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What is a sitemap and how to create one for your website

By Alexandra Gavril - November 19, 2019

You know when you travel to a new city and you need a map or directions to find specific museums or restaurants? Now think of the city as being your website and you, the tourist, being Google.

Google, just like a tourist in a new city, needs a little guidance to explore your website to learn more about it, what pages are important to visit and how best to get to them. That guidance comes in the form of an XML sitemap.

If you’re at all familiar with search engine optimisation (SEO), you likely know how important it is at helping to get your website found by potential customers in the search engine results.

Well, XML sitemaps are one of the key things that can make your site content easier to discover, explore and index by search engine spiders. As a result, it can also make your site easier to find by whomever is looking you up online on Google or other popular search engines.

In this post we’ll explain what a sitemap is and why every website, big or small, needs to have one. Then we’ll share a few tips to help you create, validate and submit your sitemap to ensure search engines don’t miss any important page or piece of content on your site.

What is a sitemap?

An XML sitemap is a file where you list all the important pages on your site that you want Google and other search engines to index. This helps search robots to better understand the logic and structure of your website. It also tells them which pages are important to crawl and index, as well as how often they’re being updated.

This is Google’s official definition of a sitemap:

“A sitemap tells the crawler which files you think are important in your site, and also provides valuable information about these files: for example, for pages, when the page was last updated, how often the page is changed, and any alternate language versions of a page.”

Here’s an example of a sitemap that includes a single web page so you get an idea of how it looks:

Source

Why is a sitemap important and does every website need a sitemap?

Search engines like Google want to provide users with the best, most relevant results to their search queries. To be able to do this effectively, they use site crawlers to read, organise and index information on the Internet.

This is where XML sitemaps come in handy. They make it easier for search engine crawlers to discover, read and index the content on your website.

It’s simple, really. When you include in your XML sitemap exactly what your key pages are, where they are located on the site, when they were last updated and how frequently, you can make your content easier to access by site crawlers.

As a result, this can increase your site’s SEO rankings and visibility in the search engine results pages when users look up specific keywords related to the content on your website.

Now, if you think that XML sitemaps are beneficial only for large or complex websites, think again. Google’s documentation says XML sitemaps are beneficial for all sites, from large and complex to “new websites with just a few external links to it” and “websites which use rich media content”.

So if you want Google and other search engines to index your content faster, and ensure they don’t miss any important page on your site, read on to learn how to create your XML sitemap.

How to create a sitemap for your website

You can create a sitemap manually or you can use tools that automatically generate it for you. Let’s explain what each option involves so you can decide which one works best for you.

1. Create an XML sitemap manually

 If you’re feeling adventurous, you can create your sitemap yourself, manually. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Your XML sitemap needs to include all the key pages on your site that you want Google and other search engines to crawl and index.
  • You will need to follow these steps to create your sitemap.
  • You’ll have to use a text editor to type in your links and information, and then save the file as .XML.
  • Finally, make sure to validate the sitemap to ensure it’s error-free. You can use a free tool like the XML Sitemap Validator for this purpose. Simply enter your sitemap’s URL and click “validate” to see if there are any errors you need to fix before you submit it to Google.

Unless you have technical skills, we’d strongly recommend going with the second option, which is to:

2. Use tools to automatically generate it for you

There are so many free and affordable tools that you can use to automatically create a sitemap for your website.

For example, if you have a small website, you can use the free XML Sitemap Creator. Simply enter your website URL, click “Start” and the tool will generate your site’s sitemap for you.

If you’re running your website on WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin includes a module that updates your XML sitemap automatically and submits it to Google and Bing whenever you publish a new post or page, allowing site crawlers to quickly find your new content.

The third option is hassle and worry free, and it’s called the Search Engine Optimiser. It’s a service from 123 Reg that takes care of submitting your website to the most popular search engines and getting it indexed so you don’t have to.

It automatically submits your website not just to Google and Bing but to hundreds of search engines. This can get you worldwide exposure, boost your SEO rankings and increase your visibility in the search engine results pages.

Find out more about the Search Engine Optimiser and the other advanced features it includes that can help make your site easier to find in the search engine results by your target audience.

How to submit it to ensure search engines can find it

Once you create your sitemap, you will first need to upload it to your website. Then you will need to submit the URL for your sitemap to search engines so they can easily crawl and index your website.

If you’re doing this manually, then sign into your hosting server and upload the sitemap.xml file you created to the root folder of your website. This will add your sitemap to your website as well, which you’ll be able to visit by typing in www.example.com/sitemap.xml.

(Replace example.com with your website’s address.)

If you’re using a plugin, the URL is most likely the same but be sure to check to make sure.

The next step is to submit your sitemap to search engines like Google and Bing.

To submit it to Google, you need to go through Google Search Console.

Some of you may already have this set up. If not, follow the steps in our guide to learn how to set up Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools).

Once you’re logged in:

  • Go to your Search Console dashboard
  • Click on Sitemaps from the menu
  • In the “Add New Sitemap” field add your sitemap
  • Click “Submit”.

To submit your sitemap to Bing, you’ll first need to sign up to Bing Webmaster Tools.

Once you’re logged in:

  • Go to My Sites and click on your website
  • Use the left-hand sidebar menu to go to Configure My Site -> Sitemaps
  • Now simply add the URL to your sitemap and click “Submit”.

That’s it. You’ve now submitted your sitemap to both Google and Bing so their crawlers can index your site faster.

Wrapping up

It doesn’t matter how big or small your website is. A sitemap is useful as it helps search engines like Google and Bing to better understand what your site is about and what pages and content are important to crawl, index and make more visible to users searching for your content and information.

You have no excuse not to create an XML sitemap for your website, especially when there are so many tools that you can use to manually or automatically generate and submit it to popular search engines. And if it all seems too complicated, technical or time-consuming, you can always use the Search Engine Optimiser service so it’s all taken care of for you.

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