More and more small and large businesses create websites. Even though the website can sell some products or services, represent a closed auditory, or be an educational platform, all of them should be optimized in a way to be visible to users and ranked in search engines. For newcomers into the website business, proper SEO optimization is strongly recommended to understand algorithms and recommendations for maintaining a highly ranked website with good traffic.
One of the basic steps of SEO optimization is a sitemap file. It is like a table of content on your website, showing connections and a hierarchy of pages, videos, and other files. A sitemap is especially useful for large websites, sites with isolated pages (bas interlinking strategy), for less number of backlinks, and new websites and sites with quickly changed content.
A sitemap guides search engines about your content and which part you think is more valuable (you want to show). The sitemap file does not guarantee that all website pages will be indexed, but in any case, you will receive benefits without any threat to the website.
How to find a sitemap file?
There are several ways how to get a sitemap file. It can create this file automatically if you use a CMS system (WordPress, Wix, Blogger). It will be executed via a particular plugin or extension. The file can have the following formats – XML, txt, RSS, or atom (the standard is XML). Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress can create a dynamic sitemap file that updates automatically with the appearance of a new page. Other third-party generators or platforms (Shopify, Squarespace) are also available for finding sitemaps on the Internet.
Another solution is to create the sitemap on writemaps.com in XML or text format. It is recommended to manually check all created files for containing all of your pages. All automatically generated sitemaps can’t be corrected manually.
The automatic creation of sitemaps is the preferable way to get a sitemap file, but you also can create it manually using coding on your server. For that, you need to have exceptional web design knowledge, and you should know the limitations. For example, a sitemap file has a limitation on the number of URLs (50.000) and maximum size (50 MB); if you need to extend these limits, you need to create multiple files.
You need to check your sitemap by downloading them to Google Search Console (former Webmaster tool) from your account. It will tell you the number of found URLs, how many URLs will be indexed or excluded, and errors or warnings. The positive result is that the whole file was read, and you have the status “success.” If you fail to receive the status, the program will suggest how to fix found errors. Also, by downloading your sitemap to Google, you make it known to it for indexation and validate it.
You may also already have the sitemap file; for that, you need to go through the same websites listed above, but before creating a new file, you need to check if something is already there. For Bing users, a dedicated Bing Webmaster Tool works like the Google Webmaster tool.
Why is a sitemap important for SEO?
If your website pages are correctly linked, most of the content will be visible to search engines. SEO optimization aims to adjust all technical characteristics, content, and links to make a website more user-friendly, popular, and relevant to search queries. If you fulfill all recommendations, you also increase the traffic of customers and your profit correspondingly. Proper sitemaps attract visitors not only from search results but also from social media and increase their engagement.
In other words, you may escape SEO optimization and a sitemap file, but you can hardly get first place in search results. A bad sitemap can also decrease your chances, so optimize it and check for errors and duplicated content.
Tips for a proper sitemap
There are some tips to make your sitemap better:
- Sitemaps should include only indexable pages with high-quality content. The pages with valuable information should be placed higher.
- Develop a clear hierarchy structure for your website pages, define primary pages among product pages, blog pages, about pages, landing pages, and many more. If you develop the website keeping in mind this structure from the beginning, the crawling speed will be higher at the end. Typically, the start page is the home page.
- Check your sitemap for errors; the search engine will stop crawling the file on the error.
- Nevertheless, there are file limitations; it is better to keep a number of pages below 200; the URLs should be qualified and consistent. Only canonical URLs should be listed.
- A sitemap file should be UTF-8 encoded without alphanumeric and Latin characters.
- You can create a general sitemap for the site and separate for images, video, and news. Dynamic sitemaps are always more effective than static ones.
- Sitemaps may be used to hide some pages from crawling, for example, archive pages or pages with thin content. It is always good to exclude pages already blocked by Google.
- Do not confuse HTML sitemaps with XML. XML is developed for search engines, while HTML is developed for visitors to help them navigate your website. This article describes the necessity of XML sitemaps.
A sitemap file does not replace the standard mechanism of site crawling, but to boost your SEO score, this is another tool. Not all websites have them, but the most popular ones have. The best sitemaps are planned with proper hierarchy, no errors, and correct URLs.
It also does not mean that only with the best sitemap a search engine will rank you in the first place (top five in SERP) if you do not follow SEO recommendations for site performance speed, keywords, content, meta titles, description, etc.
You can only achieve your goal with the combination of SEO tools and a sitemap. It would help if you learned the basics of sitemaps to increase organic traffic and fully use search engine capabilities.