A sitemap is one of the things that helps in getting better Search Engine Indexing and Ranking for sure. This is a step by step guide for all those beginners, who are new to the topic of creating sitemaps for their websites and blogs. There are over 200 factors that can help in SEO and can improve your rankings and submitting a Sitemap to the searching engines is one of them.
What is a Sitemap?
As the name justifies itself, it is a map of your website. It usually contains a list or index of the different pages of your website or blog. Sitemaps can be created for a number of different purposes and therefore are of different types. The major three types of Sitemaps are defined below.
- A sitemap can be used by the website creators or developers to create a website or to add different pages on the website.
- A sitemap can be used to tell the visitors about the different pages that they can open on a particular website. These sitemaps are prepared in clear human-readable format and design.
Given below is the example of a Human-readable sitemap of the Microsoft Website.
- The third and most important types of sitemaps are the ones that are specially prepared usually as indexes and are meant to be read by the web crawlers of different search engines. These may or may not have a human-readable format.
The example of such a sitemap is an XML sitemap illustrated in the screenshot given below.
Such sitemaps can be created in different formats other than XML (Extensible Markup Language), such as in .txt formats. You can create a sitemap in any one of the formats depending upon the supported formats where you are meant to use or submit them.
- Some of the sitemaps may graphically indicate the linkage across the different webpages of the website.
I hope, the explanation given above gave you a clear idea about what exactly is a sitemap and how it can be used for different purposes. But still, to understand the most common usage of Sitemap, consider reading the following section.
Why Sitemaps Are Required?
So, what is the requirement of a website sitemap? Some of you might be able to guess the answer to this question after reading the above section. This section justifies the importance of sitemaps for a website.
Better Navigation For Visitors
The human-readable sitemaps simply aware visitors of the different pages that they can visit on the website and therefore helps in better navigation and surfing across the website.
Structured Sitemaps (Such as the XML Sitemaps) help search engines understand the pages of your website in a better and structured way. This further simply helps the Search Engine in better understanding the overall content of your website to do faster indexing.
Faster Links Discovery By Search Engines
If you publish some new content on a new page on your blog or website, then how a search engine will know that you’ve published something new meant to be indexed in the search engine? Well, even if you don’t tell Google or any other search engine manually, they have a mechanical known as Search Engine Crawling that automatically discovers the new pages on a website and indexes them in the SERPs. (Search Engine Result Pages)
Well, there’s no fixed time when for such a discovery of new pages on a website. Search Engines may sometimes even take a month to discover new links on a website this way. So, to notify search engines on a regular basis, Sitemap plays an important role. Whenever you publish a new page on your website, it is being mentioned in the sitemap, and from that search engine also gets notified about the new content and therefore it discovers the new content page on your site shortly without much delay.
These sitemaps are analyzed on a regular basis by the Search Engines and the time between two consequent Sitemap analysis may vary, depending on the authority and frequency of publishing new content of a website. Search Engines like Google and Bing offer Webmaster Tools in which you can submit the sitemap and you can request anytime to re-analyze the sitemap, whenever you publish something new on your website.
Before Creating A Sitemap
Before you can start creating a sitemap, you should plan about the links that you actually require to be included in the sitemap. You just won’t want to each and every page of your website to be crawled and indexed by the Search Engines.
Search Engines demands a sitemap that contains a structural index of your complete website. You should understand what is a good structure of a website sitemap. You can have multiple sitemaps for a website and can submit a common index for all the other sitemaps in a single index type sitemap. This is exactly what is being generated by Yoast SEO Plugin, illustrated for sitemap creation for WordPress websites, later in this article. It generates an index of multiple sitemaps and that is what you submit to the Search Engines.
Many SEO experts online the structure of a website sitemap is said to be good if you’re able to navigate to any end page of your website by going down up to three levels. For example, your website has category type pages and then further each category type pages have the end website pages. So in the index page, you sitemap contains, the link to category pages and further by clicking on any one of the category pages, you’re able to view the sitemap of the pages that are linked under that particular category.
The image given above gives a rough idea about the Sitemap hierarchy. The website pages like About Us, Contact Us, Pricing, etc. are the higher-level pages of your website and they needed to be at the top of the hierarchy of your website sitemap. I hope you got the basic idea of what I’m trying to explain here. If not, please put your questions in the comments section.
How To Create A Website Sitemap?
There are multiple ways to create a sitemap in the required format. Some of the most popular ways are discussed below with the detailed steps of creating a sitemap with them. In this section, we’ll talk about preparing Sitemaps for the Search Engines and not for visitors. The reason being creating a sitemap for website visitors is as easy as creating another webpage with some hyperlinks.
Manually Creating Your Website Sitemap
This is certainly not the best option but in some cases might be useful. It also requires you to be a little technical. You’ve to code your own website sitemap yourselves. All you need to have a but knowledge of the XML sitemap structure. You can find out XML Sitemap templates online and you can edit the template according to your website URLs.
The details about the XML Sitemap format can be found here. You can use any text editor like Notepad++ for editing an XML Sitemap Template. In an XML Sitemap, each listed URL has properties like location, last changed, changed frequency and priority of page. This simply tells the search engine crawler about the exact nature of the webpage and how frequently the search engine needs to check this page for any changes.
If you really want to create your website sitemap manually, you should spend some time in understanding the structure of a sitemap and how it can be prepared in the right format.
Search Engines like Google also allows you to submit sitemaps in .txt file format. These are really helpful in some cases. All you need to do is to create a new text file and add each URL of your website in a new line. In other words, .txt file format sitemap is simply a text file containing links of different pages of your website, one-page link in each line.
Given below is an example of a Text File based sitemap.
There are limitations specified by search engines, how many maximum links a single sitemap file can have in any of the different formats. So, you need to make sure about it also. If your website has lots of pages (10,000+), you may need to create multiple sitemaps or need to split the larger sitemap into smaller files.
Using Sitemap Generator Tools
There are a lot of Sitemap Generator Tools available online and offline that can be used to create sitemaps for your websites quickly. One of such popular online tool is xml-sitemaps.com
On this website, you just have to enter the domain name of your website and it will automatically start crawling the different webpages of your website. Under a free account, it lets you create a sitemap upto 500 pages. It takes some time to create the sitemap and then you can download your sitemap in the XML format.
This tool and other similar tools to create website sitemap use the internal links used on websites to find out all the different pages of the website and hence list them out in the sitemap. But this is not the most efficient way of creating a sitemap. Sometimes, the page that you might want to be indexed may not be anywhere linked or mentioned on other pages of your website. (Although it’s very rare)
Creating A Sitemap For A WordPress Website
Creating A Sitemap For A WordPress Website or blog is really simple. All you need to have a plugin installed and activated for the purpose. There are a number of different plugins available that will automatically generate a sitemap for you that you can simply submit. These plugins also ensure that the sitemap generated will be automatically updated whenever you publish something new on your website.
Yoast SEO is my favorite plugin for creating sitemaps for WordPress websites and blogs. This plugin has got more than 5 million active installs and 4.9 out of 5 Stars Rating by thousands of people! These statistics are mind-blowing and simply tells about the power of this plugin. Creating a sitemap is not the primary purpose of this plugin, it is an all-in-one solution to help in On-Page SEO of your WordPress website. Sitemap Creation is just one add-on feature of this plugin.
The steps to create a sitemap with the Yoast SEO plugin are given below.
Step 1. Install & Activate the Yoast SEO plugin. If you’re a beginner, then here’s a guide of installing plugins in WordPress.
Step 2. Open the General Settings of this plugin by going to the Yoast SEO menu and then click on General.
Step 3. Here on the General Settings page, go to the Features tab and make sure the XML Sitemaps option is in the ON state. Make sure you click on the Save Changes button if you made any changes.
Step 4. That’s all you have to do, now you can check your sitemap at the URL: your-website-domain.com/sitemap_index.xml
The sitemap link can also be found by clicking on the Question Mark icon placed right to the XML sitemaps option.
In WordPress, there are several other plugins for generating sitemaps. Three of them are listed and linked to their official WordPress Repository pages below from where you can read more about them and download them as well.
Upload Sitemap To Website Root
Once, you’ve successfully created the sitemap for your website, you simply need to upload the sitemap file to the root directory of your website domain. For example, if the domain is example.com, then you’ve to put the sitemap file in the root directory so that it could be accessed somehow like, example.com/sitemap.xml
You can upload multiple sitemaps as well. For example, example.com/sitemap-1.xml, example.com/sitemap-2.xml, etc. Uploading your sitemap to the website is really important, because, search engines webmaster tools will not ask you to upload the sitemap file, they’ll ask for the URL of the sitemap in your domain name. Moreover, most of the XML sitemap validation tools also require you to enter the sitemap URL to check for any errors.
Note. In case, you’re using a WordPress plugin that automatically creates a sitemap, you need not bother about any sitemaps upload to the root directory.
In case you’re not sure whether you have created the sitemap properly or not, you can check it using a Sitemap Validation Tool. If you’ve created your sitemap manually, you should definitely validate it first, before submitting it to the search engines.
XML-sitemaps.com offers an easy to use Sitemap Validator that can quickly check if you’ve created a valid sitemap or not. Go to the Sitemap Validator and Enter the URL of the sitemap of your website.
As soon as you click on the Validate Sitemap link, it will check for any kind of error in your sitemap and will immediately show you the validation results.
How To Submit A Sitemap To Search Engines?
The different search engines offer some tools and platforms using which you can use to submit your website sitemap to them. Google offers Google Search Console platform, formerly known as Webmaster Tools. I’ve already shared a detailed guide on submitting your sitemap to Google, which you can find at the following link.
Go to the webmaster tools, enter the URL of your sitemap in the Add a new sitemap box field, and click on the submit button. That’s what all you’ve to do to submit your website sitemap to the Webmaster Tools of Google or any other Search Engine.
Similarly, you can also submit your website sitemap to Bing Webmaster Tools.
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