What is a sitemap and do you create one?

Updated: September 29, 2020
What is a sitemap and do you create one?

Having a strong Google presence is the main goal of any business with a website that’s intended to generate leads. And to do that, you need quality content that a search engine deems valuable, and a flawless site map to let these bots crawl it.

Because of all this, it’s crucial to make sure that Google knows your you have a sitemap in place, so that it’s able to look through all of the pages your website contains. Ultimately, Your website gains meaning by the structure of your URLs, and your sitemaps show how they all link to each other so bots can figure out where your rankings sit for your page.

html sitemap diagram hanging on a wall

From there, your sitemap is used to rank you in searches for people who may be seeking your goods or services. An XML sitemap is effectively the roadmap used through your search console so that Google can send queries to the right destination. Obviously, it is absolutely vital that you have a site map if you want your fair share of that traffic.

We’ve created this piece so that you can understand what a sitemap is, how to implement them and how Google uses it to understand your site as a whole. Our guide will let you put sitemaps in place, also giving you an understanding of how you to create one. If you already have a sitemap – or need to update your existing sitemap – we’ll also dive into how you can get the best possible result for your site.

What is a sitemap?

At its base level, a site map is a file where you list all of the pages (including video and other files) that are housed on your website. It’s important your sitemap is set up correctly in search console, effectively outlining how these pages interact with each. When you create a sitemap, you’ll also demonstrate how all these pages are intended to function.

yoast seo plugin sitemap screenshot
Reliable Soft

If pages don’t have anything pointing to them, they can be very hard to find and they are not very likely to appear in Google searches. This is why it is important to have a sitemap on Google search console of all of the pages on your website, their order of hierarchy and how they interact with each other so Google search bots can index them and rank them accordingly for people that are searching.

XML sitemaps use coding to outline all of your pages, their order of priority, how it all links to each other, their history and how often they are changed to present a digital map for Google and other search engines to follow.

image showing how a xml sitemap works vs the website layout

Why do you need a sitemap?

The primary function of your website XML sitemap is to hand Google (and other search engines) the map to your website so that they can lead relevant traffic to the right pages of your site.

Google uses software called Googlebot which is a web crawler that searches the internet, analyses all pages and indexes them accordingly so they can be ranked and placed in search results themselves.

Your XML sitemap is going to simplify the process of indexing your site for web crawlers so that your pages are more likely to be ranked higher than a page that does not have site maps set up on Google search console at all. It will also deliver more relevant information to these crawlers like where the page sits on the website, where it falls in the hierarchy of URLs, when it was last changed and how often content is altered.

Providing a sitemap to Google search console for your page means you give more comprehensive information to bots when they’v crawled your site.

search console screenshot showing submitted and indexed urls from sitemap.xml

How to create a XML Sitemap

There are five simple steps that you should take to create an effective XML sitemap that will improve your page, web presence and rankings overall.

steps showing how to add a xml sitemap to google search console
How to create a sitemap - Shout Me Loud

Structure: Before you can create your sitemaps, you need to make sure you know precisely how many pages there are on your site. Review your site by starting with your homepage and noting all of the other pages and how they link to each other. There are many website sitemap templates out there that can give you an idea on how these should look. Then you want to put your most important pages up the top of your navigation and tier the rest of the pages below them in order of hierarchy.

Coding: Depending on how you set up your website, there are many ways you can code your page and URLs. If you have used WordPress to build your site, this functionality is available through plugins (like Yoast) that will basically automate the process. You’ll need to search, install and run these plugins then configure these sitemaps to suit your structure. You’ll need to manually code each of your URLs if you are familiar with this practice by adding XML tags to each of them.

Validation: To double-check all of the formatting of your content is correct, whether you have used a plugin or done it manually, put your sitemap URL into an XML Sitemap Validator. This will alert you if there are any issues that need to be fixed.

Place your sitemap: This should be located at http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml (where example is your domain name). You’ll need to then find your robots.txt file and add the sitemap location to this file. You’ll see see this robots.txt file is normally housed in your site’s root folder and can be accessed by using an FTP client or Cpanel file manager to view. Once you have located it, this is a simple Notepad format .txt file which is simply to modify and add the URL of your sitemap too.

showing how to add a xml sitemap to google search console
How to Submit Sitemap to Google - Reliable Soft

Submit: When all of these steps have been completed you can submit your sitemap to search engines including Google for crawling and indexing. This can be done through Google Search Console, which is very easy to set up if you have not already done so. Once you are in, navigate to Crawl on the left-hand side and then Sitemaps and click Add/Test. You can do a final check here and then submit your sitemap. Job done.

Frequently asked questions about XML Sitemaps

Why is an XML sitemap important?

You should keep your sitemap in a file that is smaller than 10mb with a maximum of 50,000 URLs otherwise web servers are going to become overwhelmed. If you need more space or more URLs, then you will need to create separate sitemaps for your content and contain then in a sitemap index file.

google search console showing where to find crawl errors
If you have issues with your crawlability, Google Search Console will tell you.

What is the difference between XML and HTML sitemap?

XML sitemaps have been written for search engines whereas HTML sitemaps are visible guides for humans. XML sitemaps have been formatted and presented in a way that the Google and other search engine crawlers will understand so they can index and rank your content and website accordingly.

Does your website need an XML sitemap?

Google itself has documentation recommending XML sitemaps for the really large websites out there with lots of content. But the reality is that every single page can benefit from having a sitemap and not having one puts you at a disadvantage to your competition that does.

How do I automatically update my XML Sitemap?

If you have set these up a sitemap in past, there is a chance they are not up to date because you have made changes to the individual pages and your website in general in that time. The easiest way to update them is to download a WordPress plugin (search Google XML Sitemaps in WordPress) and this will automate the process for you.

What is a sitemap and its purpose when it comes to SEO?

Your page will have lots of content to look through, so sitemaps help apply structure and meaning to a website. They ensure that Google, Bing and others index all of your pages and will help your search engine optimisation and grow your organic traffic through searches.

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, the team at Edge Marketing can help you sort our your sitemap issues and ensure your content can be clearly indexed by those nifty bots.

Sean -

SEO Director

1300 558 659 - www.edgeonline.com.au

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