I was trained as a web developer. Therefore, often many of the technical on-site details and issues get passed on to me, because I have the technical knowledge. Here’s a free tip: if you don’t know the answer and you don’t have anyone to ask, search for it.
This happens with sitemaps around my office. I was armpits-deep in sitemaps recently, trying to figure out some indexing issues with our blog, and how I could correct them. I had to build a few new sitemaps, figure out if I could accomplish certain goals with them, and then try to get them implemented. The last step didn’t quite happen (it was after 5pm and not much hustle happens in my office after 5pm), but the other two did.
Let’s explore sitemaps, including how to build them, how to format them, and what we can do with them to help out the search engines a bit (after all, they have a huge job to do!)
Tools for Creating a Sitemap
Sitemaps are tricky to build manually, which is why you should always automate them. At least, find a tool that will gather your indexable URLs, and then manually edit from there. It’s going to be a bit of work.
I recommend using Xenu Link Sleuth. It will give you not only a sitemap formatted for Google and Bing, but will you can also create sitemaps of subdomains. Xenu will also give you a report of the broken links on your site (you don’t have any of those, right?) that is clear and actionable.
Formatting a Sitemap
Here is the high-brow view of a sitemap format:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
Basically, what you need to know is:
- Don’t touch the “urlset” tag at the top. This is just like the HTTP schema on every webpage. You need it.
- Each URL must be surrounded by the tags.
- Within each set, you need to have the URL of the page between the tags.
- <lastmod>, <changefreq>, and <priority> are optional tags. Xenu Link Sleuth can create this if you want them to, but when you’re just starting, don’t worry about them.
Give the Search Engines A Little Love
Once your sitemaps are created, using only clean URLs (Bing’s Senior Project Manager talked about this recently), they need to be placed in your root folder, as we discussed in my last post: here.
Also submit them to the search engines using Webmaster Tools, which we also covered last time. If needed, when you add new URLs to your sites, you can also submit them manually for the engines, if it is too much of a bear to recreate your sitemap then and there.
A Few Last Words
Automate automate automate. I hope you use a CMS that allows you to create sitemaps easily, as this will make you life much easier. I personally use Yoast SEO for WordPress on this site, which makes life quite easy. I highly recommend it.
If you don’t use a CMS that helps you create sitemaps, do your research and ask a lot of questions. Feel free to ask them here too!