Digital Marketing

Sitemap – What is a sitemap.xml and how is it used?

A Sitemap is a file that tells search engines what pages and subpages are on a site. A sitemap can also contain information such as when the subpage was last updated, how often it is updated and what priority it has.

The sitemap is called a “sitemap”. Sometimes you also hear terms like “Google sitemap” and “xml sitemap”. Google was the first to support sitemaps in 2005. The following year, Yahoo and Microsoft Bing began supporting the same protocol.

The term sitemap is sometimes also used to describe a list of website pages so that visitors can find the right one. We focus here on sitemap for search engines and in SEO Melbourne contexts.

The purpose of sitemaps

The purpose of a sitemap is to make it easier for search engines to find your site. The search engine crawlers can take the help of the sitemap when indexing the website. By making it easier for them to find relevant information on the website, you also increase your chances of being seen in Google and other search engines. 

There are several reasons to use a Sitemap. It enables search engines to index pages that are not directly accessible through the user interface. This in turn can lead to the website getting more organic traffic from the search engines over time. 

Sometimes parts of web pages are programmed in Flash, Ajax or Silverlight, which search engines tend to skip. Then the sitemap is helpful for the search engines to find the right one.

Some websites are very large, which makes it difficult for search engines to prioritize which pages to index. The website map is then your chance to tell the search engine what you think is most important on the website.

Finally, the sitemap is a complement to the link. Search engines use websites’ internal links to find the right one. Therefore, the sitemap is especially useful for sites with poor internal linking. Of course, the sitemap should not replace a well-thought-out internal link. By the same token, a website with few links from other websites has the extra benefit of a sitemap as it helps the search engine to find the right one in the absence of clues from the links.

What exactly is a Sitemap?

Technically, a sitemap is a text file written in XML. What is XML? XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, a kind of markup language. This means that the text contains codes in the form of tags. You as a user will not see the code in the browser if you open the sitemap. The search engines, on the other hand, get information that can be useful when they index the site.

Most sites save their Sitemap with the name sitemap.xml. You can test yourself by entering www.example.com/sitemap.xml and replacing “example.com” with any domain.

A Sitemap may include the following information:

  • Loc: URL / page.
  • Load mode: When the page was last updated.
  • Changefreq: How often you want the search engine to search for changes.
  • Priority: What priority the page has in relation to the site’s other pages.

How to create a Sitemap?

There are several ways to create a Sitemap:

  1. Manually: You can create a Sitemap by hand by creating an xml file in a text editor. Validate the code online to test that it does not contain errors. The main disadvantage of this method is that you have to constantly update the Sitemap in order for it to be up to date. For a simpler website or landing page, it can still be an option.
  2. Sitemap generator: There are several tools online for generating a sitemap. It’s a bit easier than typing it manually, but you still have to remember to update the sitemap yourself.
  3. Plugin: Many websites are made in some form of CMS, e.g. WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal. If you use CMS, there are many plugins that create and update the sitemap more or less automatically.
  4. Cloud services: If the website is in a cloud service such as Wix, Squarespace or Shopify often create the sitemap automatically. Some cloud services allow you to customize your Sitemap, others do not.

Once you have created your Sitemap, tell the search engines where it is by adding an instruction to robots.txt. In addition, you should submit your Sitemap using the search engine management tools, primarily Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Do you really need a Sitemap?

Search engines also index websites without a sitemap. So you do not need a sitemap to appear among the search results in, for example, Google.

However, the site’s sitemap makes it easier for search engines to understand the structure of the site. In the end, the search engine may not care to follow the map, but by being there you increase your chances of getting the site indexed in a complete way.

Adding a thoughtful and well-designed sitemap should be seen as a natural part of a website’s SEO work.

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