When you create a website, the most important thing is for it to reach your audiences. Thus it is very important that your website is search engine optimized, and sitemap submission is an important task in that direction. Before going into Sitemap.xml, it is important to know how search engines like Google and Bing work.
How Search engines work using crawlers – a refresher
When a person searches for something, the search engine is actually searching a database or index and not the entire internet. These databases are made by search engines like Google using programs called crawlers or spiders. Crawlers scan the entire World Wide Web and store relevant web pages in the index according to keywords. Search engines rank websites based on a lot of criteria like number of keywords, number of back links, presence of synonyms of the keyword, etc. There are also certain advanced filters which makes sure irrelevant spam websites are avoided. The end user is shown only the relevant sites, that too in the order of ranking.
Now let us see what a sitemap is and why it is important to submit your sitemap to search engines.
What is a sitemap?
A sitemap is your ticket to being noticed by crawlers. It is a simple xml file which contains all the URLs in your website. Many aspects like the number of URLs in your sitemap and the size of your sitemap are important. It also tells the crawlers which links are more important than the others and how often your website is updated.
Why do you need a sitemap?
By now it is obvious that to have a website which is not indexed and placed in the database of search engines is useless. As the internet is a huge web containing billions of pages, if your website is not fully indexed, chances of people finding it is very low. There is a chance that your website might be having pages and URLs that is not discoverable by a search engine’s normal crawling process. This is where your websites sitemap kicks in. Sitemaps make it easier for crawlers to index your website. It is easier for crawlers to understand the full structure of your website with the help of a sitemap. Thus, making a sitemap and submitting it to search engines is a very effective way of making your blog easily visible and retrievable for crawlers.
How do you create a sitemap for your website?
Manually entering all the URLs in your website to your sitemap might be a turn off for most of us. No need to worry though, there are many sitemap generators which can be used to create sitemaps automatically. XML-Sitemaps, one such popular tool, which can be used for small websites which do not have content added regularly. It also allows you to define how frequently you update your website and also specifies what modified state is used.
Once the sitemap is made by the generator, you have to upload it to the root of your website’s domain – www.yoursitename.com/sitemap.xml
Creating a sitemap for WordPress sites
There are many plugins available just for sitemaps. Of all the plugins available, WordPress SEO by Yoast and GoogleXML Sitemaps are the best. WordPress SEO by Yoast is a fantastic plugin which caters to all your SEO requirements.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
There is a sitemap generator built into the plugin. Another added advantage is that it is very easy to setup and use.
Most users wouldn’t require a change in sitemap settings. While Google.com and Bing.com are automatically pinged, there is an option to not ping Yahoo.com and Ask.com.
Specific post types and taxonomies can be excluded from your sitemap in an effort to relieve some stress off your server.
The main sitemap page lists a sitemap for each type of post. It shows the different type of sitemaps that are available.
Each sitemap lists the URLs that are to be called. More information about each URL like number of images, priority, etc is also provided.
Sitemap is automatically generated and posted at – www.yoursitename.com/sitemap_index.xml.
Google XML Sitemaps
This one’s a preferable option for advanced users as it provides more control to the user while managing the sitemap.
On top of the plugin settings, it provides information about the sitemap – like when it was last generated, how long it took to build the whole sitemap and how much memory was used in doing so.
A lot of configuration is possible in the main settings. Memory limit and execution time for sitemap creation can be altered here. There is also an option to limit the number of listed posts.
Pages not created using WordPress can also be defined. There is also an option to define the priority of the post depending upon the number of comments it received.
The plugin doesn’t create separate sitemaps for each post type like the Yoast plugin. Number of images on each page is also not listed.
Sitemap is automatically created and published at – www.yoursitename.com/sitemap.xml . This location can be changed in the settings.
Submitting your sitemap to Google and Bing
Once the sitemap is created, the next step is to submit it to major search engines like Google and Bing. This is done with the help of Google Web Master Tools and Bing Webmaster tools.
While it is true that search engines should automatically find your sitemap placed in the root of your domain, the fact remains that submitting your sitemap directly makes things easier. Another great advantage is Analytics. These webmaster tools allow you to know how many of your web pages have been submitted and indexed. It also helps in identifying errors which would have otherwise gone undetected.
Busting the myths surrounding sitemap submission
- ubmitting your sitemap to Google or any other search engine does not guarantee indexing.
- Submitting your sitemap does not improve rankings.
- Submitting your sitemap does not affect crawl rates or frequencies.
How often should the sitemap be updated for best results?
There is no thumb rule when it comes to the frequency of updating your sitemap. It is very flexible. It actually depends on the amount of content being updated. For news websites or other sites which change content every day by hundreds of pages, submission has to be done every other day or even daily at times. For normal blogs which get updated about one to three times per day, a weekly submission should be just fine. For sites with even less change in content, a monthly submission would be more than enough. It is always best to experiment and find it out for yourself. Try different intervals and see how it is affecting your referrals.
Basically Sitemap is the map of your site. It is the map which guides the incoming crawlers. It is very important to guide the crawlers correctly as they help in indexing which is what ultimately provides all the traffic in your website. Thus it is a very important aspect of Search Engine Optimization and should not be overlooked. It is one of those things which, if updated at a regular interval, can make that extra difference to boost the viewership of your website and thus the popularity of your enterprise.