A sitemap is a digital index of all content and pages on your site, delivered to search engines to ensure your content appears in search results for relevant keywords searches. All businesses should create sitemaps — which can be done for free using plugins — to ensure maximum exposure in search engines like Google.
If your site doesn’t offer quality content, a sitemap won’t help your business rank well in search engine results pages (SERPs). To help you create that quality content, Ignite Digital will evaluate your site to determine what improvements it needs to rank well in SERPs, then their experts will generate the content to make it happen. Click here to get a custom search engine optimization quote from Ignite Digital.
What Is a Sitemap & What Are its Benefits?
A sitemap is a list of all the URLs, content (text and multimedia), and information on a website. This includes tags, categories, images, videos, and details on when content was last updated. Sitemaps can either be HTML-based, meaning they exist on your site as a separate index page of all site content; or they can be XML-based, which is a file type used to store sitemap information that can be submitted to search engines like Google.
To create a sitemap, install and configure a sitemap generator plugin like Yoast on your website. Then, open a Google Search Console account and connect it to your website by copying and pasting the tracking code into your plugin’s tracking code field. Locate the sitemap URL that Yoast produces and paste it into your Search Console. Finally, monitor your Google Search Console reports for the next few weeks to ensure Google indexes your content.
When a sitemap is submitted to a search engine like Google, it helps to ensure the search engine is aware of the content the website owner would like evaluated for listing in search engine results pages (SERPs). This process serves your business by continually increasing the chance that key content on your website appears when people search related keywords. Don’t worry about updating your sitemap; Yoast will take care of that for you.
According to Google, XML sitemaps are especially important to generate and submit to search engines when you’ve launched a new website, when your website has a lot of content or large archives, and when a website uses rich media like images and videos. While Google crawls internet content constantly, sites like these benefit from providing Google with extra crawling guidance, ensuring their websites get maximum exposure and higher rankings in SERPs.
How to Create & Submit a Sitemap in 5 Steps
There are both automated and manual ways to create a sitemap. However, we’re going to lean on an automated process using WordPress, due to its popularity, and the Yoast plugin, as it makes it easy to create a sitemap for a small business owner. In fact, the free Yoast plugin creates an XML sitemap with only the toggle of a button. Once you have created your sitemap, all you need to do is submit it to Google.
Here’s how to create and submit an XML site map in five steps:
1. Install a Site Map Generator in Your CMS
To begin, log in to your WordPress website backend.
Once your dashboard appears, look to the left-hand menu and click the “Plugins” option. Then, from the pop-up menu, click “Add New.”
Use the search bar to find “Yoast SEO.” Once you’ve found it, click “Install Now.” Wait for it to install. You will know it’s installed once the “Install Now” button changes to an “Activate” button. At that point, click the “Activate button.”
Once installed, you can begin using the Yoast plugin by clicking “SEO” from your WordPress dashboard menu.
2. Generate Your Sitemap
Once Yoast is installed, you can easily generate your XML sitemap. From your left-hand WordPress dashboard menu, click “SEO.” A submenu will pop up revealing more options. From the submenu, click “General.”
On the next screen, click the “Features” tab.
Once inside, you will see a toggle switch labeled “XML sitemaps.” Toggle it to “On.” Click “Save changes.”
3. Connect Google Search Console to WordPress
Now you must submit your sitemap to Google Search Console — a platform that allows you to monitor and maintain your site’s presence in search results pages. But, first, connect Google Search Console to your website. This will allow it to begin tracking your website pages. To do so, open a Google Search Console account and add your website domain. Then, copy the authorization code and paste it into the Yoast Google field. Finally, verify your website.
Begin by opening another tab on your browser while leaving your WordPress dashboard open; you’ll need to switch between the two as you complete this step. Next, visit the Google Search Console website. Click “Start Now” and follow the prompts to open an account. Next, enter your domain under “URL Prefix.” Be sure to include all prefixes to your domain, including “www” and “http” or “https,” as shown below. Click “Continue.”
On the next screen, scroll down to find the “HTML tag” option and click the down arrow at the far right.
When the HTML Tag option expands, you will see a snippet of code. Highlight this code and then copy it.
Now, click on the browser tab for your WordPress website’s dashboard. Click “SEO” from the left-hand menu. When the “SEO” menu option expands to reveal a submenu, click “General.”
Next, click the “Webmaster Tools” tools. Scroll down to find the field labeled “Google Verification Code” and paste your HTML tag code. Then, click “Save Changes.” It will take you back to the Webmaster Tools page in case you want to add your site to other search engines.
Now, head back to the browser tab where you have Google Search Console open. Click the “Verify” button. You will see a screen congratulating you for successfully verifying the ownership of your website.
4. Submit Your XML Sitemap to Google Search Console
Now that you have a Google Search Console account connected to your website and you’ve generated your sitemap, it’s time to add your XML sitemap to Google. To do so, sign into your Google Search Console account (or click the browser tab with the Console already open). In the sidebar, click “Search Property” and select your website URL from the drop-down menu.
On the next screen, click “Sitemaps” located under the “Index” option. If you don’t see “Sitemaps,” click “Index” first to expand the submenu, then click “Sitemaps.”
In the “Add a new sitemap” field, type “sitemap_index.xml” after your URL. This is your sitemap URL, which is generated by Yoast. It always consists of your website domain, plus sitemap_index.xml. The complete URL would look something like “https://.yoursite.com/sitemap_xml.” Finally, click “Submit.”
5. Verify Google Is Indexing Your Site
Once you’ve submitted your XML sitemap to Google, it can take up to five weeks for Google to crawl your site. In the meantime, your sitemap will appear as “Pending” within Google Search Console’s “Sitemaps” submenu option under the “Crawl” left-hand menu option.
Once Google has begun crawling your sitemap, Google Search Console will show you data surrounding the pages it crawled and what content was indexed. For example, it will show you the number of links it found and which ones were indexed. To see this information, click “Crawl,” then “Sitemaps” in the Console.
Once Google has crawled your website, you do not have to resubmit an XML sitemap every time you make a change to your website. Yoast makes those updates automatically and the submitted sitemap link does not change.
While this is perhaps the easiest way to create a sitemap, there are other manual and automatic methods. Check with your website host to see how best to handle sitemap creation if you do not have a WordPress website.
Types of Sitemaps & Sitemap Examples
There are quite a few different types of website sitemaps. Some, like HTML sitemaps, are used to show your website visitors how your website is laid out. Others, like XML sitemaps, Video Sitemaps, Image Sitemaps, and Dynamic Sitemaps tell search engines like Google the content you wish to be listed in their search engine results pages when people search related keywords.
Here are the six types of sitemaps and their examples:
An HTML sitemap is a list of pages on a website organized in the hierarchy in which they are presented on a website. It serves as a table of contents for your website to make it easier for website visitors — not search engines — to find what they’re looking for. Each page listed includes a link so website visitors can click to navigate to it. Usually, website visitors can access a website’s HTML sitemap by clicking “Sitemap” from the website’s footer menu.
An Extensible Markup Language (XML) sitemap is a list of a website’s important pages, just like an HTML sitemap, but is written in XML — a code commonly used by Google to parse website content. This code includes a list of URLs, content, and accompanying data (like the date URLs were last modified).
Once it is submitted to a search engine like Google, an XML sitemap serves as a road map for bots to crawl a website. These bots evaluate pages to understand their content so they can then tell search engines how and when to include them in search engine results pages in response to people’s searches.
An image sitemap is an XML sitemap that is dedicated only to providing search engine bots with information about the images on your website. In addition to listing the images on your website, it also offers additional data about them like their URLs, geotags, captions, and other metadata search engines like Google can use to determine their relevance for user searches.
You can either create a separate sitemap for the images or you can add image information to your website’s XML sitemap. If your XML sitemap exceeds 50,000 URLs (the maximum limit for an XML sitemap), being able to create separate sitemaps — like an XML sitemap as well as a separate image sitemap — helps you get all your content indexed without anything being excluded.
It is recommended that any site primarily focused on image content, like a photography website, have separate XML and image sitemaps by default. This ensures search engines bots do not miss critical site content.
A Video sitemap is an XML sitemap that includes information about the videos on your website. You can either create a separate video sitemap or add video information to your larger XML sitemap. Smaller websites benefit from adding video information to their existing XML sitemap. Large websites that exceed 50,000 URLs or an uncompressed sitemap file limit of 50MB should create a separate video sitemap to ensure images get indexed.
Just as we mentioned when discussing the image sitemap, if your business sells or promotes videos (like webinars), you should create a separate sitemap for them by default. Because your business relies on them being indexed, this helps ensure none of them are missed by Google indexing.
Mobile sitemaps are used to map out content on your website specifically designed for feature phones. Feature phones are standard phones that offer text messaging and inbound and outbound calls, plus some select smartphone-type features, but aren’t as advanced as smartphones. Given advancements in smartphone technology, it is unlikely your small business needs a mobile sitemap. These maps are not for websites that are simply mobile-friendly.
Dynamic XML Sitemaps
A lot of plugins or crawling software create sitemaps that are static. This means that each time you add or remove content from your website, you have to create a new sitemap and resubmit it to search engines like Google.
However, other plugins and software, like Yoast, automatically update sitemaps every time changes are made. And, since Yoast allows you to submit a sitemap to search engines in link form, that link remains the same but the sitemap the link points to is automatically updated; this means you don’t have to resubmit your sitemap. A dynamic sitemap looks just like an XML sitemap but is often submitted to search engines in link form so it can be easily updated.
3 Top Sitemap Generator Tools
Sitemap generators are tools or plugins you can use to crawl your website to generate a list of all your website pages in sitemap form that search engines like Google will accept. While some sitemap generators are meant for only one type of site builder, others work for all site builders, are better for using on more than one website simultaneously, or are best for agencies serving their clients’ varied sitemap needs.
Here are the top three sitemap generators for small businesses:
1. Best Free Sitemap Generator for any CMS: Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is a website crawler and sitemap generator. The free version allows you to create an XML sitemap with just a few clicks and detect broken links so you can fix them to produce a high-quality sitemap. Regardless of the CMS you use, you can enter your domain and instantly begin crawling your website to create your map. Click here to get started with Screaming Frog.
2. Best Free Sitemap Generator for WordPress: Yoast
Yoast is a WordPress search engine optimization and sitemap generator plugin. It offers a free version that automates website sitemap creation with just a toggle of a button. Moreover, you never have to recrawl your site; Yoast will crawl your site every time you change it and automatically update the sitemap you’ve submitted to search engines like Google. Click here to get started with Yoast.
3. Best Sitemap Generator for Agencies: Slickplan
Slickplan is a sitemap generator that offers the ability to generate unlimited sitemaps for $89.99 per month. You can also brand your sitemaps for sending to clients to formalize them before submission to search engines like Google. Finally, you can use its drag-and-drop builder to build HTML sitemaps for client websites. These features make Slickplan the best sitemap generator for agencies. Click here to get started with Slickplan.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the purpose of a sitemap?
A sitemap is a listing of all pages on a website. Useful for both complex and basic websites, sitemaps show search engines all the content they need to crawl. Then, these search engines will show relevant content to searchers in SERPs when they search specific keywords. Google originally introduced Google Sitemaps to help businesses ensure that none of their website pages are missed when Google’s bots crawl the internet.
What should a sitemap include?
A standard XML sitemap should include all of the website URLs you want website visitors to be able to easily find on your website. For many small business websites, this includes blog posts, landing pages, product pages, tag overview pages, category pages, FAQs, about us pages, contact us pages, and team bio pages. It should also include your media, like your website photos and videos.
Do I need to submit a sitemap to Google?
Yes. By submitting a sitemap to Google, you show Google all the content on your website that you wish Google to crawl and index. By ensuring Google knows about this content, it can include all relevant information in search results.
How do I submit a sitemap?
To submit a sitemap to Google, begin by generating one using a sitemap generator like Yoast or Screaming Frog. From there, open a Google Console account and connect your website to it. Finally, submit your sitemap by pasting your website’s sitemap URL into the Console. You can do so under the “Sitemap” submenu option under “Index” in your Google Search Console left-hand menu.
Do I need a sitemap for SEO?
Yes. A sitemap is important for search engine optimization (SEO) because it helps to ensure all of the pages on your website are indexed by search engines like Google and included in relevant search result pages. If pages are not crawled and listed, you run the risk of losing traffic to those pages.
Bottom Line – What Is a Site Map?
A sitemap is a complete list of your website’s content. This information is shared with search engines so that they can include relevant content in search engine results pages (SERPs). Creating a small business sitemap can be automated via plugins like Yoast. Once you’ve generated your sitemap, be sure to submit it to search engines like Google and check back into your search engine account to ensure the content is being accurately indexed.
While sitemaps are critical for website visibility, if your website doesn’t offer quality content, a sitemap likely won’t help drive traffic to your site. To help, Ignite Digital can evaluate your website to pinpoint needed improvements and then create or improve content for optimal ranking. Click here to get a custom quote from Ignite Digital.