Sitemaps: What They Are, How to Create One & Submit it to Google

Sitemaps: What They Are, How to Create One & Submit it to Google

Sitemaps are one of SEO’s oldies but goodies.

In fact, they’re one of the most important elements of SEO, because they help Google and other search engines find the pages on your website.

Not to mention they also help you rank better, because Google is able to locate new pages and identify updates to old pages much more quickly.

In a nutshell: you can’t live without ’em.

I’ve often heard that they can feel overwhelming and quite technical to understand.

But don’t let the frustration of their technicality make you throw your computer out the window — I’ve got your back!

I will show you what sitemaps are, how to create one, how to submit them to Google, and all the essential best practices.

What is a sitemap?

To start off with the basics, a sitemap is a file that provides information about the pages, videos, images, and other files on your website. It’s important for various reasons, including:

  • Acting as a roadmap for Google and other search engines to find and better understand your content.
  • Leading search engines through your website to crawl and index the essential pages.
  • Helping search identify when new pages and updates to old pages are available.
  • Helping search engines find alternate language versions of your page.

But before I go further, you must know that there are two types of sitemap formats: HTML and XML. Here’s the basic difference:

HTML sitemaps: This is more like your content sitemap that users can see and use to navigate your site. They’re also commonly referred to as your “website archive.” Some marketers view HTML sitemaps as outdated or even entirely unnecessary.

XML sitemaps: This is the sitemap that’s purely used for indexing and crawling your website and is manually submitted. It’s the more modern form of handling how all your content is stored across your website.

While HTML sitemaps might help users find pages on your site, as John Mueller said, your internal linking should take care of that anyways. So the focus from an SEO perspective should be on XML sitemaps.

Types of Sitemaps

From these two types of sitemaps described above, there are also subsections within them. I’ll now go over these in more detail.

1. Page Sitemap

A page sitemap or regular sitemap improves the indexations of pages and posts. For sites that are not image-focused or video-focused, like photography and videography sites, a page sitemap can also include the images and videos on each page.

A page sitemap without an image would look like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″ >

<url>

<loc>https://example.com/</loc>

<lastmod>2020-09-17</lastmod>

<changefreq>daily</changefreq>

<priority>0.9</priority>

</url>

</urlset>

Include your URLs in <loc> tags. <lastmod> indicates when the page was last edited. <changefreq> indicates how often the page is edited and <priority> indicates how important the page is to other pages on the website as a whole. You can take a look at Sitemaps XML format for more information on these parameters.

2. Video Sitemap

An XML video sitemap is similar to a page sitemap, but of course focuses largely on video content, which means they are only necessary if videos are critical to your business. If they aren’t, save your crawl budget (the finite amount of crawlable pages and resources across your site) and add the video link to your page sitemap.

But if you do need a video sitemap, it would look like this:

Sitemaps: What They Are, How to Create One & Submit it to Google

Note: This is what a video sitemap looks like. Implement it only if videos are critical to your business.

3. News Sitemap

If you publish news and want to get those news articles featured on top stories and Google News, you need a news sitemap. There’s a crucial rule here: do not include articles that were published longer than the last two days in the file.

Google News sitemaps aren’t favored in regular ranking results, so make sure you only add news articles. Also, they do not support image links, so Google recommends you use structured data to specify your article thumbnail.

4. Image Sitemap

Like the video sitemaps, image sitemaps are only necessary if images are critical to your business, such as a photography or stock photo site. If they aren’t, you can leave them in your page sitemap and mark them up with the image object schema, and they will be crawled along with the page content/URL.

Like the video sitemaps, image sitemaps are only necessary if images are critical to your business, such as a photography or stock photo site. If they aren’t, you can leave them in your page sitemap and mark them up with the image object schema, and they will be crawled along with the page content/URL.

If you believe an image sitemap is needed, it will look like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″ xmlns:image=”http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-image/1.1″ >

<url>

<loc>https://example.com/</loc>

<image:image>

<image:loc>https://example.com/image-url.png</image:loc>

</image:image>

<image:image>

<image:loc>https://example.com/second-image-url.png</image:loc>

</image:image>

</url>

</urlset>

5. Sitemap Index

There are a few limitations you’ll want to keep in mind for sitemaps:

  • Having too many URLs will only lead to no indexation of some of your pages.
  • All sitemaps, except the news sitemap, should have a maximum of 50,000 URLs.
  • News sitemaps should have a maximum of 1000 URLs.
  • A sitemap should be a maximum of 50MB in uncompressed file size.

As a result of those limitations, you might need to have more than one sitemap. When you use more than one sitemap file, you need an index file that lists all of those sitemaps. It’s the index file that you submit in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. That file should look like this:

XML Sitemap Example

So far, you have seen each sitemap’s structure. Most websites will only need the page sitemap that includes the images on each page. That looks like this:

Sitemap Priorities

Adding priorities to your sitemap is one of the things many people do to differentiate between how important different pages are, but Google’s Gary Illyes mentioned that Google ignores these priorities. In his exact words:

Generally speaking, as long as you are honest about when your content was actually modified, include it in your sitemap so that Google and other search engines know to re-crawl the modified page and index the new content.

How to Create a Sitemap

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Dion Mitchell (61)

I am a web and data management consultant with a passion for helping clients implement solutions to achieve their goals. With over 20 years of enterprise IT experience, I have become an expert in project management and problem analysis acquired from various roles ranging from business and systems analyst, systems engineer to principal member technical staff for data management and quality.

I am now on a mission to share those best practices with small businesses and entrepreneurs to help them save time, money, and compete with larger businesses.

Top Services:
- Web consulting for small and new businesses looking to increase online brand
- Process automation using a variety of SaaS tools
- Appointment and product-driven business sites

Related Certifications and Certificates:
- Certified Digital Business Consultant - WP Elevation
- Certificate, Business Intelligence - Villanova University
- Certificate, Advanced Project Management - Stanford University
- Certified, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, Change Acceleration Process (CAP) - General Electric

Degree:
Bachelors, Computer Information Systems - DeVry University

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