What are sitemaps?
A sitemap is a list of all the pages on a website that you present to search engines. This sitemap gives search engines like Google a clear idea of what pages you have available for them to index. Think of your website as a restaurant and your site’s web pages as dishes available in your restaurant. Your sitemap is the menu that allows crawlers who visit your website to see what you have to offer them.
Why are Sitemaps Important for SEO?
As previously mentioned, sitemaps provide a list of the web pages that your site is currently running to Google. This makes the site easier for Google to crawl, but Google also tends to rank websites with sitemaps higher than those without them. Imagine going to a restaurant without a menu. You could ask the waiter what dishes are available, but a menu with a full list of offerings provides a much better dining experience. The same goes for Google sitemaps. Providing more information to your site’s food critic (Google) will result in a better grade, or ranking. Could Google’s crawlers figure it out without a menu? Sure, but it’s a lot easier (and better for your overall SEO) if you offer that listing from the start.
Google sitemaps do more than just tell Google what is on the menu, it also tells Google what ingredients are being used. Does your website use rich media like images, video or audio? Your sitemap can tell Google what kind of media makes up a webpage as well as more about that media. This is particularly important for getting your media included in Google’s massive media libraries in Google Images and Google Video. For example, if you have a video running on your website, the sitemap can tell Google everything it needs to know about the video to make it more presentable for Google Video. The same goes for images and Google Images.
When are XML Sitemaps most important?
- Your website does not have great internal linking
- Your website is very large and has a large number of pages
- Your website is new or does not have a lot of external links
Building Your Sitemap
The first step in creating your sitemap is deciding what pages you want to offer on your site’s menu to Google’s crawlers. Make sure that you define not just the pages to be crawled, but the versions of those pages that you want crawled. If you have different versions of a page, or have a page accessible through multiple URLs, use canonical tags to specify which pages are to be crawled. This will save you from headaches in the future, not just with your sitemap, but with your overall website SEO.
There are a number of ways to create your sitemap, including a number of free sitemap generators that you can find online.
Submitting Your Sitemap to Google
Creating your sitemap without submitting it to Google is like building up a beautiful menu for your restaurant, but all the menus are stacked on one table in the corner rather than beautifully displayed on each dining table. Lucky for you, arguably the easiest part of getting your Google sitemap up and running properly is submitting your sitemap to Google.
Submitting your sitemap to Google through Google Search Console is extremely important because it hand-delivers your site’s information right to Google’s crawlers. To submit your sitemap to Google Search Console:
- Open up your website’s account in Google Search Console.
- Click Crawl in the left panel and Sitemaps.
- Click Add/Test Sitemap.
- Paste your site’s live sitemap URL (sitemap.xml) into the box.
- Click Submit.
Getting your sitemap built and running on your website is extremely easy and extremely beneficial to your website’s overall SEO. If you don’t have a proper sitemap running on your website or submitted to Google, take the time to set it up and reap the benefits to your site’s SEO.