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Magento XML Sitemaps – A Complete Guide

As far as ecommerce platforms go, Magento is one of the best out of the box solutions available in terms of being search engine friendly. It’s clean code coupled with its pre-existing search engine optimised features makes it a great choice for those who want to benefit from good search engine rankings, but have little understanding of the how to achieve them.

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Magento is one of the most SEO friendly ecommerce platforms on the planet.

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If however you are willing to spend time learning about Magento SEO and how to optimise the Magento platform further for increased search engine rankings, there are a number of tweaks you can make. One of these involves creating XML sitemaps for your Magento site.

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XML sitemaps won’t improve your search rankings directly but they do have a role to play in helping search engines find your content.

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Before we get started it is worth noting that creating XML sitemaps for Magento will not boost your search rankings, however it will benefit you by facilitating search engines in their efforts to crawl and index your ecommerce website.

Here we will provide a full explanation of what XML sitemaps are, how they can benefit your Magento website and how to create one. If you get lost along the way or have any questions, you can always get in contact with our team of Magento experts for further guidance.

What is an XML sitemap?

In its simplest form, an XML sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a website, along with additional metadata about each of them. Creating an XML sitemap is basically an easy way of letting search engines know where your content is located.

XML sitemaps are not to be confused with your average sitemap. A sitemap is simply a page on your website that features a list of your other web pages and links to them. Your website users can use a sitemap on your website to access different categories and pages easily. They basically make it easier and quicker for users to navigate your website.

An XML sitemap on the other hand is not to be used by web users but instead search engine crawlers. XML sitemaps make it easier for search engine crawlers (also known as spiders) to crawl and index your web pages.

For those who don’t know, indexing is where search engines like Google send their robots (spiders) to process and categorise the pages on your website. They will rank them using a wide range of factors and this will determine their position on relevant search engine results pages.

In order for XML sitemaps to do their job, they must be created using XML. This stands for Extensible Mark-up Language and is structurally similar to HTML. If you have used blog feeds or RSS before, then it is likely you have come across XML.

XML sitemaps are particularly useful if your Magento website has dynamic content or pages that are not easy for search engine spiders to discover. You may also find it useful to create an XML sitemap for your Magento website if it is new and does not have many links to it or if it has a lot of pages of content, which do not link to each other very well.

Although you can benefit in many ways from creating an XML sitemap for your Magento website (which we will discuss in the next section) it is important to keep in mind that creating a sitemap does not guarantee that the pages you list will be added to the search engine’s index. If a page contains poor or duplicate content it may be excluded.

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Head up the ratings with the help of a great XML sitemap

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The benefits of using XML sitemaps for Magento

One of the great things about creating an XML sitemap for your Magento website is that it will allow you to list all of the URLs from your website. This includes pages that search engines may otherwise find it difficult to discover.

XML sitemaps can also be used to inform search engines of pages and content that you would like them to prioritise. Within an XML document, there is an option tag you can use to detail the priority of a given page. This will indicate to the search engine how important a page is in accordance to the rest of the pages on your Magento website. If your XML sitemap prioritises a particular page, it is more likely to be indexed first by search engines.

It is not just information about the importance of particular Magento pages that you can share with search engines through XML sitemaps; you can also share information such as when a page was last updated and how often certain pages are updated. This is done using the “lastmod” and “changefreq” tags. Using these tags within your XML sitemap, will give search engines a good idea of how often they need to crawl and index these pages of your Magento website and also allows them to complete the process more efficiently.

So whilst XML sitemaps will not improve your Magento website’s search engine rankings, using them can help you to get your site indexed faster. The faster you can get your ecommerce website indexed, the sooner you can start benefiting from search engine traffic.

Creating an XML sitemap is also said to increase the chance of your whole site being indexed (though there are no guarantees). Being able to have your whole Magento website indexed, may help to increase your search rankings, as Google may see your site as being larger and therefore more important.

How to set up an XML sitemap for Magento

Magento makes it easy for you to set up an XML sitemap for your ecommerce store. It has a built-in functionality that allows you to generate a standard sitemap in XML format, containing the URLs for category pages, product pages and CMS pages.

It is worth noting that whilst Magento refers to its standard sitemaps as ‘Google Sitemaps,’ they actually work with Yahoo! and Microsoft Bing too.

You can create an XML sitemap manually by going to Catalog > Google Sitemap > Add Sitemap. From here you will need to choose a filename, path and store view. Remember that if you have more than one store on your Magento platform, you will need to create and setup individual sitemaps for each one. The filename and file path you choose will create a path from the root of your Magento installation.

Once you have done all of that, click ‘Save & Generate.’ Magento will then save your sitemap configuration and generate a file at the location you specified. You will then be able to grab the code and put it into your robotos.txt file. This will point search engines in the direction of your sitemap XML file and make it easier for them to index your Magento ecommerce store.

Submitting your Magento XML sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools

It is also recommended that you submit your Magento XML sitemap to Google and Bing via your Webmaster Tools dashboards. To add your XML sitemap to your Google Webmaster Tools you will need to login to your account and go to Optimisation > Sitemaps. On the right hand side of your screen, you will see the ‘Add Sitemap’ button. Simply paste in the URL of your sitemap and the job will be done.

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As you can see here, the Add Sitemap button in Google Webmaster Tools is highlighted in red on the right.

For Bing Webmaster Tools, go to the Sitemap Widget and click ‘Submit a Sitemap.’ There you will be able to paste in the location of your sitemap. The alternative option is to add your sitemap’s URL to your robots.txt file. To do this, simply add an extra line to your file that reads http://enter-your-domain-name-here.com/sitemap.xml.

One of the main benefits of submitting your Magento XML sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools is that you will be able to gain valuable information from it. For example, once your sitemap has been used by the search engine, you will be able to see the Google bots’ activity and get a better idea of how they crawl your website.

Many Magento users find that adding their XML sitemaps to their Google Webmaster Tools results in an increase of the number of pages crawled by Google.

You can learn more about how Google Bots crawl your website by adding your XML sitemap to your Google Webmaster Tools.

Updating your Magento XML sitemaps

It is important to remember that as your Magento store’s inventory changes, you will need to keep re-generating and updating your XML sitemaps. One of the easiest ways to manage your Magento XML sitemaps and keep them updated is to set up a Magento maintenance cronjob on your system. Doing this will allow you to generate XML sitemaps for your Magento store on a regular basis.

If you have set up a cronjob go to System > Configuration > Catalog: Google Sitemap > Generation Settings. There you will be able to configure the settings and choose how often a Magento sitemap is created.

Magento XML sitemap extensions

There are tons of websites you can use to generate XML sitemaps for your Magento ecommerce store, however Magento also has a number of great extensions (known as modules), which can be used to automatically generate sitemaps too.

Magento XML sitemap extensions provide you with the opportunity to choose the posts and pages you want to share with search engines and which you want to hide. You will also be able to share information such as how often your pages are updated and their last update timestamp. Basically plugins make it far easy for you to create Magento XML sitemaps and are particularly useful for those new to the process.

Two great XML sitemap extensions for Magento are the Sitemap Suite Magento extension and the XML Sitemap Generator & Splitter. Simply go to the Magento Connect store and you will find many more, some of which will be free to download and others you will have to pay for. Whichever plugin you decide to go for, make sure you have checked the reviews before downloading and integrating it with your Magento website.

Conclusion

We hope you have found our Magento XML sitemaps guide useful. If you have any questions or would prefer one of our Magento experts to create a sitemap for you, feel free to give us a call on 01706 830 965.

Image credits: Dmitry-fediUK, TR4NSLATOR, infocux Technologies, meganhunt03 and Dan Gravell

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