One of the most important things you can do to get your business’s website noticed is to be showcased in the search engines and one of the easiest ways to let search engines know your site exists is to build and submit a sitemap.
Sitemaps are files designed to tell search engines how a website is laid out. By listing the URLs of the pages and including pertinent data (metadata,) it tells the bot if there is any unique data that should be noted, how it relates to other pages on the site and how the pages connect to other websites.
Why You Need to Create Your Sitemap
Letting the search engines re-create your site for you can work against you. You need to protect your site from duplicate content penalties which can cause your pages to be de-indexed. There are several ways search engines can accidentally see your site as having duplicate content. Just to name a few:
- http or https Secure Socket Links are necessary for the browsers but if your website was created prior to 2016, there’s a good chance that there’s an http version archived on the internet. Older sites may still have http links in their site. You want the bot to crawl the https version.
- Mobile Version: This can put you in a “Catch-22” if you subscribe to a service that publishes a mobile version of your website. Any site that uses a subscription service for delivering their mobile content now has two complete copies of their site on the web.
- Syndicated Content: When your pages are set up for syndication, it winds up being duplicated everywhere on the internet. Some of these places may be a little suspect or spammy. This can have a detrimental effect on your rankings.
- www versus non-www: Some links to your site may not include the “www” or vice versa. These are considered two different pages.
- Category Pages: If you have Category pages on your site, your URLs are then listed once again. https:// yoursite.com/your-best-page https:// yoursite.com/category/your-best-page
Now, add them all up:
- http: www. yoursite.com
- http: yoursite.com
- https: yoursite.com
- https:// www. yoursite.com
- https:// yoursite.com/category/your-best-page
- https:// yoursite.com/your-best-page
See quickly how your site looks spammy? Add Author’s pages and maybe some tag pages in there as well and you’re starting to look like a regular Viagra email.
Now that you’re aware of the amount of duplicate content you can be showcasing to Google without realizing it, what happens next? If duplicate versions of the same page are discovered by their bot, Google’s algorithm determines which version best represents the content and displays that version. This version is now considered the canonical page. Besides everything just mentioned, Google determines which page is canonical by its completeness (whatever that means to a bot) and ranks it accordingly. In fact, Google may decide that another website with more authority has published the best representative version of your page and de-index your original page.
What if Google Gets it Wrong
The problem is that we don’t know which version of your page Google will like best. The easiest way to nudge them in the right direction is by creating and submitting a sitemap. While there are other methods of indicating a canonical page that can get the job done, many involve adding code to your links which creates bloat and can slow down your website’s load time (another ranking factor). As they stand alone and are as light as text files, sitemaps don’t add any weight to your pages.
The version that Google determines is the best version of your page is called the canonical version. Your sitemap will tell Google which URL should be considered the canonical page.
Types of Sitemaps
There are several different types of sitemaps that you may want to create. Basic sitemaps list the URLs of posts and pages, although some websites will benefit from other extensions. For instance, if your website is image heavy, like Pixabay.com, a sitemap with an extension for images would help search engines categorize your pages more accurately. Images, News, and Video extensions all have unique identifiers that can help the search engines intelligently crawl your site.
XML (Extensible Markup Language): The most complete sitemap available. It contains the metadata that will help your site to rank, can be created by automated means and is easily updated.
Text: The most basic of all sitemaps. It’s simply a list of the URLs on your site. While this may appear to be the easiest one to implement, it can be time consuming to maintain updates and will not contain any other information that may help your site such as updates and interlinking.
RSS: RSS and it’s cousin, mRSS are acceptable as sitemaps but they will only include content that is found on pages that you have dedicated to your site’s feed.
You have several options when it comes to creating sitemaps. Some are more elegant than others.
Using a Plugin
If your site is built on a popular Content Management System (CMS) like Joomla, WordPress, or Drupal, there are extensions, plugins and modules that will create a sitemap for you. If you’re already using SEO by Yoast in WordPress, you can enable this by clicking on the Features tab in the General settings, setting the toggle to On and saving the changes. Get the URL by clicking on the question mark next to XML Sitemaps and following the link to See the XML Sitemap.
If your website has under five hundred pages, you can use the free online generator at https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/ It scans about twenty-five pages per minute and also gives you an HTML version of your site that you can upload and share with your visitors. There are also many other online and downloadable apps that can create a sitemap for you.
If you want to create a sitemap manually, you’ll should check out the updated version of the protocols by visiting Sitemaps.org/protocol.html. This is where you’ll find a sample template and the most up-to-date formatting and encoding rules for text files and XML files. You’ll need to update this and re-submit it every time you make a change to your website or publish new content.
How to Submit Your Sitemap
After you have uploaded your sitemap or had it generated for you, you’ll need to locate the link to the page either by a plugin notification or by finding it in your site’s control panel. Keep this link handy.
Add to the Robots.txt File
If you’re comfortable editing your robots.txt file, add the path to your sitemap here using this line as an example:
Submit to Google:
- Log into Google Webmaster Tools.
- Select your website from the drop down box on the top left.
- Select Sitemaps from the Index section.
- Enter your relative (that’s everything after the dot com) URL in the Add a new sitemap section.
- Click the SUBMIT button.
Submit to Bing:
- Log into Bing Webmaster.
- Select your website.
- Select Sitemaps under Configure My Site.
- Enter the full URL.
Keep your sitemaps up to date and the search engines will be able to effectively crawl your website’s new content.