How To Create A Sitemap For Your Website

How To Create A Sitemap For Your Website

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A sitemap is a visual representation of the content, pages, and information found on your website. It helps you to understand how your website will be organized and prioritized for both users and search engine crawlers.

We’ve all been there: you’re trying to navigate a website, but it’s just not working! The page won’t load, the link takes you to an error page, and your customer is bouncing. 

That’s why a sitemap is so important. It can help you find all the pages and links on your site, so you can see exactly what’s happening where.

This guide will walk you through what is a sitemap, its benefits, and how to create one for your website.

What is a sitemap?

A sitemap is a visual representation of the content, pages, and information found on your website. It helps you to understand how your website will be organized and prioritized for both users and search engine crawlers.

Types of sitemap

XML

XML Sitemaps are the most popular format because they are easy to read and modify. The main advantages of XML Sitemaps over HTML sitemaps are:

  • XML files are easier to read, so they are more convenient for indexing process.
  • XML Sitemaps provide more information about the website, so they can be easily indexed by search engines.
  • XML Sitemaps can be easily edited using any text editor or XML editor.

HTML

HTML Sitemap files contain lists of links that help search engines understand what pages of your site should be indexed, and which ones should not. These files describe the hierarchical structure of a site and allow search engines to better crawl and index your site pages.

HTML Sitemap files don’t contain any additional information that is not already available in HTML code of your web pages.

Why is a sitemap important?

Helps search engines understand and index your site faster

The most obvious benefit is that it helps search engines understand and index your site content. A sitemap provides a list of all pages on your site, which means that search engines don’t have to crawl through your whole website to find out what each page is about.

This is especially helpful if you have a large and complex website, or if you’ve recently updated or added content and want search engines to index it quickly.

It’s an important part of the web design process

When you’re building a site, you need to know what pages are going to be in it, and how they’ll all fit together. A sitemap can help you see the big picture, and make sure the site you’re designing makes sense from a user experience perspective.

It’s important for search engine optimization (SEO)

If you have a site already built but are trying to improve its SEO, creating a sitemap can give you some insight into where there might be gaps in your content or poor information architecture (IA)—all of which can negatively impact your SEO performance.

It provides valuable metadata

A sitemap provides valuable metadata about pages on your site like when they were last updated, how often you make changes, and how the page relates to other URLs on your site. This allows the Google bot to crawl your site more intelligently.

It allows visitors to navigate your pages in an orderly manner

One of the most important ways to keep visitors on your site is to make sure they can find what they’re looking for. A sitemap presents an easy way to do this. 

Like a map that shows you the locations of stores in a mall, a sitemap will tell visitors where to find the different pages on your site. Visitors are more likely to stay on your site if they can find what they’re looking for quickly, and a sitemap makes that easier for them.

Who should use a sitemap?

Sitemaps aren’t mandatory, but they can improve SEO. Sitemaps are also especially helpful if your site:

  • Has a lot of pages
  • Has a large archive of content pages that are not well linked to each other
  • Uses rich media content, like video, images, or news articles
  • Uses content that is accessible via browsing buttons or forms

How to create a sitemap

Creating a sitemap can seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are two methods: CMS generation, manual coding, and tools & plugins.

CMS generation

The easiest way is to use your content management system (CMS) to generate one for you. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress or Drupal, you can have the system automatically generate a sitemap for you based on the structure of your site and the existing content within it. Since the process is automated, you don’t need to manually code it.

Manual coding

If you manually code your sitemap, you need to create an XML file and add it at the root of your site. You will then create a new entry for each page on your site. This is for the most experienced web developers and requires some knowledge about how to do this with an XML file.

Tools and plugins (automated)

There are plugins and tools that can help automate the process of creating your sitemap, as well, which can be helpful if you have limited technical knowledge and are not using a CMS.

These tools are easier, more reliable, and more efficient than manual coding. Also, they can update automatically when new pages are added to your site.

Some popular options include Yoast, which works on WordPress sites; All in One SEO Pack and Google XML Sitemaps, which also work on WordPress; and Screaming Frog, which works on any type of site regardless of CMS but requires a paid license after 500 server calls.

How to submit your sitemap to Google

Google is a quick and easy way to make sure that Google knows about all of your hard work. This can help them rank your site higher in search results.

To submit your sitemap to Google, follow these easy steps:

Step 1: Open an account with Google Search Console.

Step 2: Log in to Search Console and select “Add a Property.” Then add the URL of the site you want to submit.

Step 3: Once you’ve verified ownership via Google Analytics, you’re ready to submit your sitemap! Just click on “Sitemaps” under “Crawl” in the left column of the Search Console

Step 4: In the text box that appears under “Add/Test Sitemap,” add the URL for your sitemap, which should end in .xml (e.g., https://example.com/sitemap_index.xml). If everything is correct, it will take some time for Google to index your site!

Ideally, you want to have the same number of pages indexed in comparison to the submitted pages. Submitting a sitemap to Google will help inform which pages you consider a high priority for indexing. The primary benefit of submitting your sitemap to Google is to provide a deeper understanding of your website layout.

General sitemap guidelines

Always prioritize important pages in your sitemap

The key factor when it comes to ranking will always fall on the quality of your website. If your website is found at the tail end of thousands of low-quality websites (backlink spam), search engines will devalue the quality score of your website, consequently showing your website less on searches.

Always make it a point to direct bots to essential pages of your website which are highly optimized and showcase lots of unique content containing images and videos. Through the addition of visitor comments and sharing, you can increase traffic and engagement on these pages also!

Only include canonical versions of your website URLs in your sitemaps

Sometimes you may have multiple pages on your website that are quite similar. For example, product pages for different colors of a single product. In this case, you can use the rel canonical tag. 

It lets Google know which are your primary pages that it should crawl and index on search. This way, bots won’t have any difficulty discovering key pages. Plus, they won’t rank the wrong pages over your more crucial pages.

Use Robots Meta Tags whenever possible

For pages you don’t want to be indexed, you will usually use the noindex – follow tag. This usually preserves link equity while at the same time preventing Google from indexing the specific page. This tag is most importantly useful for utility pages in your website that you don’t want to show up in search engine results pages.   

If you notice that Google is indexing unimportant pages at the expense of your priority pages, you can use robots.txt to block these pages.

Exclude noindex URLs in your sitemap

Don’t waste your digital marketing budget by adding noindex pages to your sitemaps. After all, they have no business being part of your sitemap in the first place. 

When you are submitting noindex and blocked pages as part of your sitemap, the effect is simultaneously telling Google that these pages aren’t of the highest priority and to not index these pages. 

Dynamic XML sitemaps are always the best for large websites

It’s impossible to monitor all meta data when you have a huge website, especially ecommerce websites with thousands of pages. What you can do is set up rules logic which will help you determine when a certain page will be included as part of your XML sitemap. This will also let you monitor pages as they are changed from noindex to index, follow.

Use both RSS/Atom Feeds and XML Sitemaps

RSS/Atom feeds notify search engines when you have added content to your website or updated a few pages. Google usually recommends that you use both RSS/Atom feeds and XML sitemaps. Essentially, it gives search engines a better understanding of what pages should be updated and indexed. 

Set your modification times to update only when making significant changes to your website

Never try to trick Google and other search engines into re-indexing your site pages without making any major modifications or updates. This can be risky for your website and Google will have the option of starting to remove date stamps to your website if they’re constantly updated without adding new value.

Don’t stress yourself out with setting priority pages

Sitemaps usually have a priority column where it tells search engines which pages are important. This however has been long debated and there have been observations where the Google bot actually ignores these priority settings.

Multiple sitemaps are always the best for websites with more than 50,000 URLs

Each sitemap is limited to only 50,000 URLs. While this is more than enough for most websites, some still require the creation of additional sitemaps. Large ecommerce websites are a common example where there is a need for more than one sitemap.

Conclusion

Ensuring that all important pages in your website are indexed in search engines is crucial. It increases your website search ranking and allows the work you perform both on and off-page to be recognized by search engines. So, always check that you have a functioning sitemap in place to achieve maximum visibility to your target audience.

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