If you have your own website, then you’re probably aware of just how complex the world of web development can be. And when it comes to increasing organic traffic to your website, the world of search engine optimization can seem equally as daunting.
However, there are many small changes that you can make to your website to maximize its potential and start ranking for the searches that will benefit your business the most. One small but impactful change is to include a sitemap for your website.
Never heard of a sitemap before? That’s because most people probably haven’t. Sitemaps aren’t visible to the average internet browser, but they can have a significant impact on how well your site ranks in search engines.
Today we’ll be breaking down what sitemaps are, how they benefit you, and how you can find your website’s sitemap.
A sitemap is a list of all the URLs within your website. (We’re focusing on XML, not HTML, sitemaps today.)
This list acts as a blueprint; it shows how the URLs relate to one another and which URLs are the most important.
You can include information about each page, including how often the page is updated, when the page was last modified, and any alternate language versions of the page.
You can also give details about different kinds of content on your website, such as videos and pictures. For example, you can specify a video’s running time, or an image’s license.
If you’re wondering what this may look like, here’s an example sitemap:
Image Source: Hubspot
But who uses these sitemaps? And why do they matter?
A sitemap works behind the scenes —no regular visitors to your website will be able to see it. However, search engines can access your sitemap and use it to help them better understand your website’s structure and contents.
Google and other search engines crawl websites in order to determine the page’s purpose and quality. Once they’ve gathered sufficient information about the webpage, the search engine can then index the page, adding it to their massive database of pages, and rank it accordingly.
The purpose of search engine optimization is to make your website as easy and accessible to search engines as possible, while also providing the best and most reliable answers for your target user’s search queries.
Sitemaps help guide search engines as they crawl across your website. Providing a sitemap ensures that search engines will have an easier time understanding your website and indexing it accurately.
Sitemaps can be especially beneficial for certain cases:
Search engines find new webpages to index largely by following links. If your website has few external sources linking to it, Google may have a hard time finding your site. Providing a sitemap will help solve this issue by providing a list of links for Google to easily follow.
If your website has hundreds of different pages, search engines will have difficulty keeping up with indexing all of them. Since search engines can only devote so much time to indexing your website, creating a sitemap will expedite the process and increase the chances of your pages being indexed and, subsequently, ranking in SERPs.
If many of your website pages are isolated and don’t link to each other, a sitemap will be especially important in defining the relationships between the pages and helping search engines find them.
This will save you from making unnatural references to other pages on your site in an effort to link them together.
If your website is small, or is well connected through internal links, having a sitemap will not be as crucial. However, a sitemap will never hurt your website, it will only help search engines better crawl and understand your site. That is why we recommend all website owners have some knowledge about sitemaps and how to make one.
So how do you go about making a sitemap? First, it’s helpful to check if you already have one.
There are a few simple methods you can use to find your sitemap, if your website already has one.
Use an online service to locate your sitemap. You can enter your website’s URL into SEO Site Checkup’s Sitemap Tool and have the location of your sitemap within seconds.
Use an advanced search operator in Google. Try typing these phrases into a Google search:
If you are overwhelmed by the amount of search results that appear, you can narrow the search even further by adding this phrase to the end of either search query:
If you’ve exhausted these methods and haven’t found your sitemap, it may be time to create one.
Depending on the website builder or CMS you use, you may already have a sitemap tool or plugin available to you.
For example, if you use WordPress to run your website, then there are a few different plugins available to create a sitemap easily:
If you find that your CMS platform doesn’t have any sitemap assistance available, don’t fret. There are still plenty of resources to help you create a sitemap.
Online sitemap generators are a great option, as they are usually easy, quick, and don’t require any extra installations onto your site. These programs are also typically platform agnostic, meaning they will work for a variety of website builders.
You can manually create a sitemap as well. This will require a bit of coding and is an option that’s most suitable for those with some experience in web development.
A popularly recommended third-generator is XML-Sitemaps.com. The tool is free for sitemaps of 500 pages or less and offers paid plans for larger websites that are more extensive.
Once you enter your website’s URL and click start, the generator will crawl your site and produce a summary report. You’ll be able to view the XML file and download it onto your computer.
You should look over your sitemap before you upload it and submit it for search engines to crawl. Let’s go over what should be included in your sitemap and what can be left out.
When it comes to figuring out what to include in your sitemap, consider which pages you’d like users to see in their search results.
This means you’ll add in the most important pages and posts on your site, with high quality content that’s meant to draw in organic traffic. Make sure you also include when each page was last modified.
You shouldn’t include the following:
You may also want to consider breaking your sitemap into smaller sub-sitemaps if your website is extensive. This will allow for faster processing. If your website has a lot of videos on it, think about creating a separate video sitemap for them as well.
Once your sitemap is in good shape, you can upload the XML file to the root domain of your website.
From there, you can (optionally) submit your sitemap to Google Search Console. You’ll need to have a Google account for this.
After you log in, you can add your sitemap to your account and wait for Google to crawl your site. It will most likely take a few days for your pages to be crawled and indexed.
Although Google may be able to find your website without a sitemap, it is anSEO best practice to have one. There are millions of websites on the internet, and even with Google’s impressive technology and power, the search engine can only go through them so fast.
Creating a well-organized sitemap will set you up for better search rankings and increased organic traffic. With a variety of free tools, software, and plugins available to you, getting a sitemap up and running is something everyone can do.
January 25, 2021
We’re always sharing insights, findings, and case studies with our subscribers. Sign up to get our best SEO tips and advice in your inbox.