Why You Need to Care About Sitemaps
28 November 2017
After weeks or months of hard work, your beautiful new website is ready to make its way into the world. With only a little trepidation, you launch, and then…crickets. Why isn’t your website getting traffic? There could be a number of issues going on, but one of the most common website mistakes businesses make is not submitting their sitemap to search engines, like Google and Bing. Fortunately, this is also one of the easiest problems to fix! What is a sitemap, and why is it such a crucial piece to achieving search engine visibility?
Sitemaps in a Nutshell
A sitemap is, very simply, a list of your website pages. Sitemaps come in many different forms and formulations. If you worked with a marketing agency or web design firm to build your website, they might have provided you with a 2-D version of your sitemap. This type of sitemap is very useful in the planning of your website, as it can give you a bird’s eye view of your website’s design and help you understand the different buyer journeys your audience can take.
Another sitemap that had its heyday about ten years ago was the HTML sitemap. You may remember cruising around on a government website and seeing a menu option for “sitemap”. When you clicked it, you were taken to a list of all the pages of the website. An HTML sitemap is primarily designed to make a website easier for visitors to navigate. HTML sitemaps are not as prevalent as they once were but are none the less just as important.
In regards to actually getting anyone to notice your website once it is live, you’ll need to develop an XML sitemap. Unlike a 2-D sitemap or an HTML sitemap, an XML sitemap is designed specifically for the search engines. This type of sitemap tells search engines that your site exists and allows them to more quickly crawl and index your site.
The Value of Sitemaps
Let’s say that you have just launched a website for your flower shop in Carlsbad, California. Sure, it’s great if website visitors find you by directly typing in your URL or clicking on a link to one of your gardening advice articles from a social media post. The problem is, these types of visitors already know you exist. You probably want to entice new visitors as well, and one of the best ways to do that is by ranking in the powerful search engines of Google and Bing. If someone types in “Carlsbad Flower Shop” to Google, or if they look for a topic you’ve recently written an article on, like “How to keep succulents alive in Southern California,” you want your website to come up in the search engine rankings.
In order to do that, Google’s algorithm must crawl and index your website pages. In other words, Google needs to know that you website exists in order to show it to its search audience. Google naturally crawls all across the web, and eventually it will find your site on its own. However, the World Wide Web is a pretty big place, so checking every website can take a while.
That means it could be weeks or months until your new website, new web pages, or new blog posts show up in Google search engine rankings. That’s precious time a’ wasting where you aren’t getting traffic, aren’t growing your visibility, and aren’t making sales!
You don’t just have to wait for Google to swing by and figure out that you’ve added lots of cool new pages to your website. You can take the initiative and knock on their door. The way to do this is… you guess it, by creating and submitting an XML sitemap. By submitting your sitemap to Google and Bing, you are telling them, “Hey, I’ve got a brand new site for you to check out,” or “Look at these info-rich, useful blogs I just published. Your searchers are going to love them!”
To be clear, submitting a sitemap will not affect or improve your actual search engine rankings. (You’ll need to write great content and develop a strong backlink strategy for that.) Rather, submitting a sitemap means that your website at least gets indexed. It’s like your site gets into the search engine party where it can then compete for top placement. Without a sitemap, your site might be stuck out in the cold for a long, long time.
A talented web designer can even create your sitemap in a way to help Google and Bing figure out which links are more powerful than others and how often you update your website.
How to Create an XML Sitemap
Since a sitemap is just a list of your web pages, putting one together should be a no brainer, right? Not exactly. If you want to put together an XML sitemap from scratch, it helps to have coding experience and a strong familiarity with website design. Fortunately, a lot of cool tools exist that will help you build your sitemap.
If you have a WordPress website, a variety of plugins can help you generate a sitemap. Two of the most popular are:
WordPress SEO gets high marks, because aside from generation a sitemap, it also allows you to streamline your optimization of each page and post of your website. When using this plugin, be aware that you’ll need to turn on the sitemap capability. Google XML Sitemap is also a popular plugin, because its entire function centers around creating a Google-friendly sitemap for your website.
Submitting Your Sitemap to Google and Bing
If you consider yourself an online Luddite, you may want to ask your marketing team or marketing agency to handle the job of submitting your sitemap to Google and Bing. It is worth noting that even though submitting a sitemap to the search engines seems like an obvious thing for a web designer or marketing agency to do, many fail to take this step even after charging your thousands of dollars or more to create your website! Don’t assume they’ve submitted your sitemap.
If you do want to try your hand at submitting your sitemap, there are several ways you can go about it. One is by inserting a line of text into your robots.txt file advertising your sitemap. It can be as simple as: http://example.com/sitemap_location.xml.
Another option is to sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools and submitting your sitemap through each dashboard. This process can get tricky, and if the idea of copy and pasting code into your website’s HTML seems a little past your abilities, consider using a professional web design agency. This isn’t something you want to mess up!
You can learn more about submitting your sitemap here:
Need help building a sitemap and submitting it to the search engines? cThru Media is a local San Diego marketing and web agency that can help you do that and improve your rankings with top-notch search engine optimization methods. Let us get you into the search engine party today!