When you ask most business owners and beginning online marketers what a “Sitemap” is, you usually get two responses. “What’s that?” or “That’s just too complicated for us.” Sitemaps for your website aren’t impossible to make, and they certainly aren’t a waste of time. To understand why you need to make your own Sitemap today, you need to understand what they are and how they work.
Today I’m taking an in-depth look at what makes a Sitemap so valuable to anyone’s website, and how you can make one in about five minutes. This is definitely an opportunity you should leap on if you’re trying to improve your website!
The Basics: What Is a Sitemap?
The short answer: a Sitemap (with a capital S, according to Google) is a piece of extra site information that tells search engines more about your website. Your Sitemap tells Google how your website is structured, how it functions, and how to sort and categorize your own traffic.
Your website is indexed and ranked by automatic search engine crawlers, not real people—and in order to get better, more accurate search engine placement, you need to work with those automatic crawlers and tell them everything they want to know and then some. If you scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours: by giving search engine indexing systems better information, they’ll know how to best use your information, resulting in better, more relevant results from your search engine performance.
Sitemaps come in two styles: a human-readable site index gives your actual visitors a convenient location to click to all of the major webpages on your site. An XML Sitemap is more thorough and designed more for search engine information. By indexing your XML Sitemap, web crawlers can more accurately organize and index your website, which will help them deliver more search engine traffic directly to you. We’re looking at the XML style today. These aren’t difficult to make with the right tools, and require zero web coding experience.
Building Your XML Sitemap Is As Simple As Pressing Start
Producing an XML Sitemap couldn’t be easier. There are dozens of free tools online that will generate one for you, or let you download a tool that walks you through the same process. Google has an extensive list of XML Sitemap generators you can choose from, or you can skip the tough choices and try xml-sitemaps.com and GSiteCrawler. You might not even need one of these generators if your website or blog can produce RSS feeds, but keep on reading to see why.
Once you’ve got a Sitemap generator selected, you don’t have to do too much to get your Sitemap file. Input your full web address and adjust any settings you feel are applicable to your website. “Change frequency” is one you should pay attention to: if you publish lots of content multiple times each day, you might want to set your update frequency to Hourly. If you update your site or your blog only a few times throughout the week, Weekly would be best. If you only update a few times each month, Monthly update frequency is fine. Telling search engines how often they should update your search index can dramatically boost your SERPs results, so choose a setting that best fits your update behaviors.
Once everything is set up, click the start button and your XML Sitemap generator will get to work. This is where the “almost” five minutes comes in: it takes less than that to do these steps, but then you have to wait. Depending on the size of your site and the number of pages you have, it could take a few seconds or half an hour to complete. Leave it running and come back to it later, because once it’s done, you can save the finished .xml file and use it right away.
It’s Time To Release Your XML Sitemap Into The Wild
After generating an XML Sitemap file, you need to put it into a few places. First and foremost, it needs to go on your website. If you have access to your web server (which you should!!), upload your .xml file to the top-most directory. This is where your homepage file sits—you shouldn’t be in any folders and there shouldn’t be any other folders “ahead” of this location. Upload your XML Sitemap to this location and it’s good to go. On their next indexing pass, search engine crawlers will see this file and add it to their information about your site.
The next step is to submit your XML Sitemap to search engines. All standard search engines accept XML Sitemaps, and Google accepts other file formats as well. If your blog system produces an RSS or Atom feed and all of your updates regularly occur on that blog, you can simply submit that feed to Google as your blog’s Sitemap without using an XML Sitemap generator.
In Google’s Webmaster Tools, under the Optimization tab, click Sitemaps. Bing has its own webmaster tools you’ll have to sign up for, but submitting a Sitemap to Bing is similar to the Google process, and also submits your XML Sitemap to both Bing and Yahoo! in the process. Submitting a feed or an XML Sitemap to these search engines kind of does their job for them—it alerts their systems that you’ve updated your Sitemap, and they need to update their index information on you.
Once you’ve submitted your XML Sitemap to search engines, you’re done. Pretty easy, right? In about five minutes (give or take!) you’ve got a handy little file that will help you tell search engines exactly how you want them to treat you. If you’re wondering how you could possibly optimize your website further, developing and updating your Sitemap is a good start.
Once you have a Sitemap done, it’s time to plug in content and get your site updated! Did you find this helpful? Let us know!!