What is a sitemap
In this article, we will mainly talk about sitemaps for search engines. These are XML documents that contain technical information. They help search robots navigate sites and index them efficiently.
There are also sitemaps for website visitors. They are called HTML maps. In essence, they represent a directory of site pages with a hierarchy display. An HTML map helps visitors navigate the site and find the pages they want.
Why do you need a sitemap.xml
You can read more about this in the Google guide for webmasters. Brief essence: sitemap.xml contains information important for search robots:
- List of site page URLs and their hierarchy.
- The type of published content, such as an image or video.
- Information about images and videos that search engines use to index the site and generate results.
- Information about the update frequency and the last page update.
- Information about the priority of the page.
- Data about alternative versions of the page.
- In a few words, a sitemap is a navigator for search engines.
Is it possible to run a website without sitemap.xml
Yes. Search engines consider XML Sitemap a recommended tool. For example, if the site does not have a sitemap.xml, it might be mentioned in the list of possible, but not critical or fatal problems.
Robots are not stupid, they will index the site even without sitemap.xml. But in some situations, the absence of an XML map leads to indexing problems. Here are some examples:
- There are pages on the site that are not linked from other pages on the site.
- The site is very large, it has a complex structure.
- New website.
- Many pages of the site are regularly updated.
- The site has more and less important pages.
Recommendation: if you have a commercial website, the traffic of which affects the success of your business, create and connect a sitemap.xml. How to do this is described in detail below.
How to create and connect a sitemap.xml file
There are two ways to create a sitemap. The first one is that you can create a sitemap.xml using an external online generator. Second, you need a module or an internal generator for a specific CMS. Let's consider both methods.
How to create a sitemap online using a generator
The good thing about this method is that you are not tied to a specific engine. With the help of online generators, you can create a sitemap.xml for a site on any CMS or for a static site on HTML.
This method has a drawback. It is suitable for sites with a limited number of pages, such as business card sites. If the site has five pages, and you do not plan to create new ones, make a sitemap.xml once using a free external service. Examples will follow.
If new pages are constantly appearing on the site, free external generators are not suitable. They do not include new URLs in the sitemap, so the sitemap.xml is no longer valid.
Here are some sitemap generators:
After you generated the sitemap, you have to add it to your website and this can be done through Google Search Console:
How to create a sitemap using additional modules for CMS
This method of creating a sitemap is more convenient compared to free online generators. It provides additional flexibility: the webmaster can manage the sitemap.xml parameters. In addition, add-ons automatically update the sitemap after new pages are created and notify search engines about it.
If your site is powered by WordPress, take a look at the Google XML Sitemaps plugin. Install and activate the module. Go to the settings page. In the basic settings, enable Google notifications, add the sitemap URL to robots.txt, and enable compression of the sitemap.xml file.
Pay attention to the section "Sitemap Content". Include in your sitemap.xml only those types of pages that you need in the search engine index.
For example, if you have an online store, it makes sense to include category and tag pages in your sitemap. In this case, search engines will show users catalog pages, for example, the "Smartphones" heading or a catalog page with products tagged with "children". If you don't want the tags and category pages in the SERP, don't include them in your sitemap.
Be sure to check the Include the last modification time checkbox. In this case, the plugin will indicate in the sitemap the date of the last update of the publication. Robots need this information to schedule page rescanning.
In the Change Frequencies section, you can ask search engines to index certain types of pages at a certain frequency. Search engines will most likely ignore the changefreq parameter in the sitemap.xml, since they themselves plan the site's crawling budget. However, the plugin allows you to specify these settings in the sitemap.
In the "Priorities" section, specify the priority of the site pages. Valid values are from 0.1 to 1.0. By default, the page has a priority of 0.5. Give high priority to the pages you think are important over the rest of the site. For example, if there are news or new product announcements on the homepage, it may be considered the highest priority page.
Please note that the time of the last update, the desired frequency of indexing and the priority of the pages are optional information. Search engines may or may not consider it. You will not lose anything if you leave the default values in these sections.
Save your changes. After that, you can forget about the Google XML Sitemaps plugin forever, as it works in the background, automatically updates and updates the sitemap itself. All you have to do is add sitemap.xml to Google Search Console.
Google XML Sitemaps isn't the only WordPress plugin you can use to create a sitemap. For example, the All in One SEO Pack has an XML Sitemap module. After activating the module, you can create a sitemap and configure its parameters.
If you are posting videos to your site and want them to rank in search, you can create a sitemap for the videos. To do this, you can use a separate generator, for example WP Video SEO.
How to add a sitemap to webmaster console
To add your sitemap to Google Search Console, select the Sitemaps section. Add the map URL and click the Submit button. Usually, the sitemap is available at an address like yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml.
It will take a search engine some time to index the sitemap. After indexing, the status "Successful" or an error message will appear. To view the sitemap indexing report in the new Search Console interface, click the icon highlighted in the illustration.
In the report, you can see the indexing data of the sitemap.xml. For example, if the site has pages that are closed from indexing, a notification about this will appear in the report.
Sitemap: create and forget
This is what the ideal algorithm for working with a sitemap.xml looks like. To implement it, it is better to use plugins and modules for CMS. They automatically generate a sitemap.xml file and update it when new pages appear on the site.
The created sitemap must be added to the Google Search Console. After that, you can really forget about sitemap.xml. If search engines have problems indexing the map, they will notify you. To solve the problems, most likely it will be enough to re-generate the map and send it for indexing.
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