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 detailed information to your site’s critic (Google) will result in a better ranking.

Could Google’s crawlers figure out your site without a menu? Sure, but it’s a lot easier (and better for your overall SEO) if you offer that listing from the start.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your SEO strategy this year, take a look at sitemaps—a critical back-end component. Learn what they are, why they matter, and how you can get started on them.

What Are Sitemaps?

A sitemap lists all of the valuable pages and contents of a website. Search engines like Google read these sitemaps to crawl your site and understand the information on those pages.

Sitemaps carry different data depending on the content your pages carry. For example, a:

  • Video sitemap can outline details such as the video running time and category
  • Image sitemap can reference image caption and title and licensing information
  • News sitemap can note the article title and language it’s published in

Overall, sitemaps allow websites to communicate with search engines. This exchange can help you win Google’s trust and gain the online visibility you deserve.

Why Are Sitemaps Important for SEO?

Google tends to rank websites with sitemaps higher than those without them. Sitemaps help your team:

  • Highlight the most pertinent and valuable pages on your site
  • Tell Google what pages are new or have been updated recently
  • Increases your chances of those pages getting crawled, indexed, and ranked. There’s no guarantee Google will crawl the pages you have on your sitemap. But submitting one increases your chances that the search engine will.

A restaurant that doesn’t provide a menu won’t offer as good a dining experience as one that does. The same goes for sitemaps—they enable you to nurture a harmonious and efficient relationship with search engines, which is why Google will never penalize you for having one.

We’ll let these case studies do the rest of the talking:

  • CORE: Amid the launch of their new site, CORE built out a robust sitemap that entailed components such as new content and pages that needed to be redirected. This solid sitemap foundation contributed to a 1,431% increase in site impressions and a 20% increase in traffic quarter over quarter.
  • Tech9: One part of creating a sustainable SEO strategy for this software development company involved building a sitemap to their robots.txt files. This helped our client win 600+ site visitors each month and an 80% improvement in site impressions.

How Do I Know If I Even Need a Sitemap?

According to Google, you should build out a sitemap if your website:

  • Is large or has 500+ pages
  • Carries an extensive archive of pages that aren’t linked to each other
  • Is pretty new and has few external links
  • Has a lot of media (e.g., video, images) or news content

An XML sitemap adds structure and fluidity to the factors above.

You might not need a sitemap if your site:

  • Has fewer than 500 pages you want to be featured on search results
  • Internally links to all the vital pages on your site (this is especially the case for HTML sitemaps)
  • Doesn’t carry the content you want to be highlighted on the news, images, or video results

But again, Google does not penalize you if you have a sitemap. So even if you do build one, you won’t have anything to lose. We recommend researching and consulting with an SEO team to see which path is best for you.

How Can I Build a Sitemap?

Let’s say you need to submit a sitemap. Where to begin?

Building a sitemap involves understanding three areas: deciding what pages to include, XML sitemap format, and the tools to generate a sitemap.

Deciding What Pages to Include

The first step in creating your sitemap is deciding what pages you want to offer on your site’s menu to Google’s crawlers.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to include all of your pages in your sitemap. You should only list valuable pages you want to highlight. By listing them, you’re telling Google to focus on those pages. This may involve looking at your marketing funnel to identify the most relevant pages.

Make sure you define the pages and the versions of those pages that you want to be crawled. For example, if you have different page versions 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.

XML Sitemap Format

At Big Leap, we recommend sticking to an XML sitemap format. XML, or Extensible Markup Language, is a text-based format that outlines your site’s URLs.

XML sitemaps are written specifically for search bots to read, analyze, and index accordingly. They tell search bots what’s available and how to reach a specific URL.

Here’s what an XML sitemap looks like for reference:

From here, you can then add sitemap extensions based on specific content provided on your pages. These would include the video, image, and news sitemaps we discussed earlier.

Free Sitemap Generator Tools

Rest assured, there are a number of free sitemap generators you can find online to help you map out your sitemap:

How Do I Submit My Sitemap to Google?

Creating your sitemap without submitting it to Google is like building up a beautiful menu for your restaurant without offering it to your customers. Lucky for you, arguably the easiest part of getting your sitemap up and running properly is submitting your sitemap to Google Search Console.

To submit your sitemap to Google Search Console:

  1. Open up your website’s account in Google Search Console.
  2. Click Crawl in the left panel and Sitemaps.
  3. Click Add/Test Sitemap.
  4. Paste your site’s live sitemap URL (sitemap.xml) into the box.
  5. Click Submit.

Also, include the link to your sitemap in your robots.txt file using the proper syntax. This is important so that all search engines (not only Google) can find the sitemap easily.

For more information on building and submitting a sitemap, refer to Google’s sitemap guidelines.

Make Sure Your Sitemap Is Good to Go with Big Leap

Building a sitemap doesn’t have to be complicated when you have the right SEO experts by your side. Reach out to the Big Leap team if you need help crafting one or want an extra set of eyes to ensure all looks well. Our SEO team can take on the heavy lifting and help your team gain the online traction you deserve.

And while you’re at it, be sure to get up to speed on all things digital by checking out our informative articles and guides on our blog.

Janet Lee