Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Even if you’re not the most digital marketing-savvy business owner, you likely have a decent understanding of what SEO is and why it’s important for your business. You know that SEO is the process of increasing both the quality and the number of visitors to your website through search engine rankings.
SEO is a broad term that’s used to describe a whole host of techniques and recommendations for best practices that can result in improved rankings in Google. Creating a sitemap is just one of the many technical SEO recommendations that can help give your rankings a boost.
In this post, we’re going to cover the difference between an XML sitemap and an HTML sitemap, how to create a sitemap, and why they matter when it comes to SEO.
You can think of a sitemap similar to a geographical map that helps you find your physical location. A sitemap is a file that lists all the URLs of your website and informs Google about the organization of your site.
Think of a sitemap like a table of contents for both your website visitors and Google to help them understand your site hierarchy and differentiate between your pages. Additionally, a sitemap makes it easier to navigate through your website, which is beneficial for both Google and the user.
There are two different types of sitemaps and it’s important that we understand the difference between them. Sitemaps that are specifically designed for Google’s bot are called XML sitemaps and the visual sitemaps that are generally created for the benefit of the user are called HTML sitemaps.
Next, we’ll talk about some specifics of each.
An HTML sitemap is designed with the intention of guiding your website visitors and allowing them to easily navigate through the pages on your site. It promotes an easy, user-friendly experience which is extremely important to Google.
HTML sitemaps are usually very simple in nature and typically include a bulleted outline of your site’s navigation with links to the pages outlined. When users click on the anchor text and then follow the links, they’re able to find the information and pages that they’re looking for. These are generally found at the top and bottom of a website.
Aside from promoting a positive user experience, this type of sitemap also gives Google a secondary way to “crawl” your site and read and index all of your pages.
An XML sitemap is very similar to an HTML sitemap in that it lists the URLs on your site, but this type of map is exclusively used for the benefit of Google as a way to easily navigate your pages and index them.
XML sitemaps are written in a certain format i.e. XML or text files that are marked up with tags that allow the information to be readable by Google.
For reference, Google’s bot has two main jobs:
1. Explore the internet from page to page.
2. Record information about the links it finds along the way and how they’re related to the pages it crawled.
Once get Google gets this information, it uses it to create search results and determine which sites have the most relevant content to show to its users. This is where your XML sitemap comes in handy. This Google-focused sitemap helps it to easily crawl your site and gather the information it needs to put your site in the right SERP (search engine results page) for related queries.
Yes! And we recommend having both types to achieve the best SEO results.
Sitemaps are not required; however, they are strongly recommended because they make navigating your site easier for both your user and Google—meaning everyone wins!
If your goal is to increase your SEO, then an XML sitemap is a must. Per Google, you need an XML sitemap if your site meets any of the following:
You have a really big site. If your site is really large, it’s easier for Google to miss or overlook some of your new or recently created pages.
Your site has a lot of content that is isolated or not interlinked to each other. If you don’t have your pages interlinked together, listing them on your sitemap can help ensure Google crawls them and indexes them.
If your website doesn’t already have an XML sitemap for Google, don’t worry, there are a couple of different ways that you can create one. Here are the most common ways:
Build it manually. You can manually build a customized XML sitemap if you have a small website with few pages. A site with hundreds of pages can be very time-consuming if you’re trying to build the sitemap yourself. To do this, you’ll likely need the help of a web developer.
XML sitemap add-ons. Most website builders and CMS platforms offer tools and plugins to automate the process of building your site’s sitemap. This is the easiest and most common solution for sites of all sizes.
Online sitemap generators. There are several online sitemap generators out there that you can use to quickly create one. xml-sitemaps.com, for example, is a free online sitemap generator that can make the process quick and easy. This tool can also help you to build an HTML site map, as well.
Once you make your sitemap, it’s important to then submit it to Google so that it can read it and index all your pages. You can submit it to Google right through Google Search Console. Here’s how:
1. Log in to search console.
2. Under the left navigation select “Sitemaps.”
3. Under the Sitemaps page, you’ll find a list of previously loaded sitemaps, if you have any. At the top, you’ll find an option to add a new sitemap.
4. Click “Add a new sitemap”, enter your XML sitemap URL, and hit submit.
5. Be sure to check back into this section of Search Console occasionally to ensure that there are no errors or warnings detected by Google.
Creating sitemaps, both XML and HTML, are important for your website from both a user experience standpoint and an SEO perspective. If you want a relatively easy way to increase your SEO, we recommend that you take a few minutes to create an XML sitemap for your site today.
Need help or have any questions? Our team of digital marketing and SEO experts are happy to help! Get in touch today.