A sitemap is a list of the pages of your website. Think of it as a digital blueprint, showing the information present in your website (e.g., URLs, text, and multimedia content) and the relationships between them. Having a sitemap is extremely important for SEO purposes, as it helps search engines like Google know which pages are the most relevant so that they can be found faster.
While there are multiple kinds of sitemaps, they are grouped into two major types:
- XML sitemap: Created for bots to crawl and index pages more effectively. A well-built XML sitemap will allow search engines to find the information they’re looking for on your site.
- HTML sitemap: Written for humans to find pages on your site through a structure of internal links, thus improving user experience.
Why Are Sitemaps Important?
Both XML and HTML sitemaps help search engine optimization (SEO) significantly. Submitting an XML sitemap to a search engine will direct it to find the relevant information on your website, which the search engine will then evaluate to determine if it’s valuable enough to be included in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for any queries.
On the other hand, HTML sitemaps not only improve user experience, but also link resources internally, giving search engines an idea of your site’s structure. Both types of sitemaps are critical in optimizing your website.
How Do I Create a Sitemap?
While you can create your own sitemap, most all-in-one site builders automatically generate one for you. On WordPress, by far the easiest way to create one is through a plugin like Yoast. Yoast will also update search engines every time you edit, delete, or add content to your site, so you won’t have to resubmit your sitemap to Google over and over again.
Best Sitemap Generator Tools
Sitemap generators are tools you can use to crawl each page of your site—automatically creating a sitemap. Not all generators work for every single platform. A plugin like Yoast only works on WordPress, but each content management system (CMS) will have an alternative to use.
Here are popular sitemap generators to check out:
- Screaming Frog: Best sitemap generator for any CMS. Note that Screaming Frog is only free for websites with up to 500 pages. Anything more than that—you’ll have to purchase the premium version.
- Yoast: Best free sitemap generator plugin for WordPress.org. Yoast also automatically updates your sitemap and submits it to search engines every time you change your content.
- XML Sitemaps: A web tool with a free sitemap generator for up to 500 pages for any CMS. A premium version is also available, which, like Yoast, automatically updates your sitemap every time you edit your content. You also have an option to install the software on your PC for free. This has no limits to the number of pages you can crawl, and can generate different types of sitemaps like image and video sitemaps.
Creating & Submitting Your Sitemap
Creating a sitemap on a CMS like WordPress requires a few extra steps, but most all-in-one website builders provide tools for users to easily create their own sitemaps. Depending on the builder or plugin you use, your sitemap may be generated automatically and resubmitted to search engines, or you may have to manually submit your sitemap for every change that you make.
Creating a WordPress sitemap can easily be done through a plugin. Once you’ve generated your sitemap, you can submit it to Google via Google Search Console. For this, you’ll need to already have an existing account on Google Search Console, so create one if you don’t already have one. Keep in mind that Google won’t see your data right away, and it may take around a day for Google to index your site.
Follow the step-by-step instructions on how to create an XML sitemap for WordPress.
Squarespace, Wix, Weebly & Shopify
These site builders automatically create a sitemap for you, which they update for every change in your content. This process may take a few hours to update on their servers.
To access your sitemap, add /sitemap.xml to the end of your domain (www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml or www.yourdomain.sitebuilder.com/sitemap.xml). Submit this to Google using the Search Console. Note that these builders don’t allow manual changes to your sitemap, and they don’t update Google on the latest version, so you’ll need to resubmit your updated sitemap manually.
Pro tip: On Wix, your first sitemap is automatically submitted to Google by linking your site via Wix SEO Wiz. However, any sitemap updates will need to be resubmitted manually.
Your sitemap is found in your Optimize tab. Click on Sitemap > Get Site Map to access the automatically generated sitemap, and submit it to Google.
Pages to Exclude
Part of optimizing your site effectively includes excluding information that isn’t relevant to search engines. While author bios, tags, and pages with little to no content (e.g., utility pages) can be helpful to users, they’re meaningless to Google. Sending them a sitemap filled with a lot of utility pages won’t increase your rankings in the search results. In fact, it will tell them that your website is mostly filled with irrelevant content.
These pages need to be hidden using a noindex tag, and depending on your CMS and plugins, there are different ways to go about it:
- On WordPress using Yoast, you have the option to exclude pages in your Dashboard. Find the post or page you want to exclude on your left-hand side menu, and expand the Advanced section. From there, find “Allow search engines to show this post in search results?” and select “No.” Once you publish or save the page, your sitemap will automatically be updated.
- On Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, access the specific page’s SEO settings and select the option to hide it from search engines.
- To noindex pages on Shopify requires editing your site’s robots.txt file. Learn how to noindex Shopify pages through adding code.
- On GoDaddy, the option to exclude pages is found on the Search Engine Visibility Sitemap page. Simply select the pages you want to noindex, and click “Exclude Selected.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How often should I submit my sitemap to Google?
Not updating your sitemap on Google doesn’t mean that Google won’t find it eventually. Submitting it only increases the chances of Google finding the information on your site quicker, and since it won’t harm your site in any way, you can submit your sitemap as often as you’d like. The most practical way is to submit your sitemap every time major changes occur on your website, or at least once every few weeks.
What should a sitemap include?
An XML sitemap should include all the pages and posts you think are important to your website, or pages that provide relevant information to those visiting your site. These pages should have lots of high-quality content including images and videos—basically, pages that will drive organic traffic to your site.
How do I submit a sitemap to Google?
Once you’ve generated your sitemap, open your Google Console account and connect your site. You can submit the sitemap by pasting the sitemap URL into the Console, or through the Sitemaps submenu option in the left-hand menu. For resubmitting sitemaps, locate the correct property for the domain you want to submit a sitemap for, and paste the sitemap URL (exclude the site’s domain). Remember to delete sitemaps that you’ve submitted previously before submitting an updated version.
A sitemap is a list of the content on your site, and there are multiple types of sitemaps you can generate. An XML sitemap is shared to search engines to help them crawl and index the information on your site and eventually determine if your content is valuable to the reader, and they should therefore appear in search results. While sitemaps increase your visibility, they won’t increase your ranking on search engines unless you provide quality content. To get to the top results on Google, ensure that your content and pages are fully optimized first.