Sitemap (n): A file placed on your web server, in XML format, to alert search engines to a website’s existing pages. Submitted manually to search engines using Webmaster Tools.
I just made up that definition, but it is also deceptive. I’ve been in web development for about 5 years, and I still hate sitemaps. At least, I did. I do sometimes.
Sitemaps can be incredibly helpful for websites, especially new websites, when trying to be discovered and ranked by search engines. They can be easy or terribly difficult to create, depending on the size, scope, and format of your website. I’ll cover this in a later post.
Basic Sitemaps for Beginners
Sitemaps for indexing, and therefore SEO, purposes are created in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) format. To learn more about the format for XML sitemaps, read this article on Sitemaps.org, the first result when you search “xml sitemap format”, and a surprisingly good resource for beginning.
A sitemap can, and possibly should, be generated every time you update your website by adding a new content page or blog post. Sitemaps should be placed in the root folder of your domain (so if your website is http://littlebluewidgets.com, your sitemap path should read http://littlebluewidgets.com/sitemap.xml).
Now, this is not an error-proof way of telling the search engines that you have a sitemap or that they should look for it. After all, if they have not yet found your site, a sitemap simply being placed in your root folder is not going to do you any good. You should use the search engine webmaster tools.
Both Google and Bing have been nice enough to provide webmasters (and SEOs) with Webmaster Tools. Google’s is found here and Bing’s is found here. You must register your website with each tool and then place the given code into your site’s header (or use Yoast SEO for WordPress to do it automatically on your WordPress blog). Wait a few minutes (I usually wait a couple hours) and then verify your site.
Once inside, find the Sitemaps area where you can submit the path of your sitemap on your website.
To find the sitemaps area in Google, simply log into your Webmaster account and click your website. Once the Dashboard appears, click “Submit a Sitemap”, which is found in the lower right-hand corner of the page.
When you move to the Sitemaps window, click the “Submit A Sitemap” button and the below window will appear:
If you have entered the correct path, you should see a green check mark under the Status column.
Now on to Bing!
Submitting a sitemap to Bing is a bit trickier. Once you sign into Bing Webmaster Tools and select your website, you will land on the Dashboard page. Click the “Crawl” section, which is just to the right of “Dashboard” on the top navigation.
Once in the Crawl section, click “Sitemaps” on the left side of the screen:
Then click “Add Sitemap” and the following screen will appear:
As long as your sitemap is in its proper place and you designate the correct path, you should see “Success” under the “Status” column.
I have taken you through the steps to submit your sitemap to the main search engines, Google and Bing. I highly recommend that you use a website CMS or blogging platform that allows you to automatically generate and submit your sitemap to the search engines.
I personally use Yoast SEO for WordPress, which I use to update the sitemap (I’ll be doing so directly after this post goes live) and ping Google and Bing to alert them that I have updated my website. This increases the likelihood of your new content being indexed.
Questions? Comments? Leave them in the Comments section!