During the 2000s, all government official websites used to have a link named ‘Sitemap’ in your main pages. The purpose of the link was to display a list of pages available on the website, and the interesting thing is that some websites use it even nowadays.
What is obvious, though, is that sitemaps have improved a lot, and they’re not even close to the manually built HTML bullet lists they used to be before. To start with, they’re posted as XML, and they target search engines rather than individual users.
To be more precise, website owners make sitemaps inform the search engine which pages are included for crawling.
The original idea belonged to the search engines, which wanted to crawl websites in a more intelligent way. Google launched the first one in 2005, and Yahoo and MSN followed just a year later.
By definition, sitemaps are protocols for URL inclusion which provide search engines with crawling advice. On the opposite side, you have robots.txt files, which function as exclusion protocols and stop search engines from crawling certain pages.
Do you need an XML sitemap?
If SEO (Search Engine Optimization) matters to your business, you certainly do. Still, have in mind that sitemaps don’t affect your ranking positions, but informs the search engine of the pages you are providing (especially non-indexed ones).
You definitely need a sitemap if you’re new on the web, and you can’t get that many backlinks for every individual post. It means that the search engine finds it hard to track all your pages and posts, and having a sitemap is very likely to organize the process, and to make it more efficient.
Developed and popular websites need sitemaps too because they can always benefit from improved interaction with search engines. The engine will track the need for updates or the frequency in which you’re performing those, and will rate you accordingly. Basically, you will stand a much better chance to be seen on their lists.
As you can see, sitemaps are most of the time included to add value to the indexing process, but as a side effect, they will always add accessibility to pages that were not that visible. As an example, the search engine will find and display pages that cannot originally be found on the menu.
Traditional indexing performed by crawler bots won’t be affected, but the page will simply become more visible and easily accessible. However, keep in mind that over-optimization can be also harmful.
WordPress XML sitemaps and how to create them
You have to use WordPress SEO, which is a popular optimization plugin packed with goodies. One of the goodies is sitemap creation, which you can activate once the Yoast plugin is downloaded and activated.
The WordPress SEO plugin won’t enable the sitemap’s functionality straight away, but you will have to turn it one manually instead. For the purpose, click on SEO, then XML Sitemap, and check the box to enable the functionality.
Once you’ve done this, WordPress SEO will reveal a variety of configuration options, and unless you have a specific change in mind, leave them as they are, and save the settings.
You’ve just created a publicly accessible sitemap, which you can check using the XML sitemap button, or by accessing the sitemap_index.xml sitemap.
Inform the search engines
A critical step is to let search engines know that you’ve generated a sitemap, especially Google and Bing, and the way to do it is using their webmaster tools.
In case you fail to do it, not everything is lost. Search engines do research of their own, and they will probably detect your domain’s sitemap sooner or later, but informing them right away has many analytic benefits for your website.
Their webmaster tools will calculate the number of pages/posts you’ve submitted or indexed, and will draw your attention to mistakes you didn’t even know you had.
Google needs to approve the website prior to improving its XML sitemap. This is the procedure:
1. Log in on Google Webmaster Tools, the way you sign it to every other Google feature. Click on ‘Add a Site’, and there will be a small pop-up box where you can paste the URL of the site, and continue with the process.
2. Afterward, take a look on the page and click on ‘Add Meta Tag’. A small radio button will appear, and you need to click on it too.
3. As the instructions point out, you should copy the meta tag for further use.
4. In order to verify the site, open it in an additional browsing tab.
5. Choose ‘More Actions’ and ‘Manage the Site’ afterward.
6. Open the General tab from the Site settings.
7. This is where you need to paste the Meta tag (next to Verification).
8. Save the change you’ve made.
9. Return to Webmaster tools.
10. Click on ‘Verify’.
The next thing you’ll see is a congratulating notice that informs you over the successful verification of your website ownership, and soon afterward you will able to access your own webmaster dashboard and make changes to the site.
The following screen will display an empty sitemap column, where you can paste your sitemap’s URL using the red ‘Add/Test Sitemap’ button.
Using Yoast is a good idea because it allows you to create and publish more than a single sitemap, where one will lead to all other sitemaps and will have the role of the main sitemap (sitemap_index.xml). If you’re just starting, submit only the main one, because that will be enough for Google to find the rest and to crawl them.
The same as Google, Bing has a Webmaster Tools feature where one can add sitemaps. This is how it works:
1. You can log in on Webmaster tools with a Microsoft account; you don’t necessarily have to create a new one.
2. Select and copy your site’s homepage URL.
3. Go to the next screen, and use Add a sitemap to reveal the location of your website.
4. Prove that you’re the owner of that website by adding the requested credentials.
5. Save the changes.
6. Give time to the Bing team to review your application and to validate both the site and its map. It doesn’t take too much time, as they just need to confirm that there are no errors in order to index the site.
1. Use your Yahoo account to log in.
2. Open Yahoo’s Site Explorer.
3. Copy-paste the URL of your website there, and confirm that it is your website. Failing to click on the Add My Site option would reduce the chance of your sitemap being posted.
4. Click on the URL once again, and then press feed links in right columns.
5. Paste the URL in the drop-down Website Feed, and confirm by clicking on Add Feed.
6. Yahoo will validate the site and the sitemap, confirm their errorless and effective nature, and will validate them afterward.
The way things are now, Ask.com doesn’t require you to validate a website and to submit its URL, but they have a certain sitemap submission procedure which is not that ready to perform. Their search engine is far less intuitive and difficult to follow, but sometimes pasting the URL and the domain name may prove to be enough, otherwise they will inform you about the need for further information.
Creating a sitemap for your website is obviously one of the key elements of your blog search engine indexing. Sitemap file has many benefits when it comes to search engine rankings, it helps search engine locate the links on the blog and offer a better understanding of how to access your content.