If you want attention, you need to put yourself out there. Even a business that produces the best products and provides the best customer service won’t get far if they’re difficult to find.
An XML sitemap allows small businesses to broadcast their website to the world, by which we mean Google and other search engines. With 5.6 billion Google searches performed each day worldwide, a sitemap helps search engines understand your website, thereby making it easier to match businesses with relevant searches.
A sitemap also increases the speed and precision in which search engines can crawl your website, helping to ensure that the latest version of the site is being crawled. According to a Moz study, websites with a sitemap were crawled by Google nearly 100 times faster than those sites lacking a sitemap.
Perhaps most importantly, higher search rankings help to establish a feeling of trust among your users. A high search ranking implies that your business is proven, established, and worth Google putting their reputation on the line by recommending the site.
Let’s explore sitemaps in further depth and learn how to easily create a sitemap in minutes.
What is a Sitemap?
An Extensible Markup Language (XML) sitemap is essentially a list of pages on a site, typically expressed as URLs. Sitemaps provide additional metadata, such as when the page was last updated and the importance of pages in your site hierarchy.
Along with SEO benefits, sitemaps help site owners organize their content so that it promotes the business goals in a logical way. This includes eliminating redundant content and anticipating how users will navigate the site.
You can learn all about the additional benefits of a site map here.
Creating a Sitemap
Sitemaps can be created either manually or automatically, typically with a third-party tool. For sites with more than a dozen URLs, we recommend using one of the many free tools available on the web.
For those up to the task of creating a sitemap from scratch, here is a step-by-step guide from Quicksprout.
Most of the tools offer a free option (usually offering up to 500 pages before you have to pay). Some of the best sitemap tools we’ve found include.
- XML-Sitemaps – Allows up to 500 pages free, with no registration required. As its name implies, this tool works with only XML sitemaps.
- Screaming Frog – Offers up to 500 pages free, and finds broken links, errors, and redirects, all with the free version.
- Whimsical – Allows you to create up to 4 free sitemap boards, which can be uploaded as XML files. Unlimited sitemap boards are available for $10/month.
- Yoast SEO – Offers an excellent free solution if your site runs on WordPress.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll first need to allow the tool to crawl your site. Once the crawl is complete, the tool should provide a full list of URLs associated with the site, along with additional metadata and hierarchical information.
Before you begin to actually create the sitemap, there are a few steps to undertake.
Decide Which Pages to Index
You can create sitemaps that use up to 50,000 URLs or take up to 50MB in uncompressed data. However, simply having these limits doesn’t mean you should be submitting sitemaps that large.
Remember that the purpose of a sitemap is to provide as clear a picture of your site as possible. A sitemap clogged up with pages irrelevant to searches will only serve to confuse the crawlers.
A better option involves analyzing which URLs best represent your site in a Google search. For example, if you have two or more versions of the same page, Google recommends using the canonical page. In this case, you would choose to only index that particular page, while leaving the redundant pages out.
Google also recommends against indexing utility pages, such as header/footer content, privacy policies, wishlists, and other navigational elements.
If you find that your sitemap is too large and you can’t possibly break it down further, consider submitting multiple sitemaps. Google allows up to 500 sitemaps, all with the same 50MB, 50,000 URL limits.
Break sitemaps up as necessary, but try to keep each sitemap to around 10,000 URLs. This usually ensures a more thorough crawl.
Now that you’ve figured out which pages to index, you’ll next want to examine the hierarchy of the website.
All pages and subpages should contain a logical flow that’s intuitive for a user. Obviously, the place to start is the homepage, but where do they go from there?
Consider the importance of each page in regards to a search. Which pages do you want a new user to see first? The pages ranked highest in importance tend to be the easiest for search engines to crawl, so be sure to prioritize the pages that best represent your site.
Submitting a Sitemap
Once you’ve saved your sitemap as an XML file, you’re ready to move onto the submission phase.
Fortunately, it’s easy to post your sitemap to a search engine. To submit your XML sitemap to Google, simply follow these steps:
- Verify your site ownership with Google
- Sign in to Google Search Console
- Select the website you wish to submit
- Click the Sitemap button
- Click Add/Test Sitemap
- Type “sitemap.xml” and click Submit Sitemap
Your job is done…for now. As your site changes, you’ll want to ensure that search engines pick up on the updates. That means regularly updating your sitemap.
If a website is only making minor changes that won’t impact desired search results, then a sitemap update may not be necessary. But if you’re adding new content, the best way to get that content to the search engines is to update your sitemap.
For example, if you regularly post a blog once per week, you want to make sure search engines can find these new pages. Keeping your sitemap up to date makes sure all the search engines will index your new content quickly.
The good news is that many platforms can automatically keep your sitemaps updated. For example, Shopify automatically creates a sitemap for you, while WordPress and WooCommerce have plenty of plugins to make sitemap management a breeze.
Following the Direction of Trust
When trying to attract new business, it’s always beneficial to be top of mind for users. Creating a clear, detailed XML sitemap allows small businesses to compete with larger competitors by using the influence of search engines to their advantage.
Along with SEO benefits, sitemaps enable small businesses to gain trust with their users. If a business is open and easy to find, users are more likely to view the business as legitimate, meaning they’ll be more likely to use the business’ products and services.
We can’t overstate the importance of trust in a business relationship, so don’t let the opportunity go to waste. While you’re in the process, consider getting your Trust Score from Digital Trust, which scans your site for over 50 trust factors including usability, safety, reputation, and transparency.
Based on your site’s trust score, you may qualify for a free trustmark, a clear visual indication that a third party has deemed your site trustworthy. All of these free tools go toward developing further digital trust with your users and, ultimately, more conversions and sales.