In my last post, I covered the importance of using Google XML Sitemaps for SEO indexing purposes. So how do you create a Google Sitemap?
What a Google Sitemap Looks Like
As I mentioned in my last post, a Google Sitemap is simply an XML file that contains pertinent data about your website. Each page of the website has its own entry in the Sitemap file. Google Sitemaps also follow the Sitemaps protocol established at Sitemaps.org.
Here’s what a Google Sitemap would look like with only one website page entry:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8?>
The fields are likely very self-explanatory, but here are the meanings, in case they are not clear:
- <loc> field contains the URL of the page’s location.
- <lastmod> is the date of the most recent page modification.
- <changefreq> field tells Google how often the page is typically updated and is determined by the Sitemap creator.
- <priority> allows the Sitemap creator to tell Google how important this particular page is versus the rest of the site’s content. Priority ranges from 0.1 to 1.0, with 1.0 being the most important.
Tools to Create a Google Sitemap
Creating a Google Sitemap through hand-coding the XML may be cumbersome for many sites. But the good news is that there are many free tools available for creating Google Sitemaps. They include:
I’ve personally been using GSite Crawler for about four years now and really like its functionality. If your website is based solely in WordPress, there are also some WordPress plugins available to create Google Sitemaps and keep them updated. I’d recommend using the Google XML Sitemaps Plugin, which is available on the WordPress website.
Content Management Systems
If you’re using a content management system, check to see if the CMS is creating a Google Sitemap for you already. Check with your CMS provider to be sure.
Registering Your Google Sitemap
After you create the Google Sitemap, you’ll need to register (or verify) it via Google Webmaster Tools. By registering your Google Sitemap with Google via Webmaster Tools, you’re essentially letting Google know the location of your Sitemap (how to find it) and that you indeed are qualified to be giving Google this information for the given website.
To register your Sitemap with Google:
- Login to Google Webmaster Tools with your Google user id and password.
- Click on the “Add a site…” button.
- Enter your website’s URL in the text box and click “Continue”.
- Next you’ll have to verify with Google that you are authorized to register the Sitemap. There are two ways you can prove to Google that you are authorized to provide this information:
- Add a specific meta tag to your website’s home page.
- Upload a blank HTML file to your web server with a specific filename (provided by Google)
- Once you have added the verification data to your website (via meta tag or HTML file), return to Google Webmaster Tools and click “Verify”. If the verification information has been added correctly, Google will verify your site and you will now have access to view all types of information about the website and communicate preferences with Google, such as how often you’d like the Googlebot to index your site (crawl rate).
The good news? Once you register your Sitemap and verify it with Google, no matter how often you update the Sitemap’s information, you do not have to re-register the Sitemap with each update. You only have to re-register the Sitemap if you move its’ location or URL.
Also Register with Bing
Fortunately, because Google Sitemaps follow the standard Sitemaps protocol, the same Sitemap that you use with Google can also be used with Bing. To register your Sitemap with Bing:
- Go to Bing’s Webmaster Tools and sign in with your Live ID.
- Click the “Add A Site” button.
- Enter your website’s URL and click “Submit”.
- There are two options to verify your Sitemap with Bing:
- An XML verification file (provided by Bing) that you add to your website’s server
- A meta tag (provided by Bing) that you add to your website’s home page
While the information provided by Bing about your website isn’t as robust as that from Google, the Bing Webmaster Tools also provide some interesting information, such as the value Bing perceives for your inbound links pointing to your website.
Google Sitemaps, however, do have limitations that you should be aware of — most important of which is file size. Google Sitemaps should be no longer than 50,000 entries or 10MB.
As you can imagine, if you have a large, content-based website, 50,000 entries can be eaten up pretty quickly! So how can you work around that? The answer is Index Sitemaps, which we’ll cover in our next post in this series.