Building a sitemap is often one of the first tasks an SEO, web design agency, or webmaster will do when beginning a new SEO campaign or website design project. Many websites will see an increase in traffic and enhanced SEO results after submitting a sitemap to popular search engines like Google and Bing. Therefore, creating a sitemap for your website is an important and relatively simple step that can boost your website’s performance. Keep reading to learn what a sitemap is, why they are important and how to create them!
What Is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is exactly what its name suggests: a map of all of the pages on your website. Sitemaps are typically arranged in a hierarchical structure. For example, your website’s homepage would likely be the most important and top page on your website. The next most important pages may be category pages or service pages, which are followed by subcategories and individual product pages. Of course, your sitemap will be unique to your business and your website.
Types of Sitemaps
There are different types of sitemaps used by humans and by search engines. Each has its unique purpose and is important in various steps throughout the web design and SEO process.
A visual sitemap is used during the planning of a website by web designers. It is a literal graphical representation of the pages on the website along with the structure and hierarchical relationship between them. This type of sitemap is nice to have, but is mostly just used when planning or designing a website.
An HTML sitemap is visible by humans and users of a website. It is often found on its own page on a website or in the footer, depending on how large the HTML sitemap is. An HTML sitemap is mostly for users, but it does have some SEO value as well.
HTML sitemaps exist to provide an improved user experience and allow easier navigation of the website. They typically contain links to the most important pages on the website, and they can be used to help users find a particular page they are looking for. By providing a sitemap for users, it could result in them browsing more pages on your website or increasing the amount of time they spend on your website.
In addition to providing a better user experience, HTML sitemaps have some SEO value. Including an HTML sitemap on your website, especially if it is in the footer of every page, increases the amount of internal links on your website. Internal linking is useful because it keeps search engine robots crawling your website longer, which decreases the chance a search engine robot will miss an important page on your website during a crawl.
While an HTML sitemap is very important for the reasons listed above, an XML sitemap is the most important for SEO purposes. An XML sitemap is a list of all of the pages on your website. The XML sitemap file tells search engines like Google about the organization of your site content and allows robots to crawl your site more intelligently. It is best practice to also include your XML sitemap file in your robots.txt file. Since the robots.txt file is the first thing crawled by robots, including the XML sitemap will make it much easier for search engines to crawl your website.
Since search engines are able to crawl your website more effectively, XML sitemaps are helpful in getting your pages indexed, which will make your website discoverable to users in search results. This is especially helpful if you have a very large website with many pages. However, if you have tens of thousands of pages on your website, you may actually want to have more than one XML sitemap. Having multiple XML sitemaps categorized by various sections of your website can help you better identify indexing issues that you could experience in the future.
How Do I Create a Sitemap?
Depending on your preferences, an HTML sitemap can be created like any other page on your website. Since XML sitemaps are most important for SEO, we’ll go over how to create them in more detail. Fortunately, creating an XML sitemap is easier than you may think. There are many different tools you can use to do this for free. Here are two of the most common.
Yoast SEO Plugin
If your website is built in WordPress, you should highly consider installing the Yoast SEO plugin. It is one of the best SEO plugins available. One of its features is the ability to generate an XML sitemap. If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, just make sure it is enabled. You will also need to make sure the “XML sitemap functionality” option is enabled. This will automatically generate an XML sitemap for your website that you can view and download.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
Screaming Frog is another great tool that is very helpful for SEO. It is free to download, but it will only crawl 500 pages of a website for free. If you have a smaller website, this is another great option! To create a sitemap, first crawl your website. Once complete, you can select “Sitemaps” on the menu bar and click “Create XML Sitemap.”
How to Submit a Sitemap to Google
Now that you have created an XML sitemap, you need to do two things: add it to your website and submit it to Google. You can add the XML sitemap to your website’s root directory and link to it in your robots.txt file.
To submit your sitemap to Google, you’ll need use Google Search Console. If you don’t have Search Console set up for your website, you’ll need to do so. Once in Search Console, select “Crawl” from the menu and then select “Sitemaps.” Then click the “Add/Test Sitemap” button. Enter the URL where you saved the sitemap on your website and click Submit. Google will take care of the rest! If done correctly, you should see a boost in your website’s performance and rankings.
Need Help Optimizing Your Website?
If you or your business is looking to develop an effective digital marketing campaign, WebFX can help. We are a full-service digital marketing agency with experience in a wide variety of businesses and industries. Call us today at 888-601-5359 to learn more about our website design and search engine optimization services!