Put simply, a sitemap is a list of your website’s URLs available on your domain. Having such a list might sound a bit pointless to you, but for search engines it’s like a roadmap. It helps search engines find the available content quickly and reach it effectively.
The first thing search engines check when they come to your website is whether you provide a sitemap. If you do, they preferably index the pages they find in this file. This might come in handy especially if you update your website frequently or your website is more complex.
Moreover, if your website is new and doesn’t have enough backlinks from other known pages yet, having a sitemap will significantly speed up the crawling process.
A crawling process is the automated fetching of web pages by web crawlers (bots or spiders). They index the content of your website so it can be searched. The crawler looks for other links on the page, follows them and indexes other pages in the process.
If this is your first time hearing about an XML sitemap, we encourage you to continue reading.
What is a sitemap and how does it work?
In general, a sitemap is a special document that lists all the pages available on your website. XML sitemaps were created for search engines to help them crawl new information faster.
Every time you create a new page on your website, or publish a new blog post, the sitemap lets engines know automatically there is new content available for crawling. As such, you don’t have to wait for the engines to find it on their own. The sitemap will notify them instantly.
Although the engine prefers to crawl the pages “the human way”, following the links posted on the pages naturally, sometimes there are pages on your website which are not linked. Or there isn’t a huge number of backlinks for your brand new site. That’s also where the sitemap comes to serve its purpose.
There are essentially two types – an XML sitemap for search engines like Google and an HTML sitemap for humans. The latter one we will discuss only briefly; for SEO purposes, an XML sitemap provides many more opportunities.
How to create a sitemap and submit it to Google
A sitemap is one of the technical sides of SEO. But don’t worry, it doesn’t require any technical knowledge. The other good news is you don’t need to create a sitemap file yourself. You can use a sitemap generator for that.
If you have built your website here on Webnode, a sitemap is already there!
Just like your website’s pages, you will find an XML sitemap directly on your domain. The format is usually mydomain.com/sitemap.xml or myproject.webnode.com/sitemap.xml. It looks somewhat like this:
An XML sitemap example
Now you know where to find the sitemap, it’s time to submit it to search engines like Google. Once you click on “Submit”, it’s done. Google will take care of the rest. Usually within minutes it will crawl your site and index the content.
How to use the sitemap to improve SEO
Once you successfully submit your sitemap to Google Search Console, you can access coverage reports. These reports provide you with an overview of technical errors present on your website or “valid with warnings” if there are any.
Google Search Console Dashboard
For example, you would see if any page on your website is accidentally blocked for robots or any 404 error for a missing page. The latter would mean you didn’t set up some links correctly or they got broken in the meantime. You might want to edit the 404 page template or, preferably, eliminate the errors completely and fix the links.
You will find the official Google documentation here.
What about an HTML Sitemap?
There are also HTML sitemaps, but for the users. These help your visitors to navigate your website with more ease in case your website is really big – it is like a full-page navigation menu.
Apple HTML Sitemap – a footer navigation
You can create it as a separate page or as footer navigation manually or using a generator.
But these days an HTML sitemap is not really necessary. By having clear main navigation that your visitors can use intuitively, you will not need an HTML sitemap at all.
In regards to SEO, an HTML sitemap is not necessary either, as engines rely on an XML one.
To sum up, the XML sitemap enhances the ranking of your website in search results, thus boosting SEO efforts. You would only benefit from having one, as Google states.
So it won’t hurt your SEO efforts; on the contrary, it could be very helpful.
Are you planning on developing SEO on your website? Try the step-by-step guide.