Sitemaps & SEO Best Practices

Learn All About Sitemaps & SEO Best Practices to Follow When Creating Sitemaps

By
James Gibbons
SEO Sitemaps: HTML v/s XML Sitemaps

Sitemaps are the most convenient way to tell search engines about your site's pages. They are also a great way to document and organize your website, making it easier for humans to navigate. Search engines do not index every page on a website; instead, they only index the pages in a website's sitemap.

Creating and using sitemaps for your website is not difficult, but it requires some preparation and planning. This guide will walk you through creating sitemaps for websites and explain the difference between an XML and HTML Sitemap.

Sitemaps Explained

The sitemap of your website contains a list of all its pages. It details information about each page, such as the title and URL. A sitemap also helps users plan their way around your site and allows search engine crawlers to find every page of your site.

Sitemaps help search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo! index the content on your website more efficiently. The more pages on your site are indexed, the more likely your site will appear in the search results.

Keeping your pages up-to-date is one of the best ways to improve SEO. They're great for helping you find and fix broken links and keeping track of changes that might have affected your site.

There are several types of sitemaps: static (for static sites) or dynamic (for sites using a content management system). You can create sitemaps in several ways: manually, with a plugin, or by using an automated tool. 

Whichever method you use, including all the pages on your site that are relevant to the current version. A simple rule of thumb is to have at least one version of each URL in the sitemap, which makes them accessible via search engines.

Sitemap Diagram

Sitemaps show the relationships between pages on a website and how the pages of a site create a structural blueprint. Sitemaps contain hierarchical categories, such as tags and labels. Sitemaps vary in structure according to their intended purpose. But all sitemaps share some standard features:

1. A sitemap will show the name and URL of each page on the website.

2. It will show the parent/child relationship between pages.

3. It may show the last modified date and priority for each page.

4. It may show other information, such as the page's description, keywords, and images.

Sitemap Diagram Example
An example Sitemap Diagram

Web designers and developers use a sitemap to plan the layout of a website. Search engine optimization experts use it to design a website's structure for better indexing and help users find their way around a website. As a user browses through a website, they will see a sitemap, which allows them to quickly navigate and get an overview of the site's contents.

Sitemaps Benefits & Importance

A sitemap is a vital part of a website because it helps organize the website and make it easier to navigate. By including a sitemap on a website, search engines can index its content so visitors can find it more easily.

Some benefits of creating a sitemap for your website include the following:

1. Quicker Navigation for Visitors - A well-organized sitemap makes it easier for visitors to find the information they want on your website.

2. Easier Navigation for Search Engines - Search engines can easily find all information on your web pages with a sitemap.

3. Helps Determine Website Structure - The structure of your website can be determined by how you organize your sitemap.

4. Can Help Boost Rankings - By creating a sitemap, you are telling search engines that your website is essential and that it should be ranked higher in search results.

Sitemaps & SEO

Sitemaps are a critical component of website SEO. They tell search engines like Google and Bing about the pages on your site, what content is on those pages, their structure, and any content updates.

Sitemaps are a map for search engine spiders to follow. They let search engines know which pages to crawl and how frequently to crawl them. By following your sitemap, search engine spiders can discover new content on your site.

Having a sitemap on your site helps both users, and search engine bots, discover links and content on your site quickly. Improved discoverability leads to more traffic and an increase in sales.

Sitemaps & Website Design Evolution

Sitemap has been web design's mainstay from the start. It was one of the first methods of displaying a website's hierarchy to users and allowing them to navigate the pages easily.

Lou Montulli created the first sitemap in 1994 for Netscape Navigator 2.0. It was a simple list of all the pages on the website and was used to help users find web pages.

Sitemaps were the only way users could navigate a website in the early days of the web. The sitemap was crucial for guiding users around the website since there were no menus or links.

As the web evolved, so did the sitemap. In response to the growing popularity of websites, search engines began using the sitemap to index websites. Indexation allowed users to find websites through search engines, a breakthrough for web design.

Sitemaps have come a long way since their inception in 1994. Website navigation and indexing have become essential to web design. A sitemap is a necessary tool for web designers in every website design project.

Different Types of Sitemaps

There are various types of sitemaps, each with its benefits and purposes.

1. Static sitemaps:

Static sitemaps are the most basic type. They are simple text files that outline the structure of a website and are helpful for developers and site owners. Static sitemaps do not change as the website changes, so they are not as useful for tracking site changes.

2. Dynamic sitemaps:

Dynamic sitemaps are generated automatically by a website's content management system. They are updated as the website changes, making them more useful for tracking site changes. Web designers and developers can use dynamic sitemaps to see how the website is structured and view website updates.

HTML v/s XML Sitemap

XML Sitemaps are the most common type of dynamic sitemap. Search engines index them easily because they are in XML format. You can create an XML sitemap for specific purposes or file types.

1. Image Sitemaps are an index of images on a website and help search engines find all image links.

2. Video Sitemaps are an index of videos on a website and help search engines find all video links.

3. Mobile Sitemaps are an index of mobile web pages and help search engines find all mobile-friendly website links.

4. RSS feed is a dynamic XML sitemap used to syndicate website content. It is helpful for blog platforms to allow users to subscribe to updates from a website.

HTML Sitemaps are created automatically by a website's content management system but are in HTML rather than XML. Search engines do not use HTML sitemaps to index websites.

HTML sitemaps can be time-consuming to create and difficult to keep up with changes to a website's pages. On the other hand, XML sitemaps are machine-readable sitemaps that search engines use to index your website better.

XML style of sitemap contains a list view of your website's pages and the metadata for each page. An XML sitemap can be found on your website's root domain and should be submitted to search engines.

Since XML sitemaps are critical for SEO, we will discuss that in detail. Note: Moving forward, whenever we say 'Sitemap,' we only refer to XML sitemaps.

XML Sitemaps

We know an XML sitemap is a list of all pages of your website with each page's URL and metadata. Think of an XML sitemap as a roadmap for your website.

An XML sitemap is a great way to ensure the indexation of your website pages by Google. By providing a list of your website pages in XML format, you can be sure that Google Bot will crawl your website and index all your content.

Without an XML sitemap, Google may not index all your pages, which could impact your website's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Format of XML Sitemaps

XML Sitemap file example
Quattr's XML sitemap file

The XML sitemap format follows the same structure, regardless of which XML sitemap generator you use. The format consists of the following:

1. The root element of a Sitemap is a <URL> element that contains the URL of each website page and is a compulsory tag, and every sitemap needs at least the URL tag.

2. <loc> tag contains the page's location relative to the website's root. For example, the "http://www.test.com/testpage.html" tag would be "test.com/testpage.html." This compulsory tag has the absolute, canonical version of the URL location. For international websites, this is also where you include the language code and hreflang handling. (e.g. <loc>en-US</loc>).

3. <lastmod> tag is an optional tag that shows the last time there was a modification. This tag tells search bots whether they should crawl a page again based on the previous update. When you do not include this tag, the search engine will assume they have not changed the page since it crawled last.

4. <changefreq> tag is an optional tag that indicates how often the page is likely to change. The options are "always," " hourly," " daily," "weekly," " monthly," and "yearly."

5. <priority> tag is an optional tag that assigns a priority to the page. Priority tags indicate which pages are more important than others. The options are "0.0" (default) to "1.0". Priority tag is not often used but can be helpful if there are pages on your website that you want to be crawled more frequently than others.

How to Find your Sitemap URL?

It is easy to check if you have an XML sitemap. Search for "sitemap + your brand name" in Google. If you have an XML sitemap, your website will likely appear in search results.

Once you have located your sitemap, you can access it by adding "/sitemap.xml" to the end of your website's URL. For example, if your website is "www.example.com," the sitemap URL will be "www.example.com/sitemap.xml."

If you are using a content management system (CMS), such as WordPress, you may be able to add the sitemap by going to "Settings" and then "XML Sitemaps."

If you are unsure how to find your sitemap URL or are having trouble adding the sitemap to your website, contact your website developer or hosting provider for assistance.

How to Create Sitemaps?

Sitemaps are an essential part of website design and content strategy. They help web admins and marketers better understand how users interact with their websites and can help identify opportunities for improvement.

We can create sitemaps in several ways. There are several approaches, as shown in the following list:

1. Creating a Sitemap using your CMS

Most content management systems (CMS) have built-in tools that allow webmasters to create and manage sitemaps. If using a CMS, check the documentation or support forums to find out how to create a sitemap.

2. Use a Sitemap Generator

Several free and paid sitemap generators are available online. These tools allow you to create a sitemap by entering the website's URL. Some generators also will enable you to include additional information, such as the number of pages on your website and the last time a website update occurred.

3. Create a Sitemap Manually

If you are not using a CMS or a sitemap generator, you can create a sitemap manually. Manual steps involve creating a text file that lists all your website's pages. The text file should be formatted in a specific way, which you can find online.

Once you have created your sitemap, it's essential to ensure that it is up-to-date and accurate. Regularly update your sitemap as your website changes, and check for errors.

SEO Best Practices to Follow during Sitemap Creation

When creating a sitemap, keep the following SEO best practices in mind:

1. Make sure your sitemap is in XML format. Google prefers sitemaps in XML format. If you are creating a sitemap manually, be sure to format it correctly.

2. Keep your sitemap file sizes as small as possible. Not only will this help ensure that your website loads quickly, but it will also help improve your website's search engine ranking.

3. Refresh your sitemap regularly to ensure that your website's SERP performance is always up-to-date.

4. Ensure your website sitemap has links to all web pages. For each web page, include the correct information, such as the website's URL, title, meta description, and last content update date.

5. Verify that your sitemap is working correctly. You can do this using one of the many online sitemap checkers or XML sitemap validators.

Common Sitemap Errors & Troubleshooting

When creating or editing a sitemap, a few common errors can occur. This section will cover the most common sitemap errors and how to troubleshoot them.

1. Verify that your website host is public

Your host may be private. If this is the case, you won't be able to submit your sitemap to Google. 

2. Verify that your site is running correctly

If your site is down, no one can access it, including Google. If you have any issues with your site, you'll want to resolve them promptly so that anyone who needs to access your site can find you.

3. Incorrect Sitemap URLs

URLs with incorrect formatting or missing important information lead to incorrect sitemaps. URLs should follow the correct format and contain all relevant tags.

How to Validate & Submit your Sitemaps to Search Engines?

Sitemaps are important for both users and search engines. Sitemap indexation by search engines is essential. Its purpose is to find your web pages and rank high on SERPs.

There are different ways to submit your sitemaps, depending on the search engine. You can use their web-based forms or an XML Sitemap generator to create the sitemap file for you automatically.

Submit your Sitemap to Bing

Follow these steps to submit your sitemap to Bing:

1. Log in to Bing Webmaster Tools.

2. Select your website from the webmaster tools home page.

3. Click the Sitemaps tab.

4. Click the Add a Sitemap button.

5. Enter the URL of your sitemap XML file.

6. Click the Submit button.

Bing will crawl and index your website, and you can use the Bing Webmaster Tools to track the status of your sitemap.

There are also many other search engines, and each has its way of submitting sitemaps. You can usually find instructions on the search engine's website.

Submit your XML Sitemap on Google Search Console

For Google, you can submit your sitemap using the Google Search Console. Google prefers an XML sitemap file. Robots.txt is also an excellent way to present your sitemap. Search engines use Robots.txt to determine which pages to index.

Once you have an XML sitemap file, you can submit it to Google by following these steps:

1. Log in to Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).

2. Select your website from the search console home page.

3. Click the Sitemaps tab.

4. Click the Add/Test Sitemap button.

5. Enter the URL of your sitemap XML file.

6. Click the Submit Sitemap button.

Once you have submitted your sitemap, it will be crawled and indexed by Google. You can then track your sitemap's status and see each web page's indexation status.

How to Validate your Sitemap on GSC?

Validating your sitemap is vital in getting your sitemap listed in Google. It assures the search engine that your sitemap is valid. Follow these steps to validate your sitemap:

Go to Google Search Console and head to "Sitemaps." Under the Sitemap list, you will see all the sitemaps you have submitted. If you see "Success" in the status tab, Google can successfully access and crawl your sitemap file.

You can then review when your submission, the last time Googlebot read it, and the number of Discovered URLs.

Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting Your XML Sitemap

One common mistake people make when submitting a sitemap is not offering the correct URL. Make sure you enter the valid URL for your XML sitemap.

Another common mistake is submitting a sitemap that needs to be validated. Make sure your XML sitemap is well-formed and meets the requirements outlined in the Sitemap Specifications.

Another mistake people must correct submitting a sitemap that is too large. Make sure your XML sitemap file size is less than 10 megabytes.

If you're using a third-party tool to generate your XML sitemap, ensure the device generates a valid sitemap. Many free and paid tools are available, but not all produce correct XML sitemaps.

Finally, ensure you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines to achieve SEO success.

Closing Note on Sitemaps

Sitemaps are an essential part of content marketing. They tell search engines about the pages on your website, what content is on those pages, and how often your content changes. Search engine crawlers also use them to locate new content on your website.

The Quattr platform can help webmasters identify and fix sitemap errors by analyzing the sitemap structure and the website's link structure. It can detect broken links, duplicate pages, incorrect canonicalization, and missing or incorrect meta information. It can also detect missing and duplicate pages and any other errors that could affect the website’s SEO performance.

Additionally, it can provide detailed reports on the sitemap and make recommendations on how to correct any errors it finds. Quattr offers a wide range of advanced SEO tools to help webmasters optimize their websites and improve their search engine visibility.

SEO Sitemaps FAQs

What are Sitemaps?

Sitemaps are XML files that list all the URLs on a website. Search engines use them to help index websites more effectively and allow website owners to provide more information about their content. Sitemaps can also contain information about the date the page was last modified and its importance relative to other URLs on the site.

Is an XML Sitemap Necessary?

Generally speaking, an XML sitemap is not a requirement for a website to be crawled and indexed by search engines. However, XML Sitemaps are essential for SEO since they provide search engines with the information they need to crawl & index websites. Moreover, they help search engines understand when URLs have been updated so they can re-index them. An XML sitemap can contain structured data that search engines can use to understand a website's content.

How often should you submit your Sitemap?

The frequency with which you should submit a sitemap to Google Search Console depends on how frequently you update your website. You can submit sitemaps as often as you'd like, but we recommend submitting a sitemap at least once a week. If you make significant changes to your website, you should submit a new sitemap as soon as the changes are live. Alternatively, if your XML sitemap link is regularly updated, your webmaster tool will detect the change automatically.

About The Author

James Gibbons

James Gibbons is the Senior Customer Success Manager at Quattr. He has 9 years of experience in SEO and has worked with multiple agencies, brands, and B2B companies. He has helped clients scale organic and paid search presence to find hidden growth opportunities. James writes about all aspects of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical SEO.

About Quattr

Quattr is an innovative and fast-growing venture-backed company based in Palo Alto, California USA. We are a Delaware corporation that has raised over $7M in venture capital. Quattr's AI-first platform evaluates like search engines to find opportunities across content, experience, and discoverability. A team of growth concierge analyze your data and recommends the top improvements to make for faster organic traffic growth. Growth-driven brands trust Quattr and are seeing sustained traffic growth.

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