Whatever your industry or audience, you include some of the same information on every website: Contact information, CTAs, landing pages, NAP, About us. But chances are you’re overlooking one of the most impactful elements of a website – the sitemap.
This blog post will explain what a sitemap is, why you need one, and why it’s an important SEO technique.
There are different types of sitemaps, but the one people are usually talking about are XML sitemaps: a list of URLs to individual web pages.
The sitemap is essentially a blueprint of your website. It provides search engines a bird’s eye view of the content, explains the hierarchy of pages, and tells when they were last updated.
A website can be a bit chaotic. This is especially true for huge websites, with thousands of URLs and content often added or changed. Think ecommerce or real estate websites.
“If your site’s pages are properly linked, our web crawlers can usually discover most of your site. Even so, a sitemap can improve the crawling of your site.” – Google
By creating a sitemap, you enable the search engine to focus on new and updated content. Without a sitemap, it would have to blindly crawl through everything to see if anything was added or changed.
The XML Sitemap has a few other benefits:
Google aims to provide searchers with relevant content, and needs to know as much as possible about your webpage in order to serve up the right results. The more you tell search engines about what viewers will find on your website, the better search engines can relate your web pages to search queries that fit.
That said, it is important to understand that Sitemaps will not directly affect search engine rankings, which are based on the quality of your pages. Search engines use sitemaps mainly for the discovery of new content and updates.
Building a sitemap is not an easy task, especially if your goal is to optimize it for search engines.
There are some tools out there that generate a sitemap for you: Screaming Frog, Powermapper, or InSpyder. Some content management systems will even generate them automatically. These are great solutions that work well for less complex websites, but they’re sometimes inadequate for websites with higher complexity.
Really large websites with more than 50,000 URLs will even need to split up their sitemap in multiple files. At that point, we definitely recommend getting in touch with a specialist.
Once you’ve got your sitemap ready, it’s time to feed it to Google.
The first step is to test your sitemap files before submitting them to Google. Testing your sitemap makes sure that you are submitting an error-free sitemap. You can do this with Google’s sitemap test tool, which is part of the Search Console. When the test is complete, it will give you an overview of the sitemap content and any errors that have occurred during the test.
The second step is making your sitemap available to Google. There are two ways to do this.
You can add the URL to the sitemap file in robots.txt. The next time Google’s crawlers check the file, they’ll automatically pick up the sitemap and check it as well.
However, if you prefer to stay in control, you have the option of directly submitting it to the Google Search Console.
The hardest part comes after submitting the sitemap: waiting for Google to start crawling and indexing your website. As with any SEO-related task, it takes some time before search engines pick it up.