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What if there was a simple hack to increase the crawlability and indexability of your site and improve the user experience at the same time?
Yes, we’re pointing at Sitemaps!
Although adding a sitemap is not mandatory for your website to be functional, it brings a host of SEO benefits to your site. They help your site rank better by helping Google locate new and updated pages.
Besides, they also help search engines understand your site architecture better.
So let’s understand the A to Z of sitemaps and how you can leverage them to improve your site’s search performance.
What is a Sitemap?
In simple words, a sitemap is a map or virtual layout of your website. It helps Google understand your site structure, crawl, and index different web pages.
Sure, implementing a robust internal linking structure is the best way to let Google know the relationship between different pages of your site. But let’s face it. As the number of pages on your site grows, it becomes challenging to keep all of them well-interlinked.
That’s where sitemap complements your internal linking strategy. Besides, there are multiple other reasons to create a sitemap that we’ll discuss in the later section.
What Does a Sitemap Do?
Since search engines assign a crawl budget for each site, they don’t crawl each and every page on your site.
At the same time, you also don’t want Google to crawl every single page on your site. For instance, pages like admin and login pages, thank you pages, repetitive pages due to search filters, etc.
But you certainly want search engines to crawl and index all the important pages. That’s where the sitemap acts as a roadmap for search engines. It guides Google toward the important pages on your site.
Instead, think of it like this — the pages that you think are important and Google should crawl and index — include them in your sitemap.
What Type of Websites Need a Sitemap?
Sitemaps don’t have any direct impact on the search rankings and it’s not a ranking factor. However, according to Google your site may require a sitemap if:
- Your website is very large: Due to crawl budget limitations, Googlebot may miss crawling some of the pages. Especially the new and updated content.
- Your web pages aren’t well-interlinked: If your website hosts a huge archive of content and they lack internal linking, it becomes difficult for Google to crawl and index them.
- Your website is new: New sites may lack adequate internal linking opportunities. In such cases, sitemaps can substitute the role of internal links.
- Your website has an abundance of multimedia content: If your site publishes a lot of rich media content like images, videos, news, etc., sitemap is a way to provide additional information to search engines.
Benefits of Sitemaps
Here are the key benefits of creating a sitemap for your website:
- Faster indexing: An XML sitemap helps search engines crawl your site more efficiently by informing them of the location of important content on your site. Thus, Google can find, crawl, and index these pages faster.
- Informs Google about changes: Google usually finds new and updated content through the internal links on your site. That’s the normal indexing process. However, if you update your XML sitemap whenever you update or change content, it alerts Google about the changes. As a result, these pages would get crawled and indexed sooner.
- Better user experience: HTML sitemaps help users easily navigate through your site. So it improves your site’s user experience (UX) which is an essential ranking factor.
Types of Sitemaps [And How to Create Them]
There are three main types of sitemaps — XML, HTML, and Visual sitemaps. While all of them have direct or indirect SEO benefits, they serve different purposes.
Let’s understand more about them.
Extensible Markup Language (XML) sitemaps are specifically created to aid search engines in crawling and indexing your web pages. It provides Google with a single overview of all the available content on your site.
An individual XML sitemap can contain up to 50,000 URLs and its size shouldn’t exceed 50MB. If you’re running an eCommerce or publication site, your sitemap can easily exceed the above limits.
In this case, you can break it up into multiple smaller sitemaps. However, when you submit it to Google, combine them into one sitemap index file rather than submitting individual sitemaps.
And even if you don’t have a very large site, you can still choose to create multiple sitemaps and consolidate them into an index file for better organisation.
For example, we have three XML sitemaps in our index file.
Once you click on a sitemap, you can see the list of URLs it contains. For instance, we clicked on the first sitemap as shown in the above image.
And here’s the list of URLs in the first sitemap. As you can see, there are 46 URLs in this XML sitemap.
The sitemap.xml file is typically located in the root directory of your HTML server. So you can check it by entering your domain name followed by sitemap.xml.
For example: http://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml.
That said, let’s understand the process of creating an XML sitemap.
How to Create an XML Sitemap?
- WordPress users: If you’re using WordPress CMS, you can simply add wp-sitemap.xml at the end of the URL while publishing the page. And it’ll be added to your sitemap.
However, that’s not the most effective way to create a sitemap. Instead, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. It puts you in control of how you want to organise your sitemaps.
- Other CMSs: If you’re using a different CMS, you can create sitemaps with the help of sitemap guidelines of that specific CMS. For instance, here you can refer to the guidelines for creating sitemaps for Squarespace and Drupal.
Alternatively, you can also check the SEO/sitemap plugin available for the CMS you’re using.
Moreover, if you want to get the maximum SEO benefits of XML sitemaps, you can also consider consulting a competent SEO agency before you create sitemaps.
Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is a list of web pages on your site. While XML sitemaps are created for SEO purposes, HTML sitemaps are primarily made to enhance UX.
An HTML sitemap helps users to navigate through your site easily. Usually, you can find them at the footer section of a website. For example, here’s the HTML sitemap for Apple’s Australia site.
They’ve listed and linked all their important webpages at the footer. Additionally, they’ve also provided a link to a detailed sitemap as shown in the image. Once you click Site Map, you’d be able to see all the pages on their site — organised categorically.
Although HTML sitemaps are designed for humans, SEO experts also vouch for their positive impact on SEO performance. Here’s why:
- Since HTML sitemaps improve UX, they add value to your SEO efforts.
- Improved UX can result in a lower bounce rate. And search engines perceive low bounce rates to be an indication that users like your site.
- HTML sitemaps include internal links to the important pages of your website. Thus, Google can easily crawl these pages.
So whether you have a large or a small site, HTML sitemaps can help you make it user and SEO-friendly.
How to Create an HTML Sitemap?
- Use plugin: Using a sitemap plugin that’s compatible with your CMS is the simplest way to create an HTML sitemap. With this method, you can create sitemaps without any technical know-how. All you have to do is follow the step-by-step instructions given by plugins.
- Add manually: For smaller sites, you can also create HTML sitemaps manually. However, this would require you to know the basic coding knowledge of the CMS you’re using.
Unlike XML and HTML sitemaps, a visual sitemap is mainly used for planning a website. It’s neither for SEO nor for users. Think of it as a visual reference for your site’s architecture.
In other words, visual sitemaps are primarily created by and for website owners or developers while designing a site.
Here’s what it looks like.
Now, let’s understand how you can create a visual sitemap for your website.
How to Create a Visual Sitemap?
- WordPress users: If you’re using WordPress CMS, you can simply download the Slick Sitemap plugin. And follow the instructions given in this video.
- Other CMSs: For CMSs other than WordPress, there are various online visual sitemap generators out there. You can use tools like DYNO Mapper or Octopus.do. Also, note that you can use these tools for WordPress too.
How to Submit Your Website’s Sitemap to Search Engines?
You’ve learned a lot today! So far, we’ve discussed:
- What a sitemap is
- What a sitemap does for your site
- What type of sites need a sitemap
- The benefits of sitemap
- Types of sitemaps and how to create them
Now, what’s left is learning how to submit your website’s sitemap to different search engines.
Once you’ve created sitemaps, you can consider submitting them to the three primary search engines: Google, Bing, and Yandex.
First things first, if you haven’t registered your site with Google Search Console (GSC), do that first. Then follow these steps:
- Sign in to your GSC account.
- Select your site from the sidebar (Hamburger menu).
- Click sitemaps under the Index section.
- Add your individual sitemap or sitemap index file in “Add a new sitemap” field.
- Click Submit.
Here are the steps to submit your sitemap to Bing Webmaster Tools:
- Sign in to your Bing Webmaster Tools account.
- Select your domain from My Sites.
- Click Configure My Site > Sitemaps in the sidebar.
- Enter your sitemap URL — http://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml — into the text box at the top.
- Click Submit.
Here are the steps to submit your sitemap to Yandex Webmaster:
- Sign in to your Yandex Webmaster account.
- Select your site from the homepage.
- Click Indexing Options > Sitemap Files in the sidebar.
- Enter your sitemap URL — http://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml — into the text box at the top.
- Click Add.
For other search engines like DuckDuckGo and Ask.com, you’re not required to submit the sitemaps.
So that was pretty much how you submit your sitemaps to the search engines.
Meanwhile, if you don’t want search engines to crawl specific pages or URLs, you can create a robot.txt file. This helps you disallow the crawling of these pages.
However, be careful while using this function. Getting it wrong can make major parts or important pages of your site inaccessible to Google. So if you don’t have an in-house technical SEO, consider hiring external SEO services for the same.
Creating a sitemap is a simple process. But its benefits are plenty.
XML sitemap improves your SEO by helping search engines:
- Understand your site structure
- Locate your site’s important pages
- Crawl and index your pages faster
On the other hand, an HTML sitemap adds to your site’s user experience and thus enhances your SEO. So whether you’re running a large eCommerce site or a simple blog, add sitemaps to boost your site’s search visibility.
Also, feel free to get in touch with us if you need more information or help to create the right sitemap for your website.