitemap Or XML Sitemap?

There’s no definite answer to this question. In our opinion, both HTML and XML sitemaps should be used as they both help bots crawl a website to rank higher on the SERPs. They both come with their own set of benefits and limitations.

Benefits Of XML Sitemaps For SEO

The XML sitemap is important for SEO as it helps the bots know about the pages on your website, including both its homepage and other internal pages. It also helps connect website pages efficiently.

Suppose you have a ton of pages and posts, which are not linked to the site’s homepage. In that case, you’ll need to create a sitemap for Google to know about the content your website provides. It’s also important to note that websites that create and publish a lot of content tend to syndicate content on other websites.

These sites may republish content without permission from the author. Both are significant instances of content duplication, something which Google is strictly against. XML sitemaps help tackle content duplication problems by notifying Google about your content being original.

Also, XML sitemaps make sure that the most important pages on your site are represented accurately.

Limitations Of An XML Sitemap

Keeping the benefits of XML sitemaps aside, they also come with a few limitations.

1. Indexing

An XML sitemap recommends URLs for the search engine to crawl and then index. But there’s no guarantee that the search engine will index or even crawl every page.

2. Link Authority

Search engines won’t necessarily rank a URL if they only come across it. This is because the URLs in an XML sitemap don’t usually pass link authority, whereas the links in an HTML sitemap do.

Benefits Of HTML Sitemaps For SEO

An HTML sitemap is also needed to improve the SEO ranking of your website. The links help visitors know what the pages on your site are about. This improves user experience and makes navigation a simpler process. The user will simply go to your sitemap, click on the link, and they’ll be taken to the specific linked page of your website.

In fact, an HTML sitemap is a powerful tool for large websites having more than 2,000 pages. It can improve the site structure and add value by equally distributing links on every page. In other words, it distributes page ranks evenly to every page of your website for better SEO rankings.

Limitations Of An HTML Sitemap

HTML sitemaps definitely add value to SEO campaigns by increasing the number of internal page links, but only in limited scenarios - one of the reasons why an XML sitemap is preferred.

1. Navigation

The primary site navigation doesn’t link to all new pages of the website. A few sections or pages of the site remain inaccessible to the search engine.

2. Not For Small Websites

HTML sitemaps are mostly useful for large websites. They aren’t really ideal for a website that doesn’t post much and has only a few pages.

Creating An XML Sitemap For SEO

Google has laid down a list of guidelines to keep in mind while creating an XML sitemap for website pages. Take a look:

  1. Refrain from submitting a relative URL; instead, include the complete URL with its domain and subdomain.
  2. Avoid using a URL that may create duplicate pages.
  3. The maximum size of a sitemap should be 50 MB or 50,000 URLs (uncompressed). List the sitemaps using a sitemap index file and submit it to Google as a single file.
  4. UTF-8 encoded sitemap files with ASCII characters.
  5. No need to add change frequency and priority values.

Keeping these points in mind, you can create a sitemap with the help of an XML sitemap generator. It’s free and among the most highly rated SEO tools.

You can also get started by using tools like Screaming Frog. It can be used to crawl both small and large sites.

How A Sitemap Should Be Structured

1. Create An XML Sitemap Using Screaming Frog

Follow the points given below to create your sitemap with the help of Screaming Frog:

  1. Allow it to crawl your site.
  2. Click on the “create sitemap” option.
  3. Choose the pages to include and exclude the pages with duplicate content.
  4. Provide information like when the page was last updated and change frequency values. Search engines don’t generally require this information, but some might.
  5. Save the sitemap to a selected folder and name it “sitemap.xml”.

2. Submit The Sitemap To Google Search Console

After creating the sitemap, you’ll have to submit it to Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console to get your site indexed much faster. Follow the steps for submitting the sitemap to Google Search Console.

  1. Ensure that the sitemap is located on the server and the URL is capable of loading.
  2. Sign in to your search console account.
  3. Select the “sitemap” option under “crawl”.
  4. Choose the “add or test sitemap” option.
  5. Provide the sitemap URL and hit “submit”.

Creating An HTML Sitemap For SEO

It’s important to create an HTML sitemap, making sure that it’s not built in a pagination sequence. You have to create two-page types, namely index and sitemap pages. The index sitemap will include links to important pages, while the sitemap page will include a list of links to relevant content pages on your website.

When it comes to the number of links on each page, Google had set the limit to 100. But now, there is no such limit on any page.

Just make sure you create a flat website structure, which equally distributes the link value to every content page on the site. This can be done by listing new pages on the initial index page of the sitemap.

Conclusion On XML And HTML Sitemaps

The main point of difference between HTML and XML site maps is that the former allows users to understand your website content, while the latter provides tags catering to search engines. You can use an XML site map when you add new pages or publish content on the site.

In the ongoing debate on which is better, we’d recommend using both as they are useful in improving SEO rankings. It will allow Google to find your website pages and make navigation easy for users.

Now, there may not be solid evidence that a sitemap will help your website or online business grow. But given the chances that it might, it’s worth building an optimal sitemap. In addition to that, there are no risks of penalisation involved.

Photo of Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey is the CEO of sitecentre and a data-analyst in the SEO, Paid advertising space who uses machine learning and AI to advance sitecentre as an industry-leading digital marketing agency across Australia.

Find them on their website: sitecentre, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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