When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, the navigability of your site holds great influence on how Google accesses and ranks its pages. XML sitemaps are tremendously useful in ensuring this happens without a hitch, so that your ranking does not suffer even if your internal linking had a few flaws.
Every publisher with their sights set on high page rankings wants Google to thoroughly crawl every important page they have set up. Without internal linking in place, this may not happen as easily as intended. The perfect workaround is an XML sitemap, which is a list of important pages that Google can use to determine the structuring of the website.
XML sitemaps categorize pages so they are easier to find. One sitemap can display several others, which are set up as indexes. Clicking on one of the latter would reveal all the URLs it contains. There would be dates at the end of each, letting Google know when it was last updated. When any of these dates changes, Google takes that as a cue to crawl and index new content.
Large websites generally find it necessary to split their XML sitemaps, because a single one can only hold 50,000 URLs. For a site that has a higher number of posts than that, it is crucial to have at least two separate XML sitemaps. There are some SEO plugins, which even lower the capacity of each sitemap in order to facilitate faster loading.
Google has officially stated that XML sitemaps benefit “really large websites”, “websites with large archives”, “new websites with just a few external links to it”, and “websites which use rich media content”. That said, any SEO company worth their salt could tell you that smaller websites too can derive plenty of utility from a system, which eases Google’s finding their important pages and tracking the updates done on them.
Here, you should pay attention to the relevance of the URL in question, and analyze whether a visitor would find the page to be a “good” result. If you want visitors to land on a specific web page, then you should leave the latter out of the XML sitemap. If you want the URL to stay out of search results, you will need to attach a ‘noindex, follow’ meta tag. Whether or not you place it on the XML sitemap, it will be indexed by Google. The search engine simply needs to be able to arrive at it by following links.
With a new blog, the publisher would prefer the posts be easily visible to the target audience, prompting the addition of an XML sitemap right at the get-go. At that point, you probably only need a small bunch of posts, categories to classify them, and tags to describe them. However, content would not stretch out to tag overview pages, which essentially means you are hosting “thin content” that is yet to be of value to the average visitor. The best approach here is not adding the URLs of the tag to the XML sitemap. The tag pages can be set to ‘noindex, follow’, at least until such time as you want people seeing them in search results.
You do not need a separate ‘image’ or ‘media’ sitemap for your website. This is because the images hosted on it probably get used in posts and pages, and are consequently also present in the ‘page’ sitemap. A separate sitemap is pointless here, unless the images themselves happen to be your main business, such as in case of a photography website.
If you prefer Google finding the XML sitemap more quickly (as you should), you only need add it to Google Search Console. The new version shows all your sitemaps under the ‘Index’ tab and you can immediately make out if a particular sitemap has been added. Otherwise, you can add it manually.
In the older Search Console, added sitemaps can be checked by navigating to Sitemaps under Crawl. Choose Add/Test sitemap from the right, and add any XML sitemaps you have not already added.
In all versions, you get to check whether Google has indexed your XML sitemaps. If you see a big difference between the ‘indexed’ and ‘submitted’ numbers for a sitemap, you will probably need to look into it. It may be that an error is preventing some of the pages from getting properly indexed.
In a nutshell, having an XML sitemap is a big deal. It lets Google access and follow your important pages, because they know when any page gets updated and needs to be crawled. Adding the sitemap to your Google Search Console account further speeds this up, besides giving you the option to check if there are any sitemap errors, you need to fix.