What is a Sitemap and When To Use It

It’s important to know what a sitemap is and when to use it.

sitemap seo

Your objective in this chapter is to learn what sitemaps are, how to create them, and when to use them.

What are Sitemaps?

A sitemap is exactly what its name reflects: a map of a website showing the location of pages.

In general, there are two formats and five different types of sitemaps.

Sitemap Formats
Sitemaps are formatted for two different uses. First, they’re formatted for search engines (for the purposes of this post, they’re called XML Sitemaps). The second format is for website visitors, which used to be more common in the early days of the web. However, now that most sites are formatted to create a streamlined user experience, this type is not as vital as it used to be.

Sitemap Types
The standard sitemap used by most websites shows the pages of the website. Others are focused on certain types of content, such as Video, Image, Mobile and News (not as widely used; depending on your strategy, they may not be used at all). These can include additional data relevant to the type of sitemap used. For example, the Video Sitemap has length of video, age appropriateness and thumbnail location. Check out Google’s Sitemap expectations here or keep reading our post for more information!

What does a Sitemap look like?
Here’s a visual example of a sitemap:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
  <url>
    <loc>http://www.enteryourwebsitehere.com/</loc>
    <lastmod>2012-04-30</lastmod>
    <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
    <priority>1.0</priority>
  </url>
  <url>
    <loc>http://www.enteryourwebsitehere.com/page-you-want-to-include</loc>
    <changefreq>yearly</changefreq>
    <priority>0.4</priority>
  </url>
</urlset>

Let’s break it down.

Line 1 and 2: These provide basic information about the format of the sitemap.

<url> tag: This signifies the beginning of url in the sitemap.

<location> tag: This states the page’s location that we want the sitemap to include. Each URL must contain both of these tags in order to be processed.

Within each URL you have the ability to add more information to inform search engines about more relevant information. In the example above, there is more information. Here’s what’s included:

<lastmod> (the date the page was last updated). This tells search engines when you last updated your content.

<changefreq> tells search engines how often you are updating this page and how often they should crawl your site (although most search engines don’t “listen” to this anyway).

<priority> tag which tells the search engines the overall importance of the page in comparison to others. This ranges from 0.0-1.0; typically the home page will be a 1.0 and most inner pages are 0.5.

Note: There is never a reason to create duplicate listings of the same page. This will not help you, and potentially could cause issues. Also, make sure you do not include any pages that you don’t want indexed.

How to Create a Sitemap

We have good news here for WordPress users! There are a number of plugins available that automatically create a sitemap with a few simple clicks. For large sites (10k+ pages) this may not be the ideal, but for most websites it will work just fine.

We recommend SEO for WordPress by Yoast, which has a built-in sitemap generator, or Google XML Sitemaps Generator by Arne Brachhold. (You only want one version of the sitemap on your site so make sure that you are not using both.)

Once either of these plugins are installed and activated they will automatically generate a sitemap for your site. To view it you go to your yourwebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml in Yoast and yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml with Google XML Sitemaps Generator.

How to Use a Sitemap

Since the main reason for creating the sitemap is for search engines, we want to make sure they find it. There are three main ways to do this. You can do all 3 (which helps the robots by providing multiple ways to find your sitemap); however, at minimum, we recommend doing the first one.

  1. Submit Your Sitemap Through Webmaster Tools. This is highly recommended and probably the best way to help search engines see your sitemap. In the US this should be done with both Google and Bing.
  2. Add Your Sitemap to Robots.txt. This file is made specifically for the robots and is a close second for best methods.
  3. Add a Link in the Footer. This is a simple way to get the link in front of the robots. Make sure to tag the link with a rel=”nofollow” tag.

You’ve met your objective in this chapter of learning what sitemaps are, how to create them, and when to use them.

You’re almost done with this section! Let’s wrap it up with the final chapter by clicking “Next Chapter” below!

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