Sitemaps – 4 Basics to Get You Started

1 - Why You Need a Sitemap


If you have a website and want to be recognized in the search engines, then you absolutely need a sitemap.  If your site does not have a sitemap, then you run the high risk of not being indexed appropriately in the search engines.  Well managed sitemaps greatly increase Bing’s ability to locate, access and index all of the relevant URLs on your website.  When creating a sitemap, you can refer to our sitemaps best practices article, particularly helpful for large sites.
The first question we ask when communicating with a website is, “Do you list all your relevant URLs in your sitemap?”  Telling us how many URLs you think you have is not enough.  Be sure to tell the search engines where your sitemap is located by listing it via robots.txt or via Bing Webmaster tools to promote getting listed on Bing.


2 - Avoid Stalled Sitemaps


Often times, site owners make aesthetic changes to their sites, but forget to update the URLs in their sitemap.  Too often, Bing discovers stalled sitemaps which have the same URLs listed for months – sometimes years – even when the website keeps changing.  This is frequently due to broken or unmonitored processes for updating your sitemap, switching to a new Content Management System or simply forgetting to stop referring to the previous sitemaps.
As a SEO best practice, you should regularly verify that the sitemaps referred to in your robots.txt and Webmaster tools are the appropriate ones, and ensure the sitemap content only lists the relevant URLs posted on your site.  Your sitemap should ideally be automatically generated at least once a day. Complimentary to sitemaps, you should also have real time RSS feeds to tell Bing about all of your​​ fresh URLs which enables Bing to discover new URLs in a matter of minutes rather than up to 24 hours.

3 – Test Your Sitemap with the “View Source” Feature


Be sure to pay attention to how your URLs are encoded and follow protocol guidelines. We see lots of ampersand characters not encoded (invalid XML files) or encoded twice (looks like this &).  As a trick, view your sitemap in your favorite browser by using the browser “View Source” feature.  This will show you the sitemap that the search engines see.  Your browser default web windows may decode the URLs listed in your sitemaps and URLs may look fine without being fine.


4 – Use Sitemaps Attributes Values Correctly


Bing is constantly monitoring and adapting to benefits from URL signals, including sitemaps attributes values.  As a best practice, do not output any of these attributes in your sitemaps if you are not able to set the appropriate values.  For instance, do not set the <lastmod> value set to the time you generate the sitemap.  <lastmod> should be the date of the last modification of the content linked from your sitemap.  Be sure to follow the protocol - <lastmod> values must be in the W3C Datetime.  If you don’t know how to generate this format, use YYYY-MM-DD. Do not use a country specific format. And avoid setting <changefreq> and <priority> attribute values to the same values if you don’t really know when the content will change and will not be able to differentiate priority between URLs.  
We encourage you to visit Bing Webmaster tools regularly to get the latest information and data about your site.  And remember, you don’t need to log into Bing Webmaster tools and publish your sitemaps each time you generate them.  Instead, refer your sitemaps once in your robots.txt or in Bing Webmaster tools and we will process them regularly.

As always, we would love to hear your ideas and feedback! So do let us know your thoughts at Bing Listens.
Fabrice Canel
Principal Program Manager
Microsoft - Bing