Do you ever wonder how Google actually understands your website content and is able to decide if it matches the search? If yes, you are in the right place. Sitemaps are utilized to do exactly that. This article will explain everything you need to know about what sitemaps are and the some of the top sitemap best practices.
What is a Sitemap?
Before we can get into any sitemap best practices, we need to define what sitemaps are.
A sitemap lists the pages of a website. It is essentially a map for your website that helps search engine crawlers to better understand and navigate your site.
There are three different types of sitemaps. One is used by web designers when they are in the planning phase of a website. Another is the sitemap that is visible on a website for the website’s visitors to help them navigate the site. The third is an XML sitemap. This type of sitemap is created specifically for search engines. An XML sitemap lists each of the URLs for every page of a website.
How Do Sitemaps Help With SEO?
Sitemaps are useful when it comes to technical SEO or search engine optimization. Technical SEO is when you improve the technical aspects of your website in an effort to increase your ranking on SERPs, search engine result pages. XML sitemaps are especially important when it comes to sitemaps improving your SEO. They provide you a direct advantage with search engines.
There are many benefits to using XML sitemaps. XML sitemaps tell Google to crawl and index your website, what to crawl on your website, and what kind of information is on your website. They also tell Google when your content was last updated, which is useful for your SEO. It tells Google how important your content is. An XML sitemap can help a website with weak internal linking to overcome that problem. It also helps extremely large websites get better, more organized indexation. XML sitemaps show Google the pages of your website that might otherwise get lost without internal links. This also helps Google rank your pages for the most relevant search queries.
Along with communicating to Google the value of your web pages, sitemaps should be utilized because they increase user experience, also known as UX. This is another vital element of SEO. You want to ensure your website is user-friendly and easy to navigate. Creating a sitemap does exactly that. This allows a website to flow and users to navigate from one page to the next in a way that makes sense.
You need to incorporate SEO web design for your website and one way to do this is to create a sitemap. SEO web design is the process of designing a website with the intention of making it search engine friendly.
Sitemap Best Practices
Now that you know what a sitemap is and why you should use it to increase your SEO, let’s talk about some of the sitemap best practices. Below are sitemap priorities that you should start to utilize on your website.
1 – Prioritize Your Web Pages
One XML sitemap best practice is to prioritize your web pages. As part of the sitemaps protocol by Google, you can rank your web pages by giving them a score between 0.1 and 1. The higher you rank a web page, the more often it will be crawled by search engines and vice versa. When you rank a webpage lower, it will be crawled less often.
A helpful tip to keep in mind when ranking your web pages is to assign higher scores to your dynamic pages that you update on a consistent basis. An example of this would be a blog page where you are consistently adding new content. This is something you would want to score higher. Web pages that should be scored lower are those like “Contact Us”, “About Us”, etc. These are static web pages. Since the content on these pages are fairly consistent, it should be ranked lower compared to web pages that are frequently being updated with new content.
It can be difficult but you have to score these web pages from an outside perspective. Since it is your website, it is fair to assume that you value all of your web pages. Search engines do not see this bias, they are simply objective. They cannot tell the differences between your dynamic and static pages. Therefore, you need to rank your web pages properly to tell them the difference.
2 – Categorize Your Content Correctly
A sitemap priority is to categorize your content correctly. The purpose of sitemaps is to assist search engines in properly understanding your website’s structure and content. This is why this sitemap best practice is so important. When you correctly organize your content, you are clearly stating the commonalities and hierarchies of the different pages on your site.
The majority of websites have a common hierarchical order to their websites. In this common hierarchical order, the primary content structure is the homepage. It is then followed by categories and later with subcategories. You need to properly categorize your content within these categories and subcategories. Use the commonalities of the content to properly organize them. Create categories and subcategory names that align with the content that falls into them. This will help you group similar content together and not scatter it throughout your website. This is more than just a sitemap best practice. It also helps visitors to better navigate your website.
3 – Use Sitemap Generator Tools
Creating a sitemap can seem like an overwhelming task but it does not need to be. You can use sitemap generator tools to help you. Some sites even have built-in tools to help with this process.
If you are using WordPress to build your website, you can use the Yoast plugin. This allows you to directly enable XML sitemaps from the plugin itself. Another tool that is available to generate your website’s sitemap is Google XML Sitemaps. This is not a Google tool, but it is an independent third-party plugin on WordPress. It can build dynamic sitemaps from all types of WordPress pages.
4 – Submit Your Sitemap to Google
One of the top sitemap priorities is to submit your sitemap to Google. After you have created your sitemap, it is time to submit it to Google. You can do this by using your Google Search Console.
The first step is to click on “Sitemaps” from your dashboard. Next, add the sitemap URL in the space provided. Click, “Submit” and that is it. To ensure you were successful with this, you can check it by looking in the “Submitted sitemaps” section.
The benefit of submitting your sitemap to Google is that it will help Google understand how your website is laid out. Additionally, it will help you find errors when it comes to properly indexing your pages. The ideal situation, which does not always happen, is when your number of pages indexed matches the number of pages submitted. When you submit your sitemap to Google, you are giving them the previously mentioned rankings. This means you are telling Google your thoughts on the quality of your web pages and how worthy they are of indexation. However, this does not mean that all of your web pages will be indexed.
5 – Properly Place an HTML Sitemap
As previously mentioned, there are three types of sitemaps. The type that is visible to a website’s visitors to help them navigate the site is called an HTML sitemap. One of the sitemap best practices is to place this HTML sitemap on your homepage. You want to ensure visitors can easily find the HTML sitemap and placing it in this location will do that. This allows visitors to search the URLs included within the sitemap to find what they are looking for instead of searching in the various categories and subcategories one by one.
6 – Never Include “Non-Indexed” URLs
One of the XML sitemap best practices is to never include “non-indexed” URLs in your website’s sitemap. A non-indexed URL is a web page that you do not want search engines to crawl for indexing. These could be utility pages that you need because they are helpful for your website, but you do not want them to show up within search results.
You can give these web pages a non-index tag in your robots.txt file to ensure they will not be indexed. This makes sure you do not waste your crawl budget.
Start Using These Sitemap Best Practices
Now that you know all there is to know about sitemaps, it is time to start utilizing these best practices to benefit your website. Prioritize your web pages and categorize your content correctly. Use sitemap generator tools to help you create your sitemap and then submit it to Google. Finally, you want to properly place an HTML sitemap on your website.
Use these sitemap best practices to benefit your SEO. If you need help utilizing these sitemap best practices or creating your own sitemap, SEO Design Chicago is here to help.
- What is a sitemap?
- How do sitemaps help with SEO?
- What tools are there to help me generate a sitemap?
- What makes a good sitemap?
- What are the XML sitemap best practices?