So, you’ve got your domain, your website, and have populated it with several pages. Now, you need a sitemap – but what is a sitemap? How do you create one? If you’ve never heard of a sitemap or are unsure of how to get started, researching sitemaps can be rough and frustrating. It’s best to take it slow and don’t rush your learning or your process; this will help you do things right and stay well-organized. Take your time to read every help article and step-by-step instruction thoroughly to soak up all the information.
What Is a Sitemap?
The basics of a sitemap are simple: it’s a list of all the pages on a website depicted by the extensible markup language (XML), which displays the information on the site. These lists of pages aid in search engine optimization (SEO) and are a requirement for some search engines in order to add your URL to their database.
These sitemaps may also include important information called meta data that provides details about each URL on your site. This information might include when the individual URLs each last received updates or how important each one is to your site. A sitemap is like a road map for your website that aids search engines in directing the searcher where he or she needs to go.
Importance of Sitemaps
Sitemaps have many important features. They are important simply by creating a list of all URLs and providing their importance and update information. This information provides SEO benefits as well as many other perks. Sitemaps can aid best in the following scenarios:
- The website is new with few to no backlinks.
- The website is very big.
- The content isn’t internally well-linked, making navigation difficult.
- The website uses rich-media content.
Tools to Create a Sitemap
Tools to create a sitemap come in many forms. Some are programs, while others are step-by-step instructions. These programs are among the most used for sitemap creation:
Any of these are individually worth the cost. WriteMaps is free to use, but the rest offer a free trial to give you a chance to try it out. While these options are the best choice to provide visuals along the way to creating your sitemap, there are others you can use that might not be as visual.
Some of these include:
- Screaming Frog XML Sitemap Generator
- XML-sitemap-generator.org WordPress Plugin
- InSpyder Sitemap Creator
- Sitemap Writer Pro
Building a Sitemap
An array of tools exist to help create your sitemap. You can also produce a sitemap on your own. Based on Google requirements, these steps will help you create a sitemap on your own:
- Use opening and closing tags
- Specify the namespace for each tag
- Include each URL as a parent XML tag
- Add a child entry for each parent tag
- Use UTF-8 encoding
All these steps seem complicated and confusing, but Google provides the Webmaster Tool to verify you’ve correctly created your sitemap. There are also references for checking you have the right format.
What happens if you don’t know coding? You can still create a sitemap on your own. It’s beneficial to understand HTML but you can certainly create a sitemap with basic knowledge of the important tags. Once you’ve got the information about tags and you’ve created one sitemap, it’s simple to duplicate for the next.
Submitting Your Sitemap
Now that you’ve written your coding, or had the generator tools do it for you, it’s time to submit your sitemap. There are different ways to go about submitting a sitemap to a search engine. First, you must know what search engine(s) you want to upload your sitemap to. There are many to choose from, but some are more prominent than others. Google and Bing are the two most recommended options.
In order to submit to Google, you must use Webmaster Tools and follow these steps:
- Select your site from the Webmaster Tools home page
- Click Site configuration in the left sidebar, then sitemaps
- In the top right, click the Add/Test Sitemap button
- Use the textbox that appears to enter/system/feeds/sitemap
- Click the submit button
This will check and upload your sitemap directly to Google and allow them to find and alert you to any errors that may exist within your sitemap. You’ll need to resolve these errors before Google will accept your sitemap. Once they accept the sitemap, Google will submit it to allow other search engines to see it’s available.
Another option for uploading your sitemap is Bing, which also powers Yahoo. Their process for uploading a sitemap is only two steps and very simple. You will need to go to your dashboard in their Webmaster Tools and click “sitemaps” in the “configure my sitemaps” dropdown bar on the left. Once you’ve completed this process, your sitemap will be available to all search engines.
It’s highly recommended that once you’ve submitted your sitemap to a search engine, you should also list it in your robots.txt file to ensure it’s found by all search engines and not just Google, Bing, and Yahoo. This is an important step to ensure all search engines are knowledgeable about your sitemap and have access to view and use it.
Sitemaps are important tools for SEO building. Search engines must have your sitemap available to provide URLs and details about your website to anyone searching for it and raise your SEO. With the tools and options listed above, creating a sitemap should come easy.
If you’re still questioning sitemaps or any aspect of how to create them, do more research. There is always something new cropping up about sitemaps and new ways to create them. Perhaps something will find its way to your research that makes creating a sitemap easier for you.
Remember to always create a sitemap for all websites. It’s the best chance your website has to grow in the rankings of SEO. By rising through the rankings, your site is optimizing the chances of higher traffic and a larger awareness of your brand. Having a sitemap is like having a roadmap; if you don’t know where you’re going, this will help you get there. Your customers and readers appreciate that assistance.