What are XML Image Sitemaps and Should You Use One?

Matthew is a Marketing Copywriter with a B.A. in Professional and Public Writing from Auburn University. He aims to learn a little more about the SEO world each day, and share as much of that knowledge with you as he can. When he's not striving to put out some fresh web content, he's usually fueling his Tolkien obsession or working on miscellaneous creative projects.

Have you ever gotten lost in a building before? Maybe you were trying to find a classroom for a college class, or maybe you were trying to locate a room in an office building where you had a meeting. In either case, you’d probably have appreciated having a map that showed the layout of the building.

Well, Google feels the same way about your website. In order for it to rank your site pages in search results, it first has to crawl all those pages — and it’s much easier for it to do that when it has an XML sitemap to guide it.

But regular XML sitemaps aren’t always enough. Sometimes you want to create a separate image sitemap for all the pictures on your website. What exactly is an XML image sitemap, though, and why might you want to use one? Keep reading to find out.

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What is an XML sitemap?

An XML sitemap is a digital file that tells Google crawlers which pages on your site you want them to index. The purpose of these files is to help get your pages ranking more quickly by drawing Google’s attention to them.

Every XML sitemap needs to identify which pages you want indexed, but you can also include optional information such as how frequently you update your site. This info helps Google know how often to crawl your pages.

It’s important to recognize that XML sitemaps aren’t a ranking factor — that is, they don’t directly affect how high your site ranks in search results. But they can still help Google crawl your site faster and more efficiently, which can benefit your rankings.

What is an image sitemap?

An image sitemap is a specific type of XML sitemap that exists specifically to help Google crawl images on your website. Unlike regular sitemaps, image XML sitemaps don’t need to use links to specific pages — they rely solely on HTML tags to identify specific images.

The reason image sitemaps exist separately from regular sitemaps is that it’s harder for Google to recognize images than text. So, when Google crawls a page, it’ll catch all the text content, but it can be harder to figure out what’s going on with images.

That makes it harder for images to contribute to your rankings. But image sitemaps can help with that. They can be a great tool for helping you rank higher in search results, including in Google Images.

Do you need an image sitemap?

Now that we’ve covered what an image sitemap is, the question becomes, do you need one?

The answer depends on your business. The truth is, many sites don’t really need an image sitemap. If you don’t use many images on your site, or if the images you use aren’t integral to your content, it may not be worth the effort to create one.

Of course, for other sites, image sitemaps are essential. If you run a photography studio, images are vital for your business. Similarly, if your site is filled with helpful charts and graphs, you’ll want to ensure those contribute to your rankings since they’re a big part of your site content.

Basically, try to evaluate how important images are on your site. If you use a lot of them or if they contribute significant meaning to your content, an image sitemap may be a good idea.

How can you create an image sitemap?

There are a couple of different ways to create an image sitemap for your site. The first is to do it manually, just as some businesses do a regular sitemap. Manually creating it can be a pain to deal with, so only do this if you have a small website that doesn’t have too many images.

Generally, though, it’s best to opt for a service like angeldigital.marketing. Such services will automatically create an image sitemap for you — usually, all you have to do is plug in a URL, and the service will do everything else.

From there, you can copy the resulting XML into a text file and upload it to your website’s root folder. You can also add it to Google Search Console, if you have an account. That will help Google crawl it more quickly.

3 image sitemap best practices

To wrap up this blog post, let’s briefly run through three best practices for creating image XML sitemaps.

1. Follow Google guidelines

The first thing to bear in mind when creating an image XML sitemap is to follow all of Google’s guidelines. Those guidelines mainly involve Google’s list of best practices for ranking in Google Images, as well as their general Webmaster guidelines.

In addition to both of those resources, Google recommends that you include image metadata in your sitemap. That metadata includes info like contact and licensing information, which Google will include in any search results where the image ranks.

2. Compress your images

Another good practice for publishing images on your site in general is to compress them. Compressing your images will help your pages load faster, and with faster page load speeds, users will be more likely to stay on your site rather than bouncing.

Furthermore, faster page load speeds will ultimately help you earn higher rankings. For that reason, image compression is a vital step before you even start building the sitemap itself.

3. Use alt tags

Finally, be sure to use alt tags on your images. Alt tags are small text blurbs you attach to images to describe what they depict. Not only do these help people with screen readers understand what your pictures show, but they also help contextualize pictures for Google.

When Google indexes your images, it helps a lot if there’s some text to tell Google exactly what those images show. By adding alt tags, you’ll help your images contribute more to your rankings and have a higher chance of appearing in Google Images searches.

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With our web design and search engine optimization (SEO) services, you can get help building a sitemap and boosting your spot in rankings. We’ll handle all the work — you don’t have to do a thing, though you’re still in charge of all of it.

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