Not to be confused with HTML sitemaps, which are designed to be viewed by humans, XML sitemaps are solely for search engines.
Given that XML sitemaps are intended to assist Google, site owners may assume they play a role in search rankings.
SEO experts even suggest XML sitemaps are so crucial to search that the absence of one can negatively impact rankings.
Alternate claims suggest Google has progressed past the need for XML sitemaps, and site owners can forego them altogether.
Despite only being used by search crawlers, is it possible XML sitemaps have nothing to do with rankings?
This chapter will answer that question as we investigate the various claims about XML sitemaps being a Google search ranking factor.
The Claim: XML Sitemaps Are A Ranking Factor
An XML sitemap is a list of a website’s pages that assists Google with discovering new URLs and recognizing when existing ones have changed.
XML sitemaps are often recommended as an SEO best practice, with claims suggesting they’re required in order for a website to rank to its full potential.
SEO experts may point out the absence of an XML sitemap as a red flag that’s holding a website back in search results.
Contrary to those claims, an emerging school of thought says XML sitemaps are inconsequential to search rankings.
Unless their CMS generates an XML sitemap automatically, more site owners are choosing not to add one.
Are they doing their website a disservice?
At least one of the above claims has to be correct.
Let’s look at what Google says in the next section.
The Evidence For XML Sitemaps As A Ranking Factor
Evidence indicates that XML sitemaps are not a factor for search rankings.
When asked if there’s any problem, or ranking disadvantage, associated with not having an XML sitemap, Google’s Gary Illyes has confirmed there isn’t.
Does that mean there’s no reason to have an XML sitemap?
Not at all. It just means it won’t be used in ranking.
A sitemap file can help ensure Google knows where to find all pages of a website.
They can also expedite the indexing of new and updated pages.
However, Google is able to crawl and index pages on its own, which is why there’s no inherent ranking advantage to having an XML sitemap.
A far better solution to this is building a website with a structure that’s easy for Google to navigate.
This will get all internal links discovered naturally.
And, with sufficient external links pointing to a website, Google’s crawlers will come back often without needing to be pinged by an XML sitemap.
XML Sitemaps As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
We feel confident saying XML sitemaps are not a Google ranking factor.
XML sitemaps are known to have an effect on indexing, but not ranking.
Even with that being the case, XML sitemaps are not necessary for indexing, nor do they guarantee indexing.
There’s no harm in having an XML sitemap, however.
Though Google typically recommends them for large sites with frequently changing URLs.
Featured Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal
B2B PPC Experts Give Their Take On Google Search On Announcements
Google hosted its 3rd annual Search On event on September 28th.
The event announced numerous Search updates revolving around these key areas:
After the event, Google’s Ad Liason, Ginny Marvin, hosted a roundtable of PPC experts specifically in the B2B industry to give their thoughts on the announcements, as well as how they may affect B2B. I was able to participate in the roundtable and gained valuable feedback from the industry.
The roundtable of experts comprised of Brad Geddes, Melissa Mackey, Michelle Morgan, Greg Finn, Steph Bin, Michael Henderson, Andrea Cruz Lopez, and myself (Brooke Osmundson).
The Struggle With Images
Some of the updates in Search include browsable search results, larger image assets, and business messages for conversational search.
Brad Geddes, Co-Founder of Adalysis, mentioned “Desktop was never mentioned once.” Others echoed the same sentiment, that many of their B2B clients rely on desktop searches and traffic. With images showing mainly on mobile devices, their B2B clients won’t benefit as much.
Another great point came up about the context of images. While images are great for a user experience, the question reiterated by multiple roundtable members:
- How is a B2B product or B2B service supposed to portray what they do in an image?
Images in search are certainly valuable for verticals such as apparel, automotive, and general eCommerce businesses. But for B2B, they may be left at a disadvantage.
More Uses Cases, Please
Ginny asked the group what they’d like to change or add to an event like Search On.
The overall consensus: both Search On and Google Marketing Live (GML) have become more consumer-focused.
Greg Finn said that the Search On event was about what he expected, but Google Marketing Live feels too broad now and that Google isn’t speaking to advertisers anymore.
Marvin acknowledged and then revealed that Google received feedback that after this year’s GML, the vision felt like it was geared towards a high-level investor.
The group gave a few potential solutions to help fill the current gap of what was announced, and then later how advertisers can take action.
- 30-minute follow-up session on how these relate to advertisers
- Focus less on verticals
- Provide more use cases
Michelle Morgan and Melissa Mackey said that “even just screenshots of a B2B SaaS example” would help them immensely. Providing tangible action items on how to bring this information to clients is key.
Google Product Managers Weigh In
The second half of the roundtable included input from multiple Google Search Product Managers. I started off with a more broad question to Google:
- It seems that Google is becoming a one-stop shop for a user to gather information and make purchases. How should advertisers prepare for this? Will we expect to see lower traffic, higher CPCs to compete for that coveted space?
Cecilia Wong, Global Product Lead of Search Formats, Google, mentioned that while they can’t comment directly on the overall direction, they do focus on Search. Their recommendation:
- Manage assets and images and optimize for best user experience
- For B2B, align your images as a sneak peek of what users can expect on the landing page
However, image assets have tight restrictions on what’s allowed. I followed up by asking if they would be loosening asset restrictions for B2B to use creativity in its image assets.
Google could not comment directly but acknowledged that looser restrictions on image content is a need for B2B advertisers.
Is Value-Based Bidding Worth The Hassle?
The topic of value-based bidding came up after Carlo Buchmann, Product Manager of Smart Bidding, said that they want advertisers to embrace and move towards value-based bidding. While the feedback seemed grim, it opened up for candid conversation.
Melissa Mackey said that while she’s talked to her clients about values-based bidding, none of her clients want to pull the trigger. For B2B, it’s difficult to assess the value on different conversion points.
Further, she stated that clients become fixated on their pipeline information and can end up making it too complicated. To sum up, they’re struggling to translate the value number input to what a sale is actually worth.
Geddes mentioned that some of his more sophisticated clients have moved back to manual bidding because Google doesn’t take all the values and signals to pass back and forth.
Finn closed the conversation with his experience. He emphasized that Google has not brought forth anything about best practices for value-based bidding. By having only one value, it seems like CPA bidding. And when a client has multiple value inputs, Google tends to optimize towards the lower-value conversions – ultimately affecting lead quality.
The Google Search Product Managers closed by providing additional resources to dig into overall best practices to leverage search in the world of automation.
Google made it clear that the future of search is visual. For B2B companies, it may require extra creativity to succeed and compete with the visualization updates.
However, the PPC roundtable experts weighed in that if Google wants advertisers to adopt these features, they need to support advertisers more – especially B2B marketers. With limited time and resources, advertisers big and small are trying to do more with less.
Marketers are relying on Google to make these Search updates relevant to not only the user but the advertisers. Having clearer guides, use cases, and conversations is a great step to bringing back the Google and advertiser collaboration.
A special thank you to Ginny Marvin of Google for making space to hear B2B advertiser feedback, as well as all the PPC experts for weighing in.
Featured image: Shutterstock/T-K-M
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