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11
Apr
2023
Sitemaps: What They Are, How They Work, and Best Practices for Creating Them

Sitemaps: What They Are, How They Work, and Best Practices for Creating Them

Whether you run an antiques shop, a hair salon, or a neighborhood café, chances are your business has a presence on the World Wide Web. According to Zippia, 71 percent of all small businesses in the U.S. had a website in 2021¹. However, if your company’s website is a disorganized mess, you will suffer from lower search engine rankings than your competitors. You may ask yourself, “How can I better organize my website for higher search results?” 

Enter sitemaps. Like blueprints for a construction project, sitemaps outline how search engines find, crawl, and index all the content included on your website². In this article, we will learn more about what sitemaps are, how they work, and best practices you can follow to create a predictably awesome one for your business website. 

While sitemaps may vary from one website to another, they fall into the following categories². Normal XML sitemaps like the one pictured below are the most common kind, and their purpose is simply to link each distinct webpage across your business’s site². Meanwhile, video sitemaps help Google understand the video content featured on your page². News sitemaps, as their name suggests, help Google find content on sites that it has approved for Google News². Furthermore, image sitemaps help search engines locate images on your website, such as pictures of your company’s products or services². Finally, although search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo rely primarily on your XML sitemap, HTML sitemaps are helpful for end users². By including an HTML sitemap, you can help your site’s visitors quickly and easily navigate to their desired destinations². Now that you know the five types of sitemaps and how they work, we will now explore how to set one up for your website. 

(Image courtesy of https://yoast.com/what-is-an-xml-sitemap-and-why-should-you-have-one/)  

Creating a sitemap is simple and straightforward. If you use WordPress, you can utilize the Yoast SEO plugin to craft a sitemap for you². Additionally, since Yoast SEO sitemaps are dynamic and update automatically, you need not update them manually, saving time and headaches². You can also use a variety of other WordPress plugins to create sitemaps, such as Google’s XML sitemap generator². However, if you do not use WordPress, there are plenty of third-party sitemap generator tools for you to utilize, including XML-Sitemap.com². When you visit these websites, they will generate an XML file you can use as a sitemap for your company’s website². 

After you have created a sitemap, you must manually review it to ensure it includes every page on your business website, or at least those you want search engines to crawl². Although your sitemap’s location may vary based on your company’s CMS (content management system) and the program you used to create it, chances are you will find it by adding /sitemap.xml to the end of your company’s web address². Once you have thoroughly reviewed your sitemap, then submit it to Google². 

When you are ready to submit your sitemap to Google, start by logging into your Google Search Console account. Then, navigate to “Index” and click on “Sitemaps” in the sidebar². If you have already submitted your sitemap, you will see a list of “Submitted Sitemaps” on this page². Either way, to submit your sitemap, enter its URL into the appropriate field and then click “Submit” ². Once you have everything completely set up, you will see the information about your sitemap under the “Submitted Sitemaps” section². We will now highlight best practices so you can create a predictably awesome sitemap for your business website. 

One crucial best practice for sitemap creation is to prioritize your most valuable pages and thus drive more traffic to them³. Google’s sitemaps protocol lets you rank every page on your website with a score between 0.1 and 1³. Keep in mind that crawlers will traverse your highest-quality pages more frequently than those of lower quality, allowing search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing to learn how often you update these pages and how they add value to your site³. 

Additionally, you should always opt for rating dynamic pages – those you update most frequently – higher³. For instance, if you update your company’s blog with a new post every other day, rate it higher so that search engines can crawl through it more regularly³. Meanwhile, you should rate static pages – like your company’s privacy policy and terms of use – lower³. Since you will not update these pages as frequently, search engines will crawl them less often³. This demonstrates that prioritizing pages in your sitemap can help attract more visitors and thus more business to your site. 

Another best practice worth following is to categorize the content on your business’s website³. For example, suppose you run an ecommerce site comprised of a homepage, an “About Us” page, and pages for every product you sell. You must segment each category and subcategory within your site based on the commonality of their content³. If you sell kitchen appliances on your site, for instance, group together all pages for a specific product category, such as “toaster ovens” like the one shown below. By doing so, you will ensure that similar content is within a single category rather than scattered across random pages³. This will also benefit your users by streamlining your site’s navigation for them³. In short, content categorization is crucial for creating predictably awesome sitemaps. 

(Image courtesy of https://www.cnn.com/cnn-underscored/reviews/best-toaster-oven)  

Finally, you should make sure to exclude “noindex” URLs from your sitemap³. Although “noindex” pages, including logins and checkout pages, are an integral part of your website, that does not mean you want search engines to crawl them³. Consider that if you add “noindex” URLs to your business’s sitemap, it can generate errors in your Google Search Console reports and reduce the number of pages Google indexes within a given timeframe³. Therefore, you should be mindful of every URL you add to your business’s sitemap³. If you are using a dynamic sitemap like Yoast SEO, keep an eye out for any URLs that should not be there³. In summary, by excluding “noindex” URLs from your sitemap, you can focus on including your company website’s highest-quality content to boost SEO and increase traffic for greater profits. 

Navitend can help you. Call 973.448.0070 or setup an appointment today. 

Sources: 

¹Zippia. “20+ Essential Small Business Website Statistics [2022]: How Many Businesses Have a Website” by Jack Flynn. Retrieved from https://www.zippia.com/advice/small-business-website-statistics/.  

²Backlinko. “What is a Sitemap? How to Create an SEO Optimized Sitemap.” Retrieved from https://backlinko.com/hub/seo/sitemaps.  

³Nightwatch.io. “8 Simple Sitemap Best Practices to Follow.” Retrieved from https://nightwatch.io/blog/sitemap-best-practices.  

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