What exactly is a sitemap?
In short, a sitemap is just a list of URLs mapped out of the website.
Sitemaps advise search engines to find and crawl pages on your website. which improves recognition and boosts a site’s overall ranking. Website sitemaps, therefore, aid crawlers such as the Googlebot, to read data in the file, and crawl more intelligently on site as a result.
Many automated sitemap tools have been known to include URLs that have been actively excluded from a search engine’s view. The last thing we want to do as digital marketers is to inform both to crawl and not crawl the very same page, simultaneously.
What functions does a sitemap perform?
Depending on the purpose, two major sitemaps can be created depending on the user:
These sitemaps are constructed to aid visitors to view the website as a whole by linking through the site.
XML sitemaps also link to every page on the site, however, are displayed to not be viewable to visitors of the website, but more straightforward for search engine bots to read.
For this particular blog, we will just be focusing on XML sitemaps, as it is arguably most important for SEO purposes. However, it should be noted that submitting a sitemap does not always assure that the pages linked to will be indexed at all, due to complicated algorithms crawling at different times. Although, that being said, your site will definitely gain from a sitemap and you will not be disciplined as a result.
What are the benefits and limitations of a website sitemap?
- Improving the user experience considerably by developing site navigation
- Creating priorities through content categorisation
- A more efficient and effective crawl
- Broken links, that send visitors to a page, but no longer exist, could appear due to white spacing on tags when creating multiple sitemaps
- Not catching, and adapting errors from the sitemap once submitted
- Can be hard to manage large websites that have multiple sitemaps with lack of structure
How to create a sitemap for your website?
Below is an anatomy of a standard XML sitemap URL entry.
However, this being said, we rarely have to create these sitemaps physically. This is due to most content management tools systems and crawling tools now creating XML sitemaps automatically. Examples of sitemap generators include Screaming Frog and the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress.
Alternative sitemap plugins
- Google XML Sitemaps (able to edit individual pages and post settings)
- Yoast SEO (splits down each section to ensure the site is easy to read)
- Simple Sitemap ( the ability to view all site content in one place)
- PS Auto Sitemap (easy to install for beginner’s and to customise for the advanced)
How do you test a sitemap?
Before submitting your website sitemap to Google to show the search engine bots where your sitemap is, you are able to go into Google Search Console to test for any errors that may have arisen. This is a very important step to promptly fix, before being crawled.
How do you upload a sitemap?
After the sitemap is created, it must be uploaded onto your website, in order to gain any credit. After this, it’s essential to create a Google account, if not done so already, and upload the XML sitemap onto Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools). This can be completed by selecting crawl – sitemaps – add/test sitemap (on the far right-hand side). You can find the clear quality guidelines set by Google, here. It is extremely important to follow these guidelines closely as a violation of them can result in penalties and potential removal from the SERPs (search engine results page).
The process of submitting a sitemap:
- Ensure you test your sitemap first, as stated earlier.
- Press the Add/Test Sitemap button on the far right.
- Type in the website URL into the text box provided.
- Press Submit.
- Refresh your browser to see your new sitemap in the list.
- Click on the new sitemap to open the Sitemaps Details page and examine any errors that may have arisen about the sitemap or the URLs the website may contain.
It can take a while before Google can begin to process any sitemap that has been submitted. It should also be noted that Google cannot always crawl every single URL in the sitemap due to the very complex algorithms that make the decisions on what is best to crawl.
Have you found this beginner’s guide helpful with understanding sitemaps? Let us know in the comments below, or check out our other informative blogs here.