What is a sitemap and why do I need one?

Do you have a sitemap on your website? Do you know why you need to have one and what the SEO benefits are? We can help answer these questions.

What is a sitemap?

There are two different types of sitemaps – HTML and XML.

A HTML sitemap is what it sounds like – a list of pages on your website. The sitemap is often broken into sections, and is intended for humans. Meanwhile, an XML sitemap is intended for search engine robots.

Sitemaps include important metadata such as when it was created, when it was last modified, and how it is relevant to other pages. You can even give specific information about content on your page, such as photographs and videos.

Having a sitemap on your website helps with indexing, as crawlers will read this information.

Do I need a sitemap?

Google’s guide to sitemaps outlines who needs to include sitemaps on their websites.

You will need to include a sitemap if:

  • Your website is really large
  • Your site has a large archive of content pages
  • Your site is new with few external links
  • Your site uses rich media content

Pretty much everyone can benefit from having a sitemap on their website. While having your pages correctly linked helps crawlers, sitemaps will further help with this process. Best of all, you will never be penalised for having a sitemap on your website.

Why are sitemaps important?

Source: Diggles Creative

A sitemap tells search engines what the content of your website is, and how frequently it is updated. This means it is easier for search engine crawlers to find out about the content of your website, and makes the process of indexing easier.

While adding a sitemap won’t affect search rankings, it does make interaction between your website and crawlers easier. This is particularly important if you are frequently producing new content. Crawlers will then know what rate to crawl your website. While adding a sitemap will never negatively affect your SEO, it will help improve your visibility to search engines.  

How do I set up a sitemap?    

Once you’re convinced you need a sitemap, the next step is to actually set one up. Fortunately, if you’re using a WordPress website, it is relatively easy to install a sitemap.

All you have to do is install a plugin. Options for plugins include:

  • Google XML Sitemap: this has been supported for over 9 years, and is rated as the best WordPress plugin.
  • Yoast SEO: this is often considered to be the best SEO plugin, and can be downloaded for free, with premium options starting at $69.  

Once installed, the next step is to submit your sitemap to Google, which can be done through the Google Search Console. To submit your sitemap:

  • Log in to the Google Search Console
  • Navigate to “Crawl” and choose “Sitemaps”
  • Next, click “Add/Test Sitemap”
  • Simply enter the URL of your sitemap, and click “Submit Sitemap.”

While there is no penalty for adding a sitemap, and no foolproof evidence of benefits, having a sitemap will help your SEO efforts. If you want to reap the rewards of having a site that is easier to index and crawled more frequently, it’s a great idea to set up a sitemap for your website.