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What Is a Sitemap and Why You Need It

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What Is a Sitemap and Why You Need It
13 Aug

What Is a Sitemap and Why You Need It
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(Last Updated On: August 14, 2019)

You probably spend a lot of time and effort making sure all the important pages of your website are optimized for search engines. You do this to increase the chances that your website will rank high in search results. 

Yet, there’s a chance that not all of your website’s important pages will show up in search results, no matter how well optimized they are. The reason for that is search engines use automated discovery programs called web crawlers to “crawl” through your site and all its web pages. Once a page has been crawled, it will appear in search results. 

Sometimes, web crawlers overlook certain pages on your website—those pages don’t get crawled, and, as a result, they won’t appear in search results. That means they can’t help your site’s ranking.

You don’t want that to happen. 

It’s smart to make sure that every search engine optimized page on your website gets properly crawled and indexed by search engines. The easiest way to do that is by creating a sitemap on your website. 

What Is a Sitemap?

A sitemap is an XML file with links to every important webpage on your site. In simple words, it’s like a map that shows how to get to specific places on your website. 

Search engines like Google can use a sitemap to crawl your website more thoroughly and make sure no significant webpage gets left out of their index. That means all of them will get ranked in search engine results. 

What Does a Sitemap Look Like?

A sitemap is comprised of HTML tags. The XML file containing those tags goes in your website’s root directory so that search engine crawlers can easily find it. 

A sitemap with one URL looks something like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?><urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″   xmlns:xsi=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance”   xsi:schemaLocation=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd”>    <url>        <loc>http://example.com/</loc>        <lastmod>2006-11-18</lastmod>        <changefreq>daily</changefreq>        <priority>0.8</priority>    </url></urlset>

It’s important to realize that a sitemap doesn’t just tell search engines about the pages on your site. It also gives detailed information about each webpage.

For example, it lets a search engine know:

  • when the URL was last updated, 
  • how often the webpage changes,
  • the page’s importance when compared to other pages on your website.
Learn what are sitemaps and why you need one of your website

Sitemaps Aren’t Just for Webpages

While sitemaps are great for keeping a record of all the pages on your site, that’s not all they do. 

In addition to text, your website also has images and videos. Sitemaps can help keep a record of those as well, and that will help your images and videos rank better.

Here’s the information sitemaps store when it comes to images, videos, and news. 

  • Image sitemaps store image metadata such as the caption, alt-text, and licensing information.
  • Video sitemaps store video metadata such as the publication date, video URL, video duration, etc.
  • Google News sitemaps store time-sensitive news articles so they can be more effectively ranked in Google’s News section. 

You can use a separate sitemap file to list images, another one for videos and one for news items. You can also add sitemap information about all three of those media types to your main website sitemap file.

With this type of information included in your sitemap, your content will not only rank in normal search results, but also in images, video, and news search results.

Which Websites Benefit the Most from Sitemaps? 

Every website can benefit from sitemaps. Here are the types of websites that need sitemaps the most, according to Google:

  • Very large websites—If a website is large and constantly gets new pages, there’s a chance that crawlers might miss something. A sitemap with up-to-date information can make sure every webpage gets crawled.
  • Websites with unlinked pages—If your website has pages that don’t link to one another, a sitemap can help crawlers identify the isolated pages.
  • Websites that have rich media content—If your website has pages that include images and videos, a sitemap can help search engines identify and crawl those media elements.

If your website fits into one or more of these categories, it will definitely benefit from a sitemap, and you should create one as soon as possible. 

Even if your site is small, has plenty of internal links, and contains hardly any rich media, you should create a sitemap anyway. Doing so is easy and can help you improve your site’s SEO. 

Learn how to create your sitemap
Image credit: Mangools

How to Create and Upload a Sitemap

You can create a sitemap manually or use software that automatically generates one. Before we take a detailed look at these two options, there’s an important step you may have to take before creating a sitemap—clean up the navigational structure of your website. 

There should be a primary menu that shows your top pages: your homepage, and About Us, Services, and Products pages. Links to secondary, related pages should be under the primary menu. For example, the Services menu can link to five other pages that describe the services you offer. 

Creating this kind of structure for your website makes it possible to create a clean sitemap that web crawlers will find easy to understand. 

After you’ve verified that your website has a coherent structure, you’ll be ready to create a sitemap using one of the methods described below.

Method # 1: Create a Sitemap Manually

In this section, we’ll just give you a general idea about how a sitemap is created manually. 

Knowing how sitemaps are created will help you understand their purpose and structure. Even if you get help creating a sitemap, you’ll be able to use the information in this section to verify that the site map contains everything you need. 

Using a tool to create a sitemap is much easier than creating one manually. The only advantage to manual creation is that it gives you greater control over which pages will be included in the sitemap.  

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how a sitemap is created manually.

  1. The first thing you need to be aware of is the sitemap format. The file containing the sitemap code needs to have an .XML extension. You can use the Microsoft text editor or Sublime text editor to type in your sitemap and save it as .XML.
  2. Next, you need to start creating the sitemap. You can ask a web developer for guidance, or if you’d rather do it yourself, you can find instructions on the official website
  3. Once you finish creating your sitemap.xml file, you should validate it to make sure there are no mistakes in the code. To do that, you can use XML Sitemap Validator. It will let you know about any mistakes your sitemap might have and help you fix them.

This sums up how to create a sitemap manually. Now, let’s look at an easier way to do it.

A sitemap with up to date information helps to make sure every webpage of your site gets crawled by search engines

Method # 2: Use Software to Automatically Create a Sitemap

Creating a sitemap manually is not necessary, because there are free and affordable tools that will do it for you. Sitemap plugins may even be provided by your CMS, or you can use an online service or a desktop app.

Sitemap Plugins

It doesn’t matter if you use WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or any other CMS for your website, there will be a plugin available that will help you create a sitemap. 

For WordPress, you can use the popular Yoast SEO plugin to create a sitemap.

For Wix and Squarespace, you don’t need to worry. They automatically create and update your website sitemap.

If you want more control over your sitemap, you can use an online service or a desktop app instead.

Sitemap Services and Apps

Slickplan is an excellent, affordable app that lets you create detailed sitemaps for your website. More importantly, it includes a visual builder where you can use a drag-and-drop interface to remove pages from your sitemap. The tool will handle changing the XML code for you. 

Screaming Frog is another option. This is a suite of SEO tools that includes a free sitemap generator. It only works for websites that have less than 500 pages. 

Learn how to upload your sitemap for SEO
Image credit: Dynomapper

Uploading Your Sitemap

Once you create a sitemap, simply sign in to your hosting server and upload the sitemap.xml file into the root directory.

This will add your sitemap to your website as well, which you’ll be able to visit by typing in www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml

How to Hide Certain Webpages from Search Engine Crawlers

If you don’t want search engines to crawl a specific webpage, you can add it to your robots.txt file, with the disallow function.

Any webpage that’s been disallowed in the robots.txt file will not be crawled by search engines, even if the page is listed in your sitemap.xml file. 

This is how you can submit your sitemap
Image credit: High Tech Work

How to Submit Your Website to Search Engines

The final step you need to take after creating and uploading your sitemap is to submit it to search engines so they can start crawling the URLs listed inside it.

This step is important because it ensures your sitemap won’t get overlooked by search engines.

There are three main webmaster tools to which you need to submit your website’s sitemap.xml file:

  • Google Search Console
  • Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Yandex.Webmaster

While there are other webmaster tools, the three above cover the most prominent search engines. 

That being said, let’s look at how you can submit your sitemap to each one.

Note: If you have multiple sitemaps, i.e., for images, videos, and news, make sure to upload them as well, using the instructions outlined below. 

Google Search Console

Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console is where you’ll submit your website’s sitemap. If you haven’t already done so, you have to register your site first. You can do that by clicking here

After you’ve registered your website, follow these steps to enter your sitemap into Google Search Console:

  1. Sign in to Google Search Console and click on the hamburger menu in the top-left corner. 
  2. Click on your website, scroll down, and click on Sitemaps under the Index section. 
  3. In the Add New Sitemap field, enter sitemap.xml or the name of the sitemap file that you uploaded on your website server.
  4. Click Submit.

That’s it. Your sitemap is now submitted to Google, and the search engine will use it to crawl your website more intelligently.

This are some bing webmaster tools that will hep you
Image credit: Ryte Wiki

Bing Webmaster Tools

Bing Webmaster Tools will submit your website’s sitemap to both Bing and Yahoo! search engines. 

First, register your website with Bing Webmaster Tools by clicking here, then follow these steps to submit your sitemap:

  1. After signing in to Bing Webmaster Tools, go to My Sites page and click on your site. 
  2. Using the left-hand sidebar menu, navigate to Configure My Site → Sitemaps
  3. Type in the complete URL that directs to your website’s sitemap, i.e., www.mywebsite.com/sitemap.xml, in the appropriate field. 
  4. Press the Submit button. 
These are some Yandex tools
Image credit: Liquid Light

 Yandex Webmaster Tools

Yandex is one of the most widely used search engines in Russia. Submitting your sitemap there may help you get more traffic from Russian visitors. 

To get started, create an account and register your website on Yandex by clicking here.

Follow these steps to submit your sitemap:

  1. Sign in to Yandex Webmaster Tools and select your website from the main dashboard.
  2. Using the menu on the left side of your screen, navigate to Indexing Options → Sitemap Files
  3. Type in the complete URL that directs to your website’s sitemap, i.e., www.mywebsite.com/sitemap.xml, in the appropriate field. 
  4. Press the Add button. 
Submit your sitemap to google, bing and yandex
Image credit: Hi Tech Wok

Final Thoughts

Submitting a sitemap alone won’t boost your traffic and improve your SEO. For that, you’ll need to learn how to do basic SEO and keyword research.

Uploading sitemaps ensures that whatever SEO efforts you make won’t go to waste, and that alone makes creating a sitemap worth the effort.

Does your website have a sitemap?

María Bustillos

María is an enthusiast of cinema, literature and digital communication. As Content Coordinator at HostPapa, she focuses on the publication of content for the blog and social networks, organizing the translations, as well as writing and editing articles for the KB.

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