XML sitemaps are basically a page written in a special code that tells search engines all of the pages on your site as well as when they have been updated. They are vital to your SEO because they ensure your content is indexed faster by search engines and help them know who the original content author is. As this article explains:
It’s not uncommon for publishers to syndicate their content on other websites. Further, it’s also not uncommon for publishers to have their site’s content “curated” by other websites without a formal syndication agreement.
Unfortunately, the definition of content curation is fuzzy at best. In a quick Google search for a recent Search Engine Land article, I found over 47 copies of the article on other sites. (Editor’s note: these are not authorized copies.)
For every publisher site offering syndicated content or having content curated by others (with or without permission), the stakes could not be higher with Google. The Panda algorithm update focused in part on removing duplicate content from search engine results pages – meaning that if a site is not deemed the content originator, it’s at risk of being excluded from the results altogether.
XML sitemaps are just one tool that can help content creators establish their stake as the content originator.
Just how profound can XML sitemaps be for indicating content origination?
In theory, the content originator would likely have the earliest indexed timestamp for the content. But take this example, from a publisher that is not using XML sitemaps, into consideration. The curating or syndicating site is having the same content indexed nearly 40 minutes earlier than the original content:
After adding XML sitemaps to your website you will also want to submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster tools using these instructions.
I use the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin to automatically create XML sitemaps for my WordPress sites.