Home | Search Engine Optimization | Formatting and Creating A Sitemap

Formatting and Creating A Sitemap

John Doherty —  March 9, 2011
  • Buffer
  • Vote on Hacker News
  • Sharebar
  • Buffer
  • Vote on Hacker News

Format a sitemapI 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″?>
<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>
<url>
<loc>http://www.example.com/</loc>
<lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
<changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
<priority>0.8</priority>
</url>
</urlset>

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!

John Doherty

Posts

I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

5 responses to Formatting and Creating A Sitemap

  1. John,

    Great post. Google XML Sitemaps is another decent WP plugin for just creating an XML sitemap. I’ve used it with success and is pretty straightforward.

    Also, Wil Reynolds has a good video on youtube where he says he doesn’t really worry about sitemaps, if site architecture is done correctly. Check it out.
    http://www.youtube.com/wilreynolds#p/u/37/F3MTi9iViHQ

    • Thanks Tom! I appreciate the link to Google XML Sitemaps. Does it ping Bing and Yahoo as well? That’s what I like about Yoast, is that it covers all of them.
      Thanks for the link to Wil’s video as well. I’ll have a watch!

  2. You know it says it pings all of them. The few times I’ve used it I just grabbed the URL and popped it into Google Webmaster Tools under “Submit Sitemap”. Just to be safe, because I’m paranoid like that :)

    But, yeah that specific site got ranked real well in Yahoo & Bing, so I guess it worked…

    • Cheers man, thanks! I’ll have to check that out for future personal and client sites!

      I submit them manually through Webmaster Tools for both Google and Bing as well. I’m paranoid that way too. I was having some indexing issues with this site on Bing, but once I submitted the site through Webmaster Tools it got indexed just fine.

      Better safe than sorry!

  3. I actually learned about most of this, but never the less, I still considered it had been valuable. Fine task!