What Is A Sitemap, And Why Do I Need One?

Originally Published: 8 May 2023
Last Updated: 27 April 2023
Written by: Nick Jolliffe

Reading Time: 6.16 minutes

Categories: SEO
What Is A Sitemap

When your website was built, there will have been a plan for it. A kind of digital blueprint that the developers used to create the site, and then make sure each of the pages is connected properly. But once the site is live, what happens to that blueprint? For many it’s discarded, or fled away never to be looked at again. But did you know that with just a few small tweaks, that site map could be something useful to your SEO efforts for years to come? 

What Is A Site Map? 

There are a lot of different ways you can describe what a site map is, but our favourite is a very simple metaphor. Think of a site map as the floor plan of your house. The website is your house as a whole, and each page is a room. The floorplan shows you how all of the rooms connect, and what they are used for. So someone who hasn’t even set foot in your house can have an idea of its layout, and what rooms are inside.

So, your site map is literally a map of your website. It tells Google what pages make up your website, what information and content is on them, and how it all connects together. It’s easy to see why that’s important for designers to build your website, but Google uses it to understand how your site works and what it should be looking for. It provides a link between your website and the search engines and is the foundation of any good SEO strategy. 

What Is A Sitemap Used For?

Content planning

Trying to figure out what content you need on a website can be daunting. Creating a sitemap can help you visualise your website in a simple way, allowing you to clarify what content you need and organise it in a way that flows with the user journey. All while helping you remove things you don’t need and refining your message.

Website structure

Mapping out your website structure helps you to delete unneeded pages and make sure everything connects up the way it’s supposed to. This means developers can build the site quicker, and there will be fewer problems like broken links down the line.

UX Design 

A well-designed sitemap is a key part of your UX design, giving users a pleasant experience when they are on your site. It makes sure that key information is easy to find, and that their journey through your website will be smooth.

SEO 

One of the main functions of a sitemap is to help search engines and spiders find the pages on your website. In your sitemap file, you should include the website’s URL and a complete map of all pages and data on the site. This includes things like ‘change frequency’, which tells search engines how often a web page will be updated so that they know how often to crawl. This helps search engines understand and prioritise what pages they will crawl.

Are There Different Types Of Sitemaps?

Just to make things a little more confusing for you, there are actually 2 main types of sitemaps that you can create for your website. They each have slightly different purposes, and for the best chance at SEO success, it’s actually recommended you create and submit both. 

The types of sitemaps are:

XML Sitemap

This is the most common type of sitemap, and is entirely designed to help search engines discover and understand your website. You can include a maximum of 50,000 URLs in an XML sitemap, and the unzipped file can be up to 50MB in size. You can find your XML sitemap in the root folder of your domain – which you can find by typing your website address followed by /sitemap.xml. E.g. www.example.com/sitemap.xml

If you are using a WordPress site then Rankmath is a great free plugin you can use to create an XML sitemap that you can then submit to sea rch engines like Google.

HTML Sitemap

An HTML sitemap is something that is useful for search engines, but it can also be viewed by anyone who visits your website if they choose to. It can help them navigate to a specific page, and understand where information is on your website. These will generally be built into the footer of your website – you may have even used one before without realising what it was!

Other Sitemap Types

While XML and HTML sitemaps are the principal sitemap types, there are a few other types of sitemaps you can create, if you’re really looking to win the SEO game. They are:

Video Sitemaps

These are used to help search engines get a better idea of what the video content on your website is about. 

News Sitemaps

Used specifically to help search engines find content on websites that are registered and approved for Google News.

Image Sitemaps

Since search engines can’t see pictures, image sitemaps help them find all of the images hosted on your website to analyse their metadata.

What Should Be Included In Your Sitemap?

As a general rule, most pages should be included on your site map unless there is a good reason not to (which we will explain in the next section). The easiest way to decide what pages should be in your sitemap is to consider the relevance of each one. When they land on that URL, does it provide them any value? Do you want people to land directly on that specific page from a search engine? If the answer is no, then the page shouldn’t be in the sitemap.

Are there any pages that you should not include in your sitemap?

After all that, there are some pages that you should not put into your sitemap. These pages should be excluded because they don’t need to be categorised, or because they are functional pages rather than providing value to search engine users. This is because depending on the functionality of your site, you could have thousands or even millions of URLs and pages which are only generated when a user searches for specific things within your site, or can only access through a login or a lead gen form. These pages do not, and should not be crawled and indexed by search engines, and so do not need to appear in your sitemap.

The pages you shouldn’t put in your sitemap include:

  • Non-canonical pages
  • Duplicate pages
  • Parameterised URLs
  • Paginated pages
  • Site search result pages
  • URLs created by filtering options
  • Archive pages
  • Pages blocked by robots.txt
  • Redirect pages, missing pages or server error pages
  • Pages with no-index
  • Utility pages (like a Wishlist or a cart)
  • Pages only accessible by a lead gen form (like downloadable PDFs)

If all of that seemed a bit confusing, don’t worry! You can always ask your favourite web developer for advice on your sitemaps, or help to create and submit them. At Lion Spirit Media we provide a full web design service that’s perfect for startups, small businesses and large enterprises. We design easy-to-use, mobile-friendly and functional websites that do exactly what you need them to do – and they all come with sitemaps created and submitted! To find out more, just get in touch with the team today.

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