What Is a Sitemap, and How Do You Create One?

A sitemap improves search engine crawling, indexing, and user experience. But what is a sitemap? And more importantly, how can it help you improve your website’s user experience and visibility for search engines?

This blog post will explore the ins and outs of sitemaps. You’ll learn key information, including the different types of sitemaps and their purposes, and how to create and submit one for your website. So, let’s dive in and start charting your website’s success!

Key Takeaways

  • A sitemap is a file that provides information about the pages, videos, and other files on your website, and how they are organized. It is essentially a roadmap that helps search engines like Google and Bing to navigate your website more efficiently.
  • Sitemaps benefit your website by improving search engine crawling and indexing, user navigation, and the site auditing process.
  • The different types of sitemaps include XML sitemaps, HTML sitemaps, image and video sitemaps, and news sitemaps.
  • The best way to create a sitemap is through an automated generator tool, although smaller websites can also create manual maps to accomplish the same purpose.
  • Best practices for sitemaps include frequent updates, properly linked pages, using sitemap indexes for multiple sitemap files, and being mindful of your website’s crawl budget.
what is a sitemap

What Are Sitemaps?

As its name suggests, a sitemap is a comprehensive map of your website. It’s the blueprint web crawlers use to understand exactly what they’ll find on your domain. The sitemap provides details, such as the URLs of the pages on your site, when they were last updated, how often they are updated, and which pages are more important than others.

Sitemaps are created for search engines such as Google. But, as we’ll discuss below, some are also helpful to your users.

Your website is a treasure trove of information carefully crafted to showcase your products, services, and brand image. But it’s also a complex mix of web pages, content, and external links both users and search bots must navigate. A sitemap structures the information.

Benefits of Sitemaps

Broadly speaking, you need a sitemap to help search engines find your content and assist users in navigating your site. It’s why most websites have one.

But what is the sitemap used for exactly, and what are its main benefits? Here are three.

Improves Search Engine Crawling and Indexing

The primary purpose of most sitemaps is to enhance the crawling and indexing process search engines use to generate their rankings.

A sitemap of your website’s pages gives crawlers a roadmap to follow. Submitting your sitemap to Google ensures all the important pages are indexed and can appear in search results, especially for sites with new or updated pages crawlers have yet to find.

Enhances User Navigation

A well-organized sitemap helps users navigate your website more efficiently. This overview of your site’s pages helps visitors quickly find the information they want, improving user experience.

Again, this benefit becomes vital for complex websites where it’s easy for your visitors to get lost or frustrated. A sitemap makes sure your visitors can find pages faster.

Streamlines Your Site Audit Process

Remember to consider the importance of a sitemap for your internal purposes. It can serve as a way to perform a site audit, helping you better understand the structure of your website.

For example, you might need a sitemap to find and eliminate duplicate pages. You could also use it to ensure any new pages fit neatly into the larger structure.

That way, it’s a type of root directory you can use to manage your website over time. If you regularly review and update it, you can quickly identify areas of improvement and ensure your site and individual pages remain optimized for Google and other search engines.

Types of Website Sitemaps

types of sitemaps

After an overview of the benefits, let’s talk about the different types of sitemaps you might create. The four main types include:

  1. XML sitemaps
  2. HTML sitemaps
  3. Image and video sitemaps
  4. News sitemaps

Learn the types of sitemaps below and their distinct roles for your website users and search engines.

XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap helps search engines better understand the structure of your website. The XML file — short for extensible markup language — lists all the essential pages on your site, ensuring that search engines can quickly discover and index them.

Bots use an XML sitemap file. It allows search engine crawlers to locate all your site’s most important pages more efficiently. That leads to faster and more accurate indexing of your content, ultimately improving search rankings.

HTML Sitemap

Unlike XML sitemaps, HTML sitemaps cater to human users. An HTML sitemap is a single webpage listing all your site’s pages. That makes it easy for visitors to navigate your website and find the information they want.

You usually find an HTML sitemap in the footer of a website, allowing users to access it easily from any page. In addition to improving user experience, an HTML sitemap provides additional internal linking that helps search engines crawl your content.

Video and Image Sitemap

Rich media content, like images and videos, are getting more popular by the minute. A dedicated sitemap for these files can help your search rankings, helping search engines such as Google more easily find relevant content.

Your image or video sitemap can add context to your media, including captions, titles, and locations.

Submitted sitemaps with this extra information give Google’s index a clearer understanding of your video and image files, improving your rankings in search results.

News Sitemap

A news sitemap ensures that Google News indexes your content quickly if you frequently publish news articles or press releases. This sitemap type lists only your most recent news pages, usually those published within the past two days.

Creating a news sitemap signals to Google News that your website is a reliable source of timely information. That results in higher rankings and more visibility for your news content.

How to Create a Sitemap

Knowing that you need a sitemap and what type of sitemap you can create is just the beginning. Next, it’s time to start creating sitemaps that help you leverage those benefits.

You have two options: Use an automated sitemap generator or create a manual file for your specific pages.

Sitemap Generators

A quick Google search unearths many online generators that can automatically create a sitemap for your website. This saves time and ensures accuracy.

In most cases, you must enter your website’s URL to receive a sitemap in either an XML sitemap or HTML format. Some of the most popular sitemap generators include:

Manual Sitemap Creation

If you prefer a more hands-on approach, you can create a sitemap manually. You’ll need to list all the pages on your website, and then organize them according to your organizational hierarchy.

This process can be time-consuming, especially for large websites. Use a spreadsheet or mind-mapping tool to visualize your website’s structure and more easily update the sitemap as your website changes.

A manual sitemap only makes sense for sites with few individual pages. Google only recommends it for a site with “less than a few dozen URLs.”

How to Submit Your Sitemap to Search Engines

A complete sitemap is only the first step. Next, you’ll need to submit it to search engines like Google so they can crawl and index your website more efficiently.

This is how to submit your sitemap to the two most popular search engines: Google and Bing.

Google Search Console

Follow these steps to submit your sitemap to Google Search Console:

  • Sign in to your Google Search Console account, or create a new one.
  • Add your website as a property, and verify your ownership.
  • In the left navigation menu, click on “Sitemaps.”
  • Enter your sitemap URL — usually found at “yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml” — and click “Submit.”

After submitting your sitemap, Google Search Console will periodically check for updates and crawl your site accordingly. Remember to resubmit your sitemap when you change your website’s structure significantly.

Bing Webmaster Tools

Submitting your sitemap to Bing is a similar process to Google:

  • Sign in to your Bing Webmaster account, or create one if needed.
  • Add your website as a property, and verify your ownership.
  • In the left navigation menu, click on “Sitemaps.”
  • Enter your sitemap URL, and click “Submit.”

Like Google, Bing will also check for updates to your sitemap and crawl your site accordingly. Don’t forget to resubmit your sitemap as necessary.

Best Practices for Your Sitemap

sitemap best practices

As you create and manage your sitemap, these best practices can help you maximize the potential benefits this site tool can provide.

Update Your Sitemap Often

Every time you add new pages or update existing ones, you’ll need to update your sitemap. The update helps search engines stay aware of your most recent content and improves their indexing process.

Ensure Your Pages are Properly Linked

Make sure you properly link all pages within your site in your sitemap. Broken links or pages without internal linking can lead to poor user experience and lower search rankings.

Consolidate Sitemaps Using a Sitemap Index

If your website has multiple sitemaps, create a sitemap index to merge them. This helps search engines locate all your sitemaps easily, leading to better crawling and indexing.

Mind the Crawl Budget

You can see how many pages you have indexed on Google or Bing’s Search Console. You might find a discrepancy between the total pages on your site and those indexed, especially on large pages. That’s where your crawl budget comes in.

Google can only index a limited number of pages per site. That amount differs for every website, and that’s the crawl budget.

To optimize it, make your pages load faster. Reduce duplicate content. And, if you can, use the noindex tag for pages you don’t want to be crawled at all.

That way, you can make sure search engines index all your most important pages, improving your site’s visibility.

Final Thoughts

A sitemap guides users and search engines toward your most important content while helping you manage your pages. Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is a sitemap?” you know it’s an essential piece of the web development equation.

All you need to know is how to create, submit, and maintain your sitemap to reap the benefits. If you aren’t sure how to do it yourself, ask your webmaster or SEO expert to help.