Running a website seems to come with a constant, ever growing to-do list. There are a lot of things you hear you should do, but sometimes you wonder which are really worth the time.
Creating a sitemap is one of those things that’s worth your time.
We’ll outline why creating a sitemap is worth doing, how to do it, and what to do with it once you have it.
What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is a file that details information about the pages and files on your website and how they relate to each other. The most common format for sitemaps is XML (extensible markup language), which is the easiest type to submit to Google. You can also create an HTML (hypertext markup language) sitemap, which is more useful for humans.
Why to Create a Sitemap
The main reason to create a sitemap for your website is for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes. Search engines find pages to include in search results by crawling the web to see what’s out there. But the web is vast, and as powerful as search engine algorithms may be, crawling the entire web is a huge task.
A sitemap makes it easier for search engines to see what pages are on your website, which are the most important to prioritize in their crawl, and some basic information about what’s included on those pages. Creating and submitting a sitemap to Google can speed up the process of getting your pages to show up in search.
But sitemaps can also have uses beyond algorithms and technical SEO. Creating an HTML sitemap can be useful to website owners for staying on top of organizing your website as it grows—it’s a way for you to see all the pages you have in one document, and identify relationships between those pages.
And providing a link to your sitemap to your site (possibly in your footer) provides an extra navigational tool for website visitors. Hopefully, all of your visitors will find your website so intuitive that they never need to use the sitemap, but it never hurts to offer an additional option just in case.
How to Create a Sitemap
Now that you’ve accepted that this is one more item to add to your to-do list, the good news is that a number of tools are available that make creating a sitemap relatively easy. Here are a few of your options.
1. Yoast Plugin
If you use WordPress, the free version of the Yoast plugin provides a feature that creates an XML sitemap for your website. Once you’ve downloaded and activated the plugin, you can set it up to create sitemaps automatically. Simply click on SEO in the side menu of WordPress, choose the Features tab, then scroll down to where you see the XML sitemaps option. Confirm that it’s set to On, or click on it to change the setting if it’s not.
2. AIOSEO Plugin
Another option for WordPress users is the All in One SEO plugin (commonly shortened to AIOSEO). As with Yoast, the SEO plugin offers both free and premium versions that include a number of SEO features, and the sitemap generator is included with the free version. The plugin provides dynamically generated sitemaps that are always current, and automatically updates Google and Bing with the up-to-date sitemaps.
Once the AIOSEO plugin is installed and activated within WordPress, you can make sure it’s set up to automatically create sitemaps by clicking on All in One SEO in the WordPress menu, clicking on Sitemaps, and checking that the Enable Sitemaps button on the page is toggled on.
3. Screaming Frog
If you’re reading this post and you don’t use WordPress, you may be feeling left out. Don’t worry, you have easy options too. Screaming Frog offers an automatic sitemap generator for websites of up to 500 URLs. If your site has more than 500 pages you’ll want included in the sitemap, they offer a premium version of the tool you can use.
To start, download the SEO spider tool. Open it, type in your website where it says “enter URL to spider,” then click the Start button. Once the tool shows that the crawl has reached 100%, click on Sitemaps in the menu, and XML Sitemaps, in the dropdown. You’ll get a menu that looks like this:
The tool will automatically include most of the important pages on your website. But it also gives you options to choose which types of pages to include and exclude, as well as the ability to set priority levels for different pages. Once you’ve gone through the process of setting up your preferences, click Next to generate your sitemap.
What to Do With Your Sitemap Once You Have It
Once your sitemap is ready, you’ll want to submit it to the search engines.
If you used a WordPress plugin, the plugin likely automatically generated a page on your website for your sitemap. If not, you need to add your sitemap to your website by loading it to the root folder of your site. You can either do this with an FTP (file transfer protocol) client or by selecting File Manager in your cPanel (in cPanel, the root folder will generally be called public_html). Load your sitemap file to this folder, and take note of its name.
Now you’re ready to submit it. The most important of the search engines is Google, and the easiest way to submit your sitemap to Google is via Google Search Console.
Submit Your Sitemap to Google Search Console
If you don’t have a Google Search Console account yet, then set one up now. We have instructions on how to do so in our Beginner’s Guide to the Google Search Console. Once signed into the Google Search Console, select Sitemaps from the menu. Submit your sitemap by finishing the URL with the name of your sitemap.
Submit Your Sitemap to Bing
To submit your sitemap to Bing, you’ll need an account with Bing Webmaster Tools. You can set that up by following the instructions here. If you’ve already submitted your sitemap in the Google Search Console, Bing gives you the easy option of importing your sites from the Google Search Console into Bing Webmaster Tools. Select this option, and any sitemaps you have within the Google Search Console will automatically be submitted to Bing as well.
Don’t Skip Sitemaps
When your to-do list is overwhelming, it’s easy to let something like creating sitemaps slide. But creating a sitemap and submitting to search engines can play an important role in helping your web pages get indexed by the search engine algorithms, and found by people in your target audience as a result.