A website’s sitemap lists every page on your website, and helps improve your search engine optimization (SEO). A sitemap helps search engines like Google understand your website’s organization. Your sitemap also shares important metadata, like how often a page is updated.

Do I Need a Sitemap for My Website?

Sitemaps are recommended for all websites, but Google specifically recommends one for both large and new websites. Because web crawlers follow links from one page to another, having a sitemap can help your website if there are few external links. (This is also why it’s important to strategically link to other websites!)

website-mapHow to Build Your Website’s Sitemap

Building a sitemap can seem overwhelming, but it’s a relatively straightforward process, and the format is similar to HTML. Google requires Sitemap Protocol 0.9, which requires:

  • Using opening and closing tags.
  • Specifying the namespace for each tag.
  • Including each URL as a parent XML tag.
  • Adding a child entry for each parent tag.
  • Using UTF-8 encoding.

UTF-8 encoding means that certain characters are replaced with escape codes, which minimize confusion for non-ASCII characters. (The format used to send URLs online.)

Google has made this process easier with its Webmaster Tool. By verifying your sitemap with this tool, you can ensure it’s in the right format and it’s been correctly uploaded to your server.

coding-website-mapCan I Still Make a Sitemap if I Don’t Know Coding?

The short answer is, yes, you can still create a sitemap! While a basic knowledge of HTML is beneficial, it’s possible to create a sitemap without it. There are a number of tags to know, and once you add one page, you can duplicate that process for the rest.

  • <urlset> is required, and references the current protocol.
  • <url> is the required parent tag for each URL on your website.
  • <loc> is the URL itself, and is also required.
  • <lastmod> is optional, and gives the last date the file was modified.
  • <changefreq> is another optional tag, and outlines how often the page changes. This includes (but isn’t limited to) always, hourly, weekly, and never.
  • <priority> shows how important pages are compared to others on your site.

It’s important to note that the priority tag will not help your pages compared to external websites, but it will tell the crawlers which pages to focus on in your own website.

Here is what one page of a basic sitemap will look like:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?><urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>   <url>    <loc>http://www.example.com/foo.html</loc>   </url></urlset>

Build Your Sitemap with a Generator

You likely have more important tasks to perform, so there are a few ways to build a sitemap without hand-coding it. Google provides a list of third-party sitemap generators that can create one for you.

If your website is built with WordPress, there are also plugins available. The Google XML Sitemaps plugin is highly rated and will take the hassle out of creating your own sitemap.

I Already Have a Website, Do I Need a New Sitemap?

Your company’s website is a living and breathing resource for your customers. Even if you uploaded a sitemap when it was first published, it’s important to update the file. Best practices dictate updating your sitemap every time you publish a new piece of content.

This means every time you create a new blog post, upload a new video, or update one of your pages, it’s important to update your sitemap. Your website exists to bring in business. If you aren’t helping search engines find you, how will your business grow?

As SEO continues to develop and become more complicated, it’s important to use every resource possible to help your search engine ranking. At Forward Push, we know how to use each resources, like sitemaps, to efficiently increase business.

Contact us today to discuss how to improve your website to increase your business.