I just read a short, relatively old blog post by David Naylor regarding why he believes XML sitemaps are bad. People involved with SEO probably know and recognize the name. I know I did. I have to disagree with his premise, but agree with his argument.
I say XML sitemaps are good!
The real issue with XML sitemaps does not lay in the technology but the use. If a site is well designed, well developed and has a strong information architecture, it should spider well and indexing should occur. Moreover, if the HTML/XHTML supporting the information on the site is well formed, the site should get decent rankings. This is where I agree with David.
I disagree on the grounds that there is nothing XML sitemaps do that other SEO best practices won’t do. There is one clear item on this docket. Update frequency. There is no better tool I know of for announcing update frequency than an XML sitemap.
Within the standard for sitemap generation, update frequency can be denoted. By setting the update frequency appropriately, the spider will have an indicator to how often it should visit. This is really important in assuring that a spider will revisit your site and pick up new pages regularly, especially for new sites. Established sites may not suffer from the same kind of crawl frequency, but even there, it is good practice to make things as easy for the search spider as possible.
While we are on the topic of unique features, XML sitemaps also offer an opportunity to reinforce your navigation hierarchy. Page priority can be specified, giving the search engine an early indicator to what will be found in the site. Search spiders dislike hunting through site links to discern information for which they could, otherwise, have a pre-set baseline.
It should be stated that XML sitemaps, when held isolated, do not cure all ills. They are merely one more tool in the locker that allows a site to grow and benefit from good search ranking. When sitemaps are coupled with strong content, good code, description tags, thoughtful information architecture and careful navigation, they can only be a boon to your site.
When used correctly, an XML sitemap will drive search spiders to key pages faster and ensure early indexing of the entire site. Once this initial indexing is managed, it is up to the people who maintain the site to ensure that the path is clear to access information across the site.
Ultimately, David does not argue against sitemaps but, instead, chooses an easy target like poor navigation and concludes that because there are users that don’t use a sitemap properly, the technology must be bad. This is disappointing as it seems to lead potential SEO professionals astray. XML sitemaps are your friends and when treated with the kindness and care a friend deserves, they will only be a boon to your site. Build your site well, use sitemaps intelligently and make the web a better place.