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An XML sitemap can help you get more traffic

A sitemap (or site map) is a tool to help search engines crawl and index pages on a website more effectively. That can mean search engines will index more of the pages on your site, more quickly than without a sitemap. That in turn makes it easier for people to find your website.

Google and other search engines will spend only a limited amount of time crawling your site. A complete XML (Extensible Markup Language) sitemap can direct search engines to your most important pages, increasing the likelihood that these pages will be indexed and then discovered by the people you want to attract. This is called "crawl efficiency," and an XML sitemap can improve yours.
Most websites need only a simple HTML sitemap, which has the benefit of helping people, as well as search engines, find individual web pages. If a site is large or complex, or if you want to add more information to a web page listing, Google recommends having both an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap following the sitemap protocol that major search engines adhere to. Our article on creating an HTML sitemap tells you how to create the first type.

Creating Your XML Sitemap

A standard XML sitemap lists web page URLs along with metadata to help search engines crawl your site more effectively. Metadata could include information such as how important a page is, or how often to revisit it.

Google, which created the original sitemap protocol, has a full set of instructions for creating all types of sitemaps.

If this isn't something you can do yourself, take a look at the many tools and sitemap generators available to you.

Below is an example of what the code of an XML sitemap looks like. I'll talk more about the tags in the next section of this article.

Be aware that an external sitemap generator may not be able to find the pages on your site that search engines themselves aren't finding. That's because they crawl your site in much the same way that the search engines crawl it.

An internal sitemap generator, on the other hand, has access to your database, which means it will find web pages that aren't visible to search engine crawlers. In most cases where you'd want an XML sitemap, an internal sitemap generator is a better choice. Keep in mind that these are compatible with specific types of website software. If you've used Wordpress or MediaWiki to build your website, make sure you choose an internal sitemap generator that works with that platform.

Keep in mind that it's easier to create an HTML sitemap, and that these work well for websites that don't have a ton of pages.

Setting Priority in XML Sitemaps

One of the biggest benefits to an XML sitemap is that you can tell search engines which pages are most important to you, subtlety hinting which you would like indexed more often.

Using a tag you can give pages a score from 0.0 to 1.0. This tells search engines which pages matter most relative to your website. In general, 0 would indicate a normal page, 1 a very important page, and something in the middle like 0.6 would be moderately important. Please note that giving all pages on your website a priority of 1 or omitting priority all together won't do anything different than if you had not set a priority at all.

Make it Work: Let the Search Engines Know about Your Sitemap

While you don't have to submit an HTML sitemap to the search engines for it to work, you do need to submit other kinds of sitemaps. As soon as you've created your XML or alternative sitemap, submit it to Google via Google Webmaster Tools -- otherwise Google's crawlers won't know about it.

To submit the sitemap, log in with your Google account, just as you would to use Google Analytics. Click "add a site" to get started.

To the right is a helpful video from ReadyMadeWeb.com about submitting your sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools. You can also read Google's instructions for submitting a sitemap using Google Webmaster Tools.

You can submit your sitemap to Bing using the search engine's Webmaster Tools offering. Yahoo takes sitemap submissions in its SiteExplorer section. You must have a Yahoo account and log in to submit your sitemap.

If you're familiar with the robots exclusion protocol, or robots.txt, you can specify your sitemap in this file. This will help all the major search engines see where it is, and eliminate the step of submitting your sitemap to each separate search engine. Your entry in robots.txt will be one line in the following format:

Sitemap: http://URL-OF-YOUR-SITEMAP

Sitemap Tips

  • If you have fewer than 50,000 pages, you can list them all in a single file, according to sitemap protocol. If you have more than 50,000 pages, you'll need to break your XML sitemap up into multiple files and list the files in a sitemap index file.
  • You can create multiple sitemaps to give you better analytics data. For example, you could put groups of similar pages on your site into separate sitemaps, and then look at how many of the pages in each group are indexed over a month. This could show you which types of content search engines like. For example, the search engines may end up indexing all the pages in Sitemap X, and indexing only half the pages in Sitemap Y. That tells you the content in Sitemap X is considered more valuable by the search engines, and that you're also more likely to gain traffic from that type of content.
  • If you're using an XML sitemap, utilize the metadata option to point search engines to pages that matter most to you, or change most often.

Alternatives to an XML Sitemap

If you don't think you need to tell search engines which pages on your website to check most frequently, it's probably better to create either a simple HTML sitemap or to choose an alternative that is compatible with sitemap protocol.

It's easy to create your sitemap as a simple text file. In this type of sitemap, each web page's URL is placed on a separate line. A text file can include up to 50,000 URLs.

Another good choice is an RSS feed, the type of syndication that is typically used for blogs. It's important to note that RSS will likely show only the most recent web pages to search engine crawlers -- though it's certainly possible that the crawlers can find information about other pages on your site by following links to these pages included in the pages they can detect.

Sitemap Recap

  • Sitemaps are purely supplementary. Web pages not listed in a sitemap can still be found and indexed other ways, such as through links. Nevertheless, a sitemap is a good tool for increasing the likelihood that pages will be indexed.
  • XML and text file sitemaps cannot have more than 50,000 URLs per file.
  • You can have multiple sitemaps, and including the same URL in more than one is okay.
  • Creating and submitting a sitemap does not guarantee that search engines will choose to index all the pages in it. A sitemap can help them find the content, but engines will index pages only if their algorithms determine the content is valuable for searchers.
  • A sitemap does not help you rank higher in search engine results. But it may help you get more pages on your site indexed and showing up faster in search results. For a new site, or one that doesn't yet have a lot of links pointing to it, that's a big benefit.

Sitemap Resources

Community-Added Sitemap Resources

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For guidance on creating a sitemap for simpler websites, read the AboutUs article, An HTML Sitemap Helps Search Engines Discover You.

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