On-Site SEO for Lawyers: XML Sitemaps for Law Firms
Chris Dreyer | July 28, 2016
What is A Sitemap?
A site map is pretty much a compilation of URLs that are all listed out in web document. They are typically written in a language called XML (exstensible markup language1). Sitemaps that relate to search engines are not written for people to read but for search engines and other programs. They provide a layout for all of the pages on a website and are particularly important for SEO2.
Sitemaps that appear in website navigation are not the same as traditional sitemaps. These are typically pages that have links to all pages on a site and are designed for people to read. Those kind of sitemaps are still crawled by search engines but may not be submitted to search engines.
Here is a common example of what a sitemap looks like:
Use XML, RSS and Atom sitemap formats: A sitemap is basically a feed of information and there are different ways to format that information. The XML format gives Google information about all the URLs on your site. They are typically large and describe a whole set of URLs. They are downloaded less frequently than RSS or Atom feeds.
RSS/Atom feeds are typically smaller and describe small changes that happen on a website. They provide any updates that have happened to your website. Google recommends using both XML and RSS/Atom feeds to provide information about your website.
Only include URLs that should be indexed: A common mistake made in sitemaps is including URLs that are excluded in a robots.txt file. For example attorneys may have URLs that they are using for specific campaigns. Indexing them and having people find those pages through search may screw up tracking of campaigns or inadvertently reveal sensitive information.
Include only canonical URLs: Do not include duplicate versions of URLs in your sitemap. Canonicalization should be leveraged throughout a website however if you provide URLs to Google that are duplicates they may end up indexing them anyway.
Include a last modification time: A last modification time for every URL should be included in the sitemap. The caveat with this is that a modification time should only be included if the change was substantial. Do not include the time if you only changed one word or swapped out an image. Only include a modification time if there was a meaningful change in the content.
- XML sitemap uses <lastmod>
- RSS uses <pubDate>
- Atom uses <updated>
Be sure that you specify the time in the correct format for XML, RSS and Atom.
Update Regularly: Attorneys who update their site on a regular basis should update their sitemap daily and re-submit it to Google and Bing webmaster tools. For example if you are doing a blog post every day or every couple of days, the sitemap should be updated accordingly.
Don’t write your sitemap yourself: Use a sitemap generation service to do it. There are a lot of free ones out there that will do up to a certain number of URLs for free. For example xml-sitemaps.com3 is a good site for generating a free sitemap for up to 500 pages.
Use the same protocol and domain: Protocol refers to the transfer protocol in the URL. For example http and https. Domain simply refers to the domain name in the sitemap. Both should match whatever the domain and protocol of the sitemap are. So if your sitemap is found at https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml, your domains should all be example.com and your protocol on those domains should all be https.
Check your sitemap for errors: Google has gone to great lengths to help website owners make sure their sites are crawlable and friendly to search spiders. In Google’s webmaster tools (Search Console), lawyers can test their sitemap for errors.
Use rel alternate in your sitemap for mobile URLs: Attorneys should always go for responsive design when possible however if there is a separate mobile site, rel=“alternate” should be used to identify those URLs that are different versions of the same page optimized for different devices.
Sitemaps are a critical part of onsite SEO because they provide information on pages to search engines that they may not know about. They can also help expedite the process of crawling and provide detailed information on which pages were updated, when and with what type of content.
Creating a sitemap is relatively easy and it can be done in a couple different ways.
- Generate one and manually upload it to your site via FTP
- Generate one using a WordPress plugin
Creating a Sitemap Manually
To create a sitemap manually, visit xml-sitemaps.com4 and paste in your website URL.
Leave all of the other default settings the same and click the start button.
Once the process is done (which takes a minute or two depending on the site of the site), you will be presented with multiple different file choices for download. Choose the uncompressed xml sitemap option at the top of the list.
Once the file is on your computer, use a file transfer program like Filezilla to upload the sitemap to your site. XML-sitemaps.com has a great tutorial on installing a sitemap via FTP5.
Creating a Sitemap With WordPress
The Google XML Sitemaps generator6 is a great plugin for making a sitemap for your site. Lawyers will find this far easier than generating a sitemap manually. Simply install the plugin and leave the default settings as-is (which is fine for most websites).