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XML Sitemaps: What They Are, Why They Matter, How To Create & Submit One.

Dec 6, 2021
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XML Sitemaps are a critical tool for any site owner that wants to rank. These files help search engines to better understand what pages you want to be indexed and which ones you don't. There are two types of sitemaps, HTML sitemaps, and XML sitemaps. An HTML sitemap is a page or structured group of pages that link to every user accessible page on a website. The intent is to improve the site's usability by clarifying the data structure of a website. An XML sitemap is a file that is not visible to the user but is designed to help search engines find all the pages on your website.

In this video, we will be talking about XML sitemaps specifically.

 

Video Transcript: 

In the latest episode of Hack My Growth, we're taking a look at XML sitemaps. So let's take a look at XML sitemaps. We're going to cover what they are, why they matter, how do we create one, and how do we add one into search console?

The Importance of Site Structure

So before we get into sitemaps themselves, let's talk quickly about the importance of site structure. So both your users and your crawlers need to be able to find your high value pages easily. They want to find it quickly, and if they can't, well, they're not going to stay and just hang out and keep trying.

So having a clear, simple, and easy to follow site structure is not just going to improve your rankings, but it is also going to help improve your conversions from a user side. So we're doing this process not just for the search engines, but for our users, as well.

Having a clear, simple, and easy to follow site structure is not just going to improve your rankings, but it is also going to help improve your conversions from a user side.

What is a Sitemap?

So what is a sitemap? There are actually two different types of sitemaps. In this video, we're going to be focusing more on XML sitemaps, but there's also something called an HTML sitemap.

The HTML sitemap is a page or a group of pages that link to every user accessible page on the website. And the intent of these are to improve site usability by clarifying the structure of your website and how it's all laid out and how to get from one page to another.

An XML sitemap, this is not a file that's typically visible to the user unless you know how to find it, but it's designed to help the search engines find all the pages on your website.

So in essence, the HTML sitemap is for your users and the XML sitemap is for the machines, but obviously the machines will read your HTML sitemap, as well.

HTML Sitemap

So here's a quick look at an HTML sitemap, and this is from target.com. And they're similar to XML sitemaps in the fact that they detail pages and the links available to your site, and they can crawl these. So the bots will crawl these, and it can give a strong user experience signal to Google, but it's also helpful, again, like you can see here, if you're looking for a job in a certain location or a state or within a category, you can just see all the links in one place and find it quick and easy.

XML Sitemap

Now an XML sitemap, you can use these to tell, and I use that in parentheses, search engines what pages you want them to crawl. Now, it's important to note that by adding a URL into a sitemap does not guarantee that it's going to be indexed or crawled, but it can result in the search engines discovering and indexing pages that they might not have on their own.

Now, here's a quick snapshot of an XML sitemap page, which actually links to other sitemaps. You can have more than one sitemap and you can do this if you're categorizing pages, so you can have your large sitemap that links out to all the other ones, maybe that cover your blog posts, your pages, your category pages, and maybe your tags.

Benefits of Sitemap

So why do you have a sitemap? What's the importance? What's the benefit? Well, for pages that Google already knows about, the metadata within the sitemap, like the last date was modified, can help improve how your site's crawled. If you're modifying your page frequently, Google might come back and crawl that page more frequently to look for the changes to the content.

Now, if you have pages they don't know about, adding these URLs, they can increase the crawl coverage, and as Google crawls those new pages, they might find links to other pages, again, which can continue to expand your crawl coverage and also the amount of pages that you have indexed.

They can also help search engines understand the canonical versions of your pages. So you might have a page that's targeting a specific keyword, and you may have other related pages, as well. Now, the one that you intend to be the main page and the one Google intends or believes is the main page is not always the same thing, but adding in the canonical tags into, and the canonical versions of pages, into your sitemaps can help make sure that Google and you are on the same page.

Now, when you verify your sitemap using something like search console, it may indicate trust and authority, which also can improve your rankings.

And you also get extra insights within search console when you've added a sitemap there.

How to Create a Sitemap

So how do we create a sitemap? Creating a sitemap by hand, it definitely takes technical know-how. But thanks to tools, sitemap creation, it doesn't have to be so complicated. For instance, I'm not going to sit down and create a sitemap by hand. I could probably figure it out, but to be honest, I don't have an expertise in doing that by hand. So there are some generators out there.

One that I've used quite frequently for a number of sites is XML-sitemaps.com. It's pretty easy steps to follow. You just kind of create the sitemap and all the rules and all the pages you want to have in there.

Now, I have not actually used Octopus, but I thought it looked really cool, and I was kind of testing it out a little bit. And it's a visual sitemap. You can actually build an XML sitemap visually, which is kind of helpful if you're not somebody with a computer background or you haven't done much coding, but you still want to generate a good sitemap.

Now, most CMS tools will have generators built in for them, like HubSpot does that. I know that Marketo, some of the other bigger enterprise sites and suites definitely do that with their webpages, but WordPress, you can also do this as well. And we recommend using one of the following plugins. You can use SEO Press, you can use Yost SEO, or you can use XML Sitemaps. I've used all three of these on a number of occasions, and they all get the job done a little bit different with each setup, but they all work really well.

What to Include in XML Sitemaps

So what do you include in your sitemap? Well, the reality is, is not every single URL needs to be in your sitemap.

The best practice is to put your preferred URLs in there, so the ones that are canonicalized, and then leave out the ones that are not, maybe some that are slightly duplicate content or anything like that, you don't want to have those in your sitemap, because you want to help dictate priority to the search engines.

You might also want to create separate sitemaps for different instances or different special cases. For instance, if you've got slightly different pages on mobile, you might want to have a mobile sitemap that's very specific for mobile.

If you're doing a lot of video and you want those videos to rank in search, you can obviously use structured data, like we talk about a lot, but it's also helpful to have a video sitemap, which helps Google crawl and index your video content.

You can also use them for images and increasing the visibility of your images in search with an image sitemap. So there's a number of ways that you can use XML sitemaps, and a lot of those tools we talked about before, you can actually generate and create these types of sitemaps, whether it be for mobile, video, or image, as well as the pages on your site itself.

How to Add a Sitemap in Google Search Console

So the last thing we wanted to talk about is how do we actually put a sitemap into search console so that Google can read it. Now, I'm going to go ahead and zoom in here, and just so it makes it a little bit easier for everybody to see. And as you can see, this is the new design of search console. It looks pretty cool. If we go on the left hand side, we still have the same navigation. Now, under index is going to be sitemaps. And in order to put a sitemap on your website, all you have to do is copy and paste the link to the URL here.

So as you can see, we've got this sitemap going right here. But as I showed in that image, we've got a number of different sitemaps. So I could actually pull this sitemap here, and let's say I wanted to add in the post sitemap, or the page sitemap, in this case. I would go ahead and just take that URL, and I would go back to search console and I'd go to sitemaps. I would put the URL in there and I would hit submit.

Now, what this is going to do is it's going to tell Google, hey, I've got this sitemap here and some pages you can discover. So it'll say success if it can read it. If it can't read it, it'll also tell you about that.

As you notice here, I can see the index coverage now of this sitemap because it's inside Google search console. And if I click on this, it'll actually show me that I've got 15 URLs here that are submitted and indexed. I've got nine that are excluded. And so maybe there's a duplicate, so they didn't include those. Maybe they found the URL, but they didn't cover it, and then submitted an index.

So I can look at these pages and go, okay, why is Google not indexing these certain pages, and what can I do to change that? So it definitely gives you some really good information that now you can leverage in order to make your site more visible, in order to have more control over what Google is covering, as opposed to what they're not covering on your site.

If you got any questions about sitemaps, HTML sitemaps, XML sitemaps, any of that stuff related to SEO, please comment below. If you're doing something different, something that you think would be really beneficial to the group, please share that, as well. We'd love to continue that conversation with you. And until next time, happy marketing.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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