Semalt Explains How To Create A Sitemap - Google's Tourist Map Of Your Website
A sitemap is a map for Google that shows them around your website and highlights the most important pages that you think should be part of their search results.
Think of Google as a kind of tourist on your site. They want to see your biggest and most important sights. Then they assess whether your pages are worth recommending to the many users in the form of high rankings on the relevant keywords.
But to find your way around, it is useful for the search engines to get a tourist map, so that they do not have to rediscover your site. That is the purpose of the sitemap.
As you already know, Semalt's main goal is to help you get the most out of your online business and this site map is part of what you will need to get there.
So, our discussion today will be based on three main points:
- What is a sitemap?
- Why should all websites have a sitemap?
- How to create a sitemap - from start to finish
We also give you recommendations for sitemap generators that you can use - whether you use WordPress, SiteCore, Drupal, Shopify, or a fifth CMS.
What is a sitemap?
A sitemap is a map of your website that can be read by Google and other search engines.
The sitemap creates an overview of all subpages (front page, landing pages, blog posts, etc.), so it is easy for search engines to visit and assess the content and value of your website.
Although Google is getting better and better at reading your page, errors may still occur or crawlers may have difficulty navigating your page. That problem is solved with a sitemap.
There is no guarantee that Google will index your website so that you can be found in their search results. But the sitemap increases your chances because you would know for sure that Google's crawlers can find their way around.
Why should my site have a sitemap?
Sitemaps are useful tools for SEO because they guarantee that your page will be read correctly by the search engine crawlers.
If the page is unreadable, or Google is unable to crawl your site, you run the risk that your main subpages - where you have already optimized - will have a hard time ranking in the search results.
Especially new pages or pages with few links (both internal and external) can be overlooked if you do not have a sitemap.
Sitemaps can also have the benefit of clarifying the taxonomy or structure of your website, making it easier for you to assess whether your site is user-friendly and intuitive to navigate.
How to make a sitemap
There are many ways to create a sitemap. In the following, we explain what the individual choices may mean for your SEO.
Static or dynamic?
You can either choose to create the sitemap yourself or use a plugin or a sitemap generator to create it for you.
The advantage of making a static sitemap is that it is relatively simple and you have full control over how it is set up. In return, you also commit to updating it manually every time you create a new page or blog post.
Most people choose to create their sitemap dynamically. This means that you install a module or plugin on your site that creates your sitemap for you. Newer versions of WordPress (5.5 and later), Shopify, and many other CMS systems also allow you to create your sitemaps.
A dynamic sitemap is always up-to-date and ensures that no errors have occurred. In some cases, however, it may be difficult to edit directly, such as if you want to prevent certain subpages from being indexed by Google.
Plain text, XML or RSS?
Google recommends a variety of formats for creating your sitemap. You can e.g. set it up in plain text format, XML, or with RSS.
Plain text is a plain text file where you enter each URL in its full name (including HTTPS: // www.) And make a line break after each address. The text must be set up with UTF-8 encoding. You can select this when saving your text file.
Plain text is the simplest and most scraped form of sitemap - and therefore also the fastest. However, you cannot add additional information such as Meta descriptions or page titles.
XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a markup language that is widespread on the web. Excel and Google Sheets can all be used to create XML files. Here you have to set up the sitemap in the same way as with plain text - except that you can include additional information, which may appear in the search results.
XML is probably the most widely used format because it is easy to auto-generate, and you can add important extra information that helps drive more traffic in from search results.
If your CMS system is designed for blogs, you will most often also have an RSS feed that allows people to subscribe to your site. The RSS feed can also be used as a sitemap.
Crawl budget - how big is your website?
A sitemap can only contain 50,000 URLs and a maximum of 50 MB. Otherwise, it is necessary to create several separate sitemaps.
The bigger your page, the bigger your sitemap will be.
However, it is rarely necessary to have multiple sitemaps. It is often only relevant for webshops that have many different products that all need to rank in Google.
Google also allocates a limited budget for crawling your page. This means that they may not be visiting every single one of your subpages. It is also called a crawl budget.
Your crawl budget depends in part on how fast your website's hosting server is; if your page loads slowly or if your page does not get many visits. Popular and well-visited pages are indexed faster than pages with little to no traffic.
What should be in the sitemap?
When creating your sitemap, you should prioritize adding the pages that are most important to you and your users. Therefore, they should also be most important for your SEO work.
For example, it may be relevant if you have pages with similar (or duplicate) content. In that case, you want to make sure that only one page is ' canonical ' in Google's eyes. In most cases, the search engines will preferably only show one search result from the same page per page search.
What can be chosen from?
You can also completely opt-out of including certain pages in the sitemap if they do not serve an SEO purpose. Those pages can also be tagged in metadata as 'noindex'.
For example, if you tag your blog posts, and since then automatically generate a common page for all posts with the same tag, it may be a good idea not to include that tag page in your sitemap. It will just create extra steps for Google crawlers.
Here it is important to mention that even if the page itself does not rank high on a keyword, it can still be beneficial to include it in the sitemap. SEO is a holistic discipline. So make sure you only remove content that could be confusing or harmful to your SEO efforts.
You can also use the sitemap to add additional information about videos and images to your page. It could be the length of the video, a short description, number of views, etc.
Where should I put my sitemap?
Your sitemap should always be as close to the front page - or your root directory - as possible. This means that it will often have a web address or URL.
The sitemap must also be included in your website's Robots.txt. It's another text file in your root directory that tells machines such as Google's crawlers how to behave on the page.
Remember: add your sitemap to the Search Console
Once you've created your sitemap, you should always upload it to the Google Search Console.
Search Console is Google's SEO tool. Here you can e.g. track what keywords people access your page on, how much traffic your page gets from Google search results, and much more.
When you upload a sitemap to the Search Console, you ask Google to crawl and index your page. This is especially relevant if your site is brand new.
Should I use a sitemap generator?
Google has previously maintained its list of sitemap generators. However, the list will no longer be updated.
Of course, it is also possible to use Google to find a variety of sitemap generators, including XML-sitemaps.com or Screaming Frog. They both have free editions where you can map up to 500 unique subpages.
The disadvantage of using an external sitemap generator is that the sitemap is only static. It's a snapshot of what your page looked like when you generated the map.
Many CMS systems such as WordPress (version 5.5 and later) and Shopify automatically create dynamic sitemaps. It is often the best solution if you add a lot to your page and thereby keep your page relevant to the users.
When it comes to sitemap generators such as modules/plugins, we have particularly good experience with Yoast.
Yoast - free plugin for WordPress
Yoast is a free SEO tool for WordPress that helps you master the very basic requirements for good SEO. Yoast therefore also auto-generates an XML sitemap across your entire website.
Yoast also allows you to edit your sitemap or set up specific rules, such as making certain pages 'noindex' or by highlighting selected pages as 'canonical' (if two pages are very similar and only one needs to appear in the search results).
WordPress automatically creates sitemaps
Starting with WordPress version 5.5. (released in August 2020), WordPress now sets up a dynamic XML sitemap on your page.
Therefore, if you are using a plugin or have created your own sitemap, you must research whether you should:
- Do nothing
- Disable WordPress sitemap
- Remove your old sitemap
If your current page is updated to version 5.5. And you suddenly have two sitemaps on your page, you may confuse the search engines.
However, it should be mentioned that Yoast and most other regularly updated plugins handle the integration with the latest version of WordPress automatically. This means that you do not have to do anything yourself.
Get rid of the work and get a free SEO analysis from Semalt
Do you want to avoid making mistakes in your sitemap, robots.txt, or anything else on your website?
Then you can get rid of the hassle and order a free SEO analysis from Semalt. We give you an overall overview of your site's health and potential, as well as a review of the keywords we assess, are most relevant to you and your company.
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What is a sitemap?
A sitemap is a map of your website that can be read by Google and other search engines.
Where do I put my sitemap?
Your sitemap should be as close to your root directory as possible.
Does WordPress automatically create a sitemap?
Starting with WordPress 5.5. WordPress itself creates a sitemap. If you have an older version, you can install the SEO plugin Yoast, which itself generates a sitemap.
We have come to the end of our journey on the sitemap and I hope this article has been useful to you. So, if you have any concerns about how your site works, please do not hesitate to contact us, our consultation is free.
So I wish you good luck and see you soon!