One of the most basic and easiest things you can do to improve organic SEO is to help search engines find and navigate your website. An XML sitemap is one action that helps to achieve this goal. The navigation panel of your website helps human users understand the information on your website. In simple terms, a sitemap helps web spiders and search engine bots understand your website. A good sitemap will provide a clear understanding of the structure of your website. This is because sitemaps organize pages by hierarchy or content type such as “posts,” “pages,” or “images.” Also, each sitemap provides important links and meta-data. If a sitemap is missing, or if it contains broken or outdated pages, then it defeats the purpose of having one. Once you understand how important a sitemap is, you’ll want to learn more about them, including how to view and create one.
To view, validate and maintain your website’s XML sitemap, (and ensure that you have one), follow the below instructions:
- View XML sitemaps currently associated with your website, simply type in your website URL with the XML index extension, such as: https://www.mybiz.com/sitemap_index.xml
- To Validate XML sitemap submittals, refer to the dashboards on Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools or other free sitemap validator tools
- Be sure to check and update your sitemaps regularly, especially as new content as added to your website
- If you can’t find a page that you think should be on your sitemap, ensure that specific page isn’t blocked by robots.txt (more on that below)
A sitemap significantly improves your chances of being indexed by major search engines. If you submit sitemaps, you’re making it easy to be found. (All businesses want to be found!) However, search engines have other factors that determine the quality of your pages and which to crawl. Consider creating more than one sitemap for your site using variations specifically for images, videos, news, mobile, etc. There are also multiple sitemap types that can potentially use different formats, depending upon the search engine you are looking at. There are different types of sitemap files options. The most popular ones are HTML and XML. When submitting sitemaps to search engines, follow the specific instructions provided by each. Below are the steps to create a sitemap for Google and Bing search engines. (Both happen to use XML sitemap files)
The top search engine is Google, so it’s recommended to address it first. There are several ways to create a sitemap for Google search engines. You can use Google Search Console, your website’s content management system/(CMS), or a variety of other sitemap generator tools. For any search engine, verify the website then ensure appropriate user permissions before submitting. Below are instructions using Google’s Search Console.
- Sign in to Google Search Console
- Find & select “sitemaps” in dashboard options
- Select “add/test sitemap”
- Paste your xml sitemap code in appropriate file format
- Test , Submit, & ensure it has been saved
Developed by Microsoft, Bing search is a one of the top three search engines today. Although it’s not as powerful as Google, it’s well worth your time to ensure it also has an updated and accurate sitemap. Follow the instructions below to add a sitemap to Bing.
- Sign in to Bing Webmaster Tools
- Locate the sitemap widget from user dashboard
- Select “add an xml sitemap”
- Paste your sitemap code in appropriate format
- Test , Submit, & ensure it has been saved
- Yahoo! Site explorer is no longer valid. Use Bing Webmaster Tools as shown above to ensure your sitemap is uploaded to Yahoo!.
- Ask.com no longer allows the submittal of sitemaps. The best way to reference your sitemap location for Ask.com is to use robots.txt to reference it.
A robots.txt file suggests to search engines which pages to crawl and which to ignore. Although these are “suggestions” to search engines, they do serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things. The easier you make it for your website to be understood by search engines, the better crawl experience you will receive.
To see if your sitemap is correctly noted in robots.txt use this Google Robots.txt tester tool.
Submitting sitemaps is an important SEO function. However, this action alone is not going to make headlines. To ensure that Google prefers your site over another, there are other SEO functions to consider. Hire assistance to ensure that your sitemap is setup correctly and that you’re maximizing overall search engine strategies.
Contact Leaning Tree Digital directly for more information.