SEO has a lot of components to think about, especially in the realm of building relevant content that catches search engines’ attention. The end goal of all this is for a search engine to review your site and deem it relevant to what users are looking for – and this happens by search engines crawling it to discover what content your site contains. With a well-crafted sitemap, you can optimize this process to ensure that search engines see everything you have to offer and leave out stuff that doesn’t help your ranking.
What Are Sitemaps and How Do They Help SEO?
A sitemap is a type of director that has information on website pages and content in an accessible form. There are two types:
- An HTML sitemap provides an index of major web pages to help users find what they’re searching for. They do not include every possible page.
- XML sitemaps can seem more complex because they index many more pages. They also allow for a custom hierarchy of web pages, providing specific pages for crawling by search engines.
Both forms of sitemaps can help your SEO strategy by establishing a clear path for crawlers to take when evaluating your site, as opposed to letting them automatically do so. When you set the path, you can ensure that all pages related to your targeted keywords and larger topics all become part of how the search engine lists you, potentially boosting your rank.
You can also set up a sitemap to not include certain types of content. One feature that’s useful for SEO is taking out PDFs that are downloadable versions of content already on your site as a separate web page. When you do this, you can avoid penalties from search engines for uploading duplicate content. Other types of content you may not want to include are sign-out pages or ones that list sensitive information.
For a sitemap to be effective in boosting your SEO strategy, you will need to upload it to Google after completing it.
How to Make a Google Sitemap
While an HTML sitemap can benefit your website, an XML one can provide even greater detail for search engine crawlers to work with when ranking your site. One of your options for developing a sitemap is to use a generator. These tools tend to produce a free XML sitemap so long as your website is under 500 pages. If your site is larger, then you’ll likely have to find a paid tool that will take care of the process for you. Depending on the tool you use, you’ll find different customization options for what pages to include when generating the map.
It is also possible to manually create your sitemap. This process will take longer, but it can serve as a great opportunity to explore the flow of your website and understand if there are any issues in the user experience. For this process you’ll want to:
- Remember to include only pages that you want in Google’s index. If it doesn’t meet this requirement, you shouldn’t bother to include it.
- Collect pages. If you’re conducting a human crawl of your site, start at the homepage and work from the main navigation. You can also use a crawler that will give you a list of your website’s URLs without necessarily building them into an XML format for you. Once you’ve collected everything, you can start to group them and take away any pages that don’t relate to what you want in Google’s index.
- Code URLs. Once you have your list of web pages, you’ll want to code them properly in a text editor. This includes:
- Opening with a <urlset> tag
- Adding urls with <url> and <loc> tags before and after (< url> <loc>[Website url]</loc> </url>
- Closing the file after the last URL with </urlset>
- Save as an XML file. Many text editors allow this as one of your saving options. The recommended name for this file is xml, so it’s easy to identify when added to your site.
- Validate the sitemap. As with anything you make by hand, there’s a chance you may have mistyped a code. To make sure everything works, you’ll want to use a validator to find and fix any errors.
By following these steps, you’ve completed a sitemap that you can also edit as your site adds and removes web pages.
Submitting Your Sitemap to Google
To make your sitemap available to Google, you’ll need to submit it. This first requires you to add the sitemap to your site’s root folder, either by you or a member of the development team. This will locate your sitemap at yoursite.com/sitemap.xml. At the same time, you’ll also want to add this location to your robots.txt folder as Sitemap: https://yoursite.com/sitemap.xml, which will then make it accessible to crawlers.
After you’ve completed these steps, you then go to your Google Search Console account. After signing in, you’ll then:
- Click Crawl > Sitemaps >Add/Test Sitemap
- Enter “/sitemap.xml” and submit
Conducting regular pings on your sitemap can help ensure that Google will crawl as much of your sitemap as possible, as search engines often don’t crawl an entire site.
Updating Your Sitemap
If your website undergoes regular changes, you’ll want to keep your sitemap as updated as possible. At the least, you should update it whenever you add new pages that are relevant to your SEO strategy, like blog updates.
If you have a site that undergoes several updates in a day, you should perform an update daily to ensure that Google always has the relevant information to crawl your site properly. This includes both updating the XML file in your root folder and resubmitting the Add/Test Sitemap form in Google Search Console.
For more accessible content for bots, you can also further create a sitemap index that will provide access to several individual sitemaps. This will also allow you to keep your index in place and only update your individual sitemaps as necessary without needing to resubmit to the Google Search Console.