Sitemaps allow website owners to inform search engines what pages on their website are available for crawling.
The protocol was set up to help search engines crawl your website more intelligently. It was first introduced by Google in 2005, with MSN and Yahoo offering their support to the protocol a year later. Sitemaps are known as URL inclusion protocols as they advise search engines what to crawl. On the other hand, the robots.txt file is known as an exclusion protocol as it advises search engines what not to crawl.
In its simplest form, a sitemap is a document that lists all URLs of your website (that you want crawled). The document details additional information such as the date a page was last modified, how frequently a page may change and whether the page should be given priority over others. Specific sitemaps can be created for each type of content. For example, one sitemaps for blog posts, another for videos etc.
The importance of Sitemaps should not be downplayed. They help search engines navigate your website more easily, which helps search engines index your content better. If you think of your website as a building, the sitemap is a blueprint that informs search engines exactly where everything is located.
How to Create a Sitemap For a Small Content Website
Do not worry. You do not need to manually enter every single URL from your website in order to create your sitemap. Sitemaps can be automatically generated.
For a small static website that does not have content added frequently, I recommend using a sitemap generator such as XML-Sitemaps. It allows you to define how often your pages are updated and what modified date is used.
Once the generator has created your sitemap, you need to upload it to the root of your domain e.g. www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml.
The XML-Sitemaps generator is limited in many ways. Firstly, it has a limit of five hundred pages. Secondly, it defines the same “change frequency” for all URL’s. This is obviously not suitable for any website that publishes content every week as you want your home page spidered more frequently than other pages.
How to Create a Sitemap For Your WordPress Website
There is an abundance of sitemap plugins available for WordPress. Options include XML & Google News Sitemaps, Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps and Google Sitemap.
I would personally recommend one of two plugins for creating a sitemap for your WordPress website.
If you are already using the fantastic WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, I recommend using the sitemap generator that is built into the plugin. If not, I recommend using Google XML Sitemaps.
WordPress SEO by Yoast is what I am currently using on my personal blog. I use it to create sitemaps for my blog because (a) I use the plugin for SEO already, and (b) It is very simple to set up.
The majority of people will not need to change any settings in the sitemap settings area. Options such a sitemap for users and pinging Yahoo and Ask.com are already enabled, but can be disabled if necessary.
Specific post types and taxonomies can also be excluded from your sitemap. The number of URL’s listed on a sitemap page can also be limited so that less strain is put on your server.
Your sitemap will be generated and published at http://www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml. The main sitemap page lists a sitemap for each post type.
Each sitemap lists the URL’s that should be be crawled. Their priority, number of images, change frequency and last modification date are all displayed. The information can be displayed in a different order by clicking on one of the table headers.
Google XML Sitemaps is a better option if want more control over your sitemap.
At the top of the plugin settings page, it details when your sitemap was last generated. It also lets you know how long it took to build the sitemap and how much memory it used to do so.
Many configuration settings can be modified through the main settings page. In addition to limiting the number of posts that are listed, you can increase the memory limit and execution time for the sitemap creation process.
Google XML Sitemaps also allows you to define pages that were not created through your WordPress website. There is also an option to define the priority of posts based on the number of comments they have.
Your sitemap will be automatically generated and published at http://www.yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml; however this location can be changed in the settings area.
Google XML Sitemaps also allows you to define what areas of your website will be listed in your sitemap.
Specific posts, pages and categories can also be excluded. You simply need to enter the post or page ID.
The change frequency and priority can be changed for eight different areas of your website including your home page, posts and archives. In my opinion, the default configuration is fine, though you may want to change it for specific areas of your website.
Unlike WordPress SEO by Yoast, the plugin does not create separate sitemaps for each post type. The number of images on each page are not listed either.
Submitting Your Sitemap to Google & Bing
Once your sitemap has been generated, you should submit it to Google and Bing. You can do this via Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools.
Search engines should automatically detect sitemaps that are placed in the root of your domain. There is, however, a benefit to submitting your sitemaps directly to Google and Bing: Analytics.
Webmaster Tools allows you to see exactly how many pages and images have been submitted and indexed. It will also highlight any errors that you may be unaware of.
If you have not created a sitemap for your website, I encourage you to do so as soon as you can. It will have a positive effect on your search engine rankings by giving search engines a better understanding of how to navigate your content.
As always, if you have any questions regarding sitemaps, please leave a comment 🙂