What Is a Sitemap and Do You Need One?

By Jordan Blair | Oct 25, 2016
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An up-to-date sitemap is crucial to your website’s health. To help build a strong website foundation, I will cover the purpose, SEO benefits, types, and maintenance of sitemaps.

What Is a Sitemap?

In its simplest form, a sitemap is a file that lists URLs for a site to clearly show search engines the organization of content on a site. Not only does it inform search engines about URLs on the site, but also provides them with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site). This information helps search engines more intelligently crawl a site.

SEO Benefits of a Sitemap

Google and other search engines view sitemaps essentially as a list of the pages on your site that you want found. Web crawlers typically find and index pages by following links within your site or following links from other sites that point to your site, but waiting for them to find you can be a passive tactic. Providing search engines with sitemaps and additional information can help crawlers find and index pages quicker than they may have otherwise. It also helps them to learn more about your site through metadata. Sitemaps can help get your pages indexed, especially if your site falls into on of the following categories:

  • You have a large site
  • Few external links pointing to your site
  • Your site, a section of your site, or a handful of pages on your site are new
  • Part of your site is totally isolated or not linked well internally
  • Your site contains rich media (images, video, etc.)

Types of Sitemaps

XML Sitemaps

This is the most common type of sitemap. Most webmasters are, or at least should be, familiar with an XML sitemap. Each URL on your site should be on your XML sitemap.

International Sitemaps

If you have separate websites for different languages or countries, you will need to create an international sitemap. This will help search engines display the correct version of a page to a user based on their language or location.

Subdomain Sitemaps

Each subdomain should have its own sitemap. This is largely because each subdomain should have its own Google Search Console property, which is the best way to submit and maintain a sitemap.

Video Sitemaps

It’s no secret that videos can be a huge aide in getting users engaged on your site. A video sitemap will help videos to get crawled so that users can more easily discover them. It also provides search engines with the title, description, play page URL, thumbnail URL, the raw video URL, and much more information about the video.

Image Sitemaps

If you want to increase the likelihood that Google or another search engine displays an image from your site in image search results, then creating an image sitemap is crucial. An image sitemap can also give Google more information about the images such as the raw image file, URL of the image, title, geographic location of the image, etc.

Feature Phone Sitemaps

You can create a separate sitemap for feature phones (non-smartphone). However, you should only do this if you have pages designed specifically for feature phones.

For more in-depth descriptions of sitemaps, check out this article: “Google Search Console Part II: How Many Sitemap Types Do I Need to Implement?!

Maintaining a Sitemap

what-is-a-sitemap-1The Sitemaps Report in Google Search Console is the best tool for maintaining a sitemap. This tool allows you to test sitemaps and submit new or updated sitemaps to Google. Additionally, it shows the list of sitemaps that you submitted to Google. Under each sitemap, you can see the number of submitted URLs and indexed URLs. If your site has a large number or URLs that are not indexed but you submitted, then there is most likely a problem. Luckily for you, Google reports errors for each sitemap.

Ultimately, Google does not guarantee that it will crawl or index everything in your sitemap, but the benefits of having a sitemap are clear. Maintaining your sitemaps through Google Search Console can help you identify problem areas and is a necessary to get pages indexed and crawled.

If you would like help setting up your sitemap, or if you would simply like to know where you stand from an SEO standpoint, check out our SEO audit services, as well as other SEO audit services we offer.

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