Time to add to that SEO best practices checklist! There’s a way to send Google a signal to crawl and index your content faster, and we’re here to teach you all about it. Hint: it’s called a sitemap, and it comes with plenty of benefits. So let’s cover what a sitemap is and why you should have one.
What Is a Sitemap?
Every website is made up of a complex series of pages that interact with each other in some way. Google has to have a system to find and index all this content, so sitemaps were created. Sitemaps are your best friend when it comes to launching a new website or updating a large portion of your content. You might be asking yourself, “What is a sitemap, and why do I need it?”
A sitemap is a file embedded in your website that tells Google how and where all content connects. Including a visual sitemap on your website helps Google find all of the pages you want to be crawled and indexed. Google is also able to better understand information about each page, like post date or how frequently you update your site. When building a sitemap, you can format it as an XML file, RSS file, or plain text file. Check out this sitemap example below:
There are also different entries you can add to sitemaps to organize your content for Google. An image entry may be useful if your website design is incredibly image-heavy. Video entries are great for letting Google know the length of your video and if there are any age restrictions. The more information you can give Google in your sitemap, the better it can scan your site and start showing your content on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Do I Need a Sitemap?
Including a sitemap on your website can never really hurt, but there are particular circumstances when a sitemap is recommended.
The first instance where you should consider including a sitemap is when first launching your website. Google’s crawling system will naturally find new content over time, but having a sitemap with a list of URLs can help speed up the process of getting your content indexed and appearing on SERPs.
Content, Content, and More Content
Another reason to create a sitemap is when your website has a large number of pages, especially if you are constantly updating them. The bigger your web of content is, the easier it is for Google to miss pages. Your sitemap can help Google find more of your content than it might on its own.
Lastly, websites that rely heavily on media like videos and images may benefit from creating a sitemap. Letting Google know the content of your media can improve search results if the media is relevant.
Top 4 Sitemap Examples
The best site maps are clear, regularly updated, and properly organized. The following are some examples of good sitemaps from real websites. There are different types of sitemap files included in these examples.
1. Walmart XML Sitemap
Here you can see a snippet of Walmart’s XML format sitemap. This sitemap is clearly laid out and is ideally made for a search engine to understand and index.
2. Harvard HTML Sitemap
This snippet from Harvard’s HTML sitemap is a great example of a solid site structure. Similar content is grouped together and easily navigated.
3. Quora HTML Sitemap
This HTML sitemap from Quora is another top example of good organization. Notice that every category is linked to the page it’s referring to. This allows users to navigate the site with ease.
4. Lighted Image XML Sitemap
This solid example of an XML format sitemap file is clearly laid out. Notice the top pages, like the blog, FAQ, and top products, are all mentioned. This will allow any search engine to easily read the site in general.
Sitemap Best Practices
The following tips and tricks will help you create the most effective sitemap to improve your search engine rankings.
Never Include “Noindex” URLs
There are pages on many sites that are useful to site developers or the company as a whole but don’t offer anything to users. These pages are often referred to as utility pages. If you include a utility page in the sitemap, search engines will crawl it and index it. Since these pages aren’t actually optimized for search, you shouldn’t include these pages in your sitemap.
This is an essential step for developing a good sitemap and good user navigation. Functionally, a site (and sitemap) needs to group related content together in a hierarchical structure. For example, most sites choose first to order the homepage, then categories, and their subcategories.
This allows search engines to better crawl your site. It also allows for an intuitive user navigation experience.
Place the HTML Sitemap on Your Homepage
The HTML sitemap is different from the XML sitemap. HTML sitemap is built for users to navigate the site, and the XML sitemap is built for search engines to index the site.
Both of these sitemaps convey similar information and serve entirely different but vital functions. We recommend placing the HTML sitemap on the homepage for easy user access. This will create a better-functioning site overall.
Prioritize Dynamic Pages
Every page in a sitemap can be ranked on a scale from 0.1 to 1. The higher the ranking, the more this page will be crawled. It’s best to give static pages, like a contact page or a lesser-used sub-page, a lower ranking. Save your higher ranking pages for the dynamic ones that bring in lots of traffic, like a blog page or a locations page.
How To Find a Sitemap
So now we know what a sitemap is and some best practices, but how do we find a sitemap? There are a few different ways to find a sitemap example on a website.
Using Google’s search tricks, you can find a sitemap right from the Google search bar. If you know the sitemap format or file type you are looking for, you can type in your query such as “site:markitors.com filetype:txt” to find a sitemap on the Markitors website. If you’re not sure what kind of file a sitemap was created as, you can search if they have a URL with the sitemap included, like “site:markitors.com inurl:sitemap:”.
The quickest way to find a sitemap is if it’s been placed on a robots.txt file. Google bots also use robot.txt files to figure out where to go next, so a robots.txt file is also the most beneficial place to embed a sitemap. Head to the URL bar and type in the name of the site followed by “/robots.txt”—like “https://markitors.com/robots.txt”—you should be led right to a website’s sitemap.
Another common way to find a sitemap is through a manual search. Next time you type in a website URL, try adding “/sitemap.xml” to the end. XML sitemaps are the most used file, so typically, the sitemap will pop up with that URL. If a simple “/sitemap.xml” doesn’t bring you to the website’s sitemap, you may need to try different variations such as “/sitemap-index/xml” or “/sitemap.txt” until it appears.
Building a sitemap might be another task to add to your to-do list, but it’s a great way to give Google an extra push to find your content. Luckily there are sitemap generators that can help you create a basic site map. For a professional sitemap template, get started today with the help of Markitors’ Technical SEO specialists.