Using sitemaps for SEO can increase your website’s visibility and help get it indexed. Here we bring you through the different types of sitemaps out there and how content marketers should use them.
What’s a sitemap?
According to Google, a sitemap is a file where you list the subordinate web pages of your site to inform search engines about the organization of your content. Sitemaps help search engines to easily explore your website.
However, certain types of sitemaps also make it easier for users to find things on your website.
To summarize, sitemaps improve:
- A search engine’s crawling and indexing experience
- A user’s search experience
If you want a website that functions well and ranks in SERP results, you need a well-structured sitemap. This will make your site more visible to search engines and provide users with more accurate search results.
Different Types of Sitemaps
There are many times of sitemaps:
- Visual sitemaps
- Alphabetical sitemaps
- XML Sitemaps
- HTML sitemaps
- Mobile sitemaps
- News sitemaps
- Video sitemaps
This article will focus on the three primary types of sitemap: visible sitemaps, alphabetical sitemaps, and XML sitemaps.
Web designers use visual sitemaps during the planning process of a website.
Visual sitemaps can come in the form of organized lists or flowcharts. They show the connections between web pages, and they group relevant content together. They also map out how to best present the journey from the landing page to content page for users.
Visual sitemaps are, basically, blueprints for your site. They are 2D representations of a website’s structure and offer designers an overall view of the entire website plan at once.
Visual sitemaps help to work out any kinks in navigation during the planning stages so that your website is well-organized and flows logically when it goes live.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of visual sitemaps:
The above image is an example of a section of a visual sitemap. In the web design process, you can use simple flowcharts to clearly outline your website’s structure.
In the image below, we show how this section of the sitemap looks when fully implemented in the finished website. You can see the general location of the content shown on the map and how users navigate it.
Alphabetical Sitemaps or Site Indexes
Alphabetical sitemaps are on-site indexes.
Alphabetical sitemaps are human-visible listings or directories of all the pages on a site. These are made so that users can navigate your website more efficiently. They are usually hierarchical and offer an A-Z browse view or interface.
XML-sitemaps are for search engines. They are, in essence, blocks of code.
Most importantly, XML sitemaps are structured listings intended to help search engines crawl web pages.
That said, don’t fall for the common myth that XML sitemaps will ensure that your pages get indexed. Google is not going to index your pages just because you showed it a pretty map.
What is indexing? Indexing occurs when search engine algorithms called “crawlers” take stock of your Page’s data and register them to the search engine database.
In short, once a page is indexed by a Google crawler, you can search for it on Google.
It is essential that your XML sitemap is submitted to Google Search Console.
When you submit your XML sitemap you show Google which pages you consider to be high quality and worthy of indexing. XML sitemaps are not magical ways that ensure automatic indexation, but rather vital clues that increase your chances of getting indexed.
Read More: A Simple Guide to Fast Indexing on Google
How do I Create an XML sitemap?
- Some content management systems can auto-generate XML sitemaps. For example, if you use WordPress, the Yoast SEO Plugin is a great tool to use. Other free tools that you can use to generate XML sitemaps are Screaming Frog and XML-sitemaps.com
- Don’t forget to submit your XML sitemap to Google. First, log into Google Search Console. Next, click “Crawl” and go to “Sitemaps”. Then, select “Add/Test Sitemap”. Here, enter your sitemaps URL and hit “Submit Sitemap”. Easy as pie.
What are the Benefits of Using XML Sitemaps for SEO?
Google is notorious for giving away very little information about how its algorithm works. Luckily, XML sitemaps are the exception.
Google has made it very clear that XML sitemaps are important.
Google Reps have outwardly stated that “In most cases, your site will benefit from having a sitemap, and you’ll never be penalized for having one.”
They have also pointed out that “If your site’s pages are properly linked, our web crawlers can usually discover most of your site. Even so, a sitemap can improve the crawling of your site.”
Here’s a list of the benefits of using XML sitemaps for SEO:
- Even if Google does not index every single page on your sitemap, it will still use it as a guide to your website. Your sitemap contains valuable information and tells Google when the page was created and last updated. This speeds up the indexing process.
- As XML sitemaps are specifically written for search engine spiders, they allow them to quickly extract all important information about your site by looking at one file.
- XML sitemaps take care of duplication issues. Websites that publish high-quality content will often be copied. You may find that other websites re-publish your original content without your permission or acknowledgment of the source. This is annoying for content creators and Google alike. Google penalizes websites that publish duplicate content by not including them in search result pages (SERPs). XML sitemaps show the date and time that content was published. If you have submitted an XML sitemap to Google, the search engine can see that you are the original creator.
- XML sitemaps automatically notify Google whenever you add new content to your site or update it. Sites that regularly update their content usually rank higher, so you’ll want Google to see your updates ASAP.
What not to do with XML Sitemaps
- If you want to use sitemaps for SEO, then avoid spam content at all costs. Spam content will cause pages to be flagged immediately, making your XML sitemap useless.
- If a page is blocked in robots.txt or by meta robots “noindex”, then leave it out of your XML sitemap.
- If your website is large, don’t even attempt keeping track of your sitemap manually. If you try to sync up robots.txt, meta robots, and the XML sitemap, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Instead, use dynamic XML sitemaps.
- Don’t forget to use your XML sitemap to investigate and monitor how well your site is functioning. Using XML sitemaps for SEO includes using it to investigate and eliminate indexation problems.
In general, you don’t want to do anything that dissuades engine crawlers from visiting your website.
Sitemaps for SEO
Knowing how to use sitemaps for SEO is a vital element of any strong content marketing strategy. They make your content easy for users to discover and search engines to navigate. Sitemaps help to get your site indexed and ranked which will drive traffic to your webpage.
There are many ways to use sitemaps for SEO, but if you start off with these three you’ll have the basics mastered.
What problems have you run into with sitemaps?