If you’re reading this blog post, then you probably have a website or are about to embark on the exciting journey that is designing and building a website. Great!
It’s tempting to want to dive right in but taking the time to lay the proper groundwork is, arguably, one of the most important things you will do throughout the web design process. Defining a sitemap is not only for human users but for search engines (like Google and Yahoo) too.
Let’s back up…
What is a sitemap?
A sitemap is, quite simply, a map of your (web) site. This map looks like a list of web pages that make up your entire website.
Maps are intended to provide direction from one point to another. So who would be needing that for your website? Two cases: people and search engines.
Unfortunately, these two parties do not speak the same language, which means they need different maps.
What are the different types of sitemaps?
In order to guide both search engines and human users through your website efficiently, you need to create sitemaps that speak to each of them. HTML sitemaps are for users like you and I, and XML sitemaps are for search engines.
HTML Sitemaps for Users
Have you ever looked for a specific store at a shopping center and can’t seem to find it? Generally, your next step is to find the directory and locate the “You Are Here” label in relation to the store you are looking for.
Similarly, a website sitemap helps you find the page you are looking for in the form of a list of linked pages.
They generally look something like this:
XML Sitemaps for Search Engines
XML sitemaps aren’t directly helpful to you or I but they are extremely helpful to search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
“A sitemap is a file you create for web crawlers, such as Googlebot, that gives them a list of web pages to crawl on your site. Although most web crawlers can explore and discover all the files on your site, a sitemap helps the crawler and can also provide metadata, such as how often the information on the page changes (suggesting how often it should be crawled).” -Google Search Console
By having an XML sitemap, you encourage these search engines to:
- acknowledge your website’s existence
- visit your website
- crawl your website
- index your website
Although XML sitemaps can be custom formatted with CSS, they generally look something like this:
5 Reasons Why You Need a Sitemap:
1.) It’s free.
There are zero downsides to having a sitemap. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of something that is beneficial AND free? It doesn’t end there: submitting your sitemap to Google is also completely free.
2.) It will save Google time.
Rather than you waiting around for Google to find you, you can go directly to the source by submitting your own sitemap to Google! This is especially important if you deal with time-sensitive content like a blog or news organization. You don’t have to wait for spiders to crawl your content. You simply submit your sitemap manually.
By taking the time to create a sitemap, you help Google help you…and your business.
3.) It makes your site easier to navigate.
If your users can’t find what they’re looking for on your website quickly and efficiently, you might notice high exit rates on certain pages.
Implementing an HTML sitemap is an easy way to help users find what they’re looking for when they get to your website.
4.) Better SEO → Better Rankings → Better Traffic → Higher Conversions!
…and who doesn’t want that?
By having an XML sitemap, you take a step in ensuring that your website has strong SEO, rankings, and traffic.
5.) Better reporting via Google Search Console.
By submitting your XML sitemap to Google Search Console, you’re able to find out the following valuable information:
- Type: The type of sitemap. Possible values:
- Sitemap: Standard sitemap
- Sitemap index: A sitemap of sitemaps
- Unknown: The submitted file is not a known sitemap type or the sitemap hasn’t been processed yet.
- Submitted: The date when the sitemap was submitted.
- Last processed: The last time the sitemap was processed by Google.
- Status: Status of the submit or crawl. Possible values:
- Processed successfully: The sitemap was loaded and processed successfully with no errors. All URLs will be queued for crawling.
- Has issues: The sitemap has one or more errors; any URLs that can be retrieved from the sitemap will be queued for crawling.
- Couldn’t be fetched: The sitemap could not be fetched for some reason.
- Count of URLs: The number of URLs listed in the sitemap. If this is a sitemap index, the number is the count of all URLs in all referenced sitemaps. Duplicate URLs are counted only once.
How do I submit my sitemap to Google?
- Head to Google Webmaster Tools.
- Select your site on Google Search Console home page.
- On the left hand sidebar, Click Crawl.
- Click Sitemaps.
- On the top right side of the screen, Click ADD/TEST SITEMAP
- In the field next to your domain, type sitemap.xml
Tip: Do not enter the page name or any extra text.
- Click Submit Sitemap.