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SEO 8 min read

Different Types of Sitemaps: XML vs HTML

Different Types of Sitemaps: XML vs HTML
Анастасия Сотула
Dario Zadro
Web Strategist at Zadro Solutions

Sitemaps are essential in ensuring web pages are indexed and easily accessible to both users and search engine crawlers. Sitemaps provide a comprehensive blueprint of a website's structure, allowing search engines to navigate and understand the content more efficiently. However, two main types of sitemaps serve different purposes: XML and HTML.

What is the difference between XML and HTML sitemaps?

Both XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and HTML (HyperText Markup Language) are used to structure and organize information on the web, but they serve different purposes.

XML sitemaps are primarily designed for search engines, providing a list of all the URLs on a website and additional crawlable information, such as the last modified date and the priority of each page. On the other hand, HTML sitemaps are created for users, offering a user-friendly outline of a website's structure, usually presented as a hierarchical list of links.

Let's dive in further.

What is an XML Sitemap?

Developed as an offshoot from a prior standard (GML), XML has become the standard vocabulary to define the structure or architecture of a website. However, XML is widely used as a means to exchange data through other means, such as APIs. Essentially, XML is one method for how computers "talk" to each other through a standardized "tags" format.

A basic example of standard XML for websites looks like this:

xml sitemap

This example is for a single page with "last modified date" to inform search engines of a change. There are optional priority and frequency tags, but most search engines ignore them and use their internal algorithms to determine those factors.

In addition to regular XML sitemaps, specialized sitemaps are designed for specific types of content, such as images, videos, and news. And there were also mobile sitemaps before most search engines went to a mobile-first crawl standard.

Image Sitemaps

Image sitemaps are used to help search engines understand and index the images on a page. By providing the image URL, image sitemaps enable search engines to categorize image content better.

Having image elements in your sitemap is especially important if the images on your website are presented using JavaScript. Images from a CDN can also be added to the sitemap, but you'll need to verify the domain separately in the various webmaster tools.

There are two ways to add image sitemap data. First, as a separate file, such as:

image sitemap

But you might have noticed the first example has a namespace that belongs to Google. So, it's unclear whether other search engines will recognize this format.

The better method is to include the image data within your main XML sitemap, like so:

image sitemap

Using this format, all search engines will understand your website's structure. An image sitemap can increase visibility and traffic for websites heavily relying on visuals in search, such as photography portfolios or e-commerce sites, so it's worth adding.

Video and News Sitemaps

There are two other primary formats that I will not dive too far into, but you should definitely read more on video and news sitemaps if your website's content is heavy in those areas.

Video sitemaps include details such as the video URL, title, description, duration, thumbnail image, and even whether the video content is family-friendly. By utilizing video sitemaps, website owners can ensure that their video content is indexed correctly and displayed in search engine results, leading to increased visibility and engagement.

And with news sitemaps, your website will benefit by submitting fresh news content. The only caveats are news sitemaps are Google-only and should only include the last 2 days of content. For Bing, you would use PubHub and follow their submission guidelines.

What is an HTML Sitemap?

These sitemaps are not for search engines or computers but rather for humans -- your web visitors. An HTML Sitemap is a comprehensive map of your website, allowing visitors to navigate its content easily.

HTML sitemaps provide a user-friendly, visually appealing layout that showcases the structure of your website and presents all its pages in an organized manner. By offering a hierarchical structure and clear links, HTML Sitemaps enhance user experience (UX) and make it easier for visitors to quickly locate the information they're after.

XML sitemap vs. HTML sitemap for SEO

Now that we know the differences between HTML and XML sitemaps, how does each impact SEO? Should you use one sitemap type over the other?

XML sitemaps are crucial in improving a website's search engine optimization (SEO) and overall visibility on search engine result pages. XML sitemaps are a must for crawl efficiency.

The key advantage of XML sitemaps is their ability to provide search engines with a comprehensive list of all the pages on a website. This ensures that search engine crawlers can discover and index all the relevant content, including pages that might not be easily accessible through website navigation.

Moreover, XML sitemaps also allow website owners to provide additional metadata about each page, such as the last modified date, image data, and more, as discussed. This information helps search engines understand the importance and freshness of the content, which can further contribute to improved rankings.

In addition to aiding search engine crawlers, XML sitemaps also benefit website visitors.
Also, HTML Sitemaps can also improve SEO. As search engine crawlers follow links, a well-structured HTML Sitemap ensures that all your pages are discovered and indexed efficiently, especially orphaned pages.

Are there any risks to having a sitemap?

Having a sitemap on your website can be incredibly beneficial for ensuring that search engines can crawl and index your pages effectively. However, it's essential to consider the potential risks associated with having a poorly formatted sitemap.

One potential risk is the possibility of including pages in your sitemap that you didn't want to be indexed by search engines. This could occur if you mistakenly include pages still in development, duplicate content, or pages containing sensitive information. If search engines index these pages, it could result in negative consequences such as thin content penalties or sensitive information exposure.

Another risk is the potential for errors or inaccuracies in your sitemap. If there are broken links, incorrect URLs, or missing pages in your sitemap, it can hinder search engines' crawl efficiency and indexing process.

Double-check that all included pages are intended for indexing and that the URLs are correct and functional. Also, it's important to note that sitemaps can only be submitted using webmaster tools or the robots.txt file. This is true for both Google (as of recently) and Bing back in 2022.


Understanding the differences between XML and HTML sitemaps is crucial for optimizing your website's visibility and potential search engine rankings. XML sitemaps are machine-readable files that provide search engines with a comprehensive list of all the pages on your website, while HTML sitemaps are user-friendly pages that help visitors navigate your site more easily.

While there are no inherent risks to having a sitemap, it is essential to regularly update and maintain it to reflect any changes to your website's structure or content.

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