SEO success on today’s web requires technical excellence – that begins with optimizing your XML Sitemap.
XML Sitemaps help search engines crawl and understand your website’s content, structure and priorities.
Your sitemap is a good place to begin to ensure Google’s discovering all your pages.
Building XML sitemaps can be a little daunting but despite how they look, you don’t need a developer to create one.
This post will cover how you can improve your SEO by building proper XML sitemaps.
We’ll discuss how to do both.
Why spend the effort to manually build a sitemap?
For two key reasons:
For a small site, you can use a whiteboard, paper or PPT.
When mapped out, it could look something like this:
In general, you need to link to your core pages from your homepage — or at least from a page that’s linked to from your homepage. Ideally, visitors shouldn’t have to click more three links from your homepage to reach any of your core pages.
For larger sites, you need a deeper strategy.
Yes, these are time consuming tasks but your site’s architecture is critical for Google to properly crawl your site. It’s worth the investment of resources to get this done.
Building a sitemap manually doesn’t mean you have to it from scratch.
We’ll generate it using a tool — then upload it into your root folder.
A sitemap generator (i.e. Sitemap Writer Pro) will extract your URLs and put them into an XML sitemap file.
Before extracting the sitemap file, you can add, delete, and edit URLs based on what you want search engines to crawl.
Once you’re done setting up your URLs, you can then upload them into your root folder, with /sitemap.xml as its label.
You’ll need access to your website’s Cpanel to upload your Sitemap. If you aren’t comfortable maneuvering here, we suggest using a developer.
With your XML file, we can submit them to search engines for processing.
Once uploaded to your Cpanel, your sitemap should now be visible at yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml.
You’ll want to submit your Sitemap to Bing and Google. Let’s use Google as the example.
Once you click Submit, check the Status column and see whether your sitemap submission failed or succeeded.
If you need to remove a sitemap, click the three-dot navigation keys in upper right of your screen – you’ll have the option to remove.
If your website runs on a CMS like WordPress of Shopify, we can partially automate this process.
While building a sitemap with a plugin helps, there’s still a level of optimization needed.
Let’s use Yoast SEO for here for demonstration purposes.
Essentially, besides its ability to help you generate sitemaps, Yoast is a plugin that helps you control your search appearance and rankings. Once installed in your CMS, Yoast becomes the “SEO” tab you see on the left sidebar of your screen:
Under the SEO tab, the plugin displays seven subtabs — one of which is Search Appearance. Navigate here to activate and manage your sitemap.
Under Search Appearance, click Content Types — the setting that allows you to add and remove the pages you want to add in your sitemap; that is, pages you want search engines to crawl.
Here, you’ll see at least two tabs for your posts and pages:
Once you click any of these tabs, you get a dropdown of the elements that you want to appear when search engines display your blog posts in search results. Here’s how it looks:
Switch the buttons according to how you want your web pages and content to appear in search results.
In the screenshot above:
Chances are high you have content formats besides text-based content — videos and images — on your site. You can make them crawlable for search engines in the same way your text-based pages are crawled and indexed.
Here are the scripts to use in your image and video sitemaps and guidelines on how to properly use them to describe your visuals to search engines:
|<loc>||Yes||This tag specifies the landing page (aka play page, referrer page) for the video. When a user clicks on a video result on a search results page, they will be sent to this landing page. Must be a unique URL.|
|<video:video>||Yes||Encloses all information about the video.|
|<video:thumbnail_loc>||Yes||A URL pointing to the video thumbnail image file. Images must be at least 160×90 pixels and at most 1920×1080 pixels. Recommend images in .jpg, .png, or. gif formats.|
|<video:title>||Yes||The title of the video. Maximum 100 characters. All HTML entities should be escaped or wrapped in a CDATA block.|
|<video:description>||Yes||The description of the video. Maximum 2048 characters. All HTML entities should be escaped or wrapped in a CDATA block.|
|<video:duration>||Recommended||The duration of the video in seconds. Value must be between 0 and 28800 (8 hours).|
|<image:image>||Yes||Encloses all information about a single image. Each <url> tag can contain up to 1,000 <image:image> tags.|
|<image:loc>||Yes||The URL of the image.|
|<image:caption>||Optional||The caption of the image.|
|<image:geo_location>||Optional||The geographic location of the image. For example,|
|<image:title>||Optional||The title of the image.|
|<image:license>||Optional||A URL to the license of the image.|
Sitemaps are an important part of the SEO process, but there’s so much more.