What Is A Sitemap?

18 Feb, 2020

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Understanding Google Sitemaps

Google is the number one search engine in the world and one of the biggest companies on the planet. In fact these days Google is so important that it has crossed over to becoming a verb, meaning to search for something -  that's right, it's in the Oxford English Dictionary.  

Despite all this success and recognition for finding us the answers, when we ask Google to explain how Google's search engine works, for by example, asking the Google Search Console what a Sitemap is: we get this unsatisfactory definition:

"A sitemap is a file where you can list the web pages of your site to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site content. Search engine web crawlers like Googlebot read this file to more intelligently crawl your site."

Google Search Console's explanation of what a sitemap is 

Now I know that many of you will  have a good understanding of what this means, but this blog is for everyone who wants to learn about Digital Marketing, and we all should take a moment to imagine what this sounds like to someone who is new to this:

'Google crawls my website? what? How can a  search engine read a map or sitemap? Where is it going? What do they mean by intelligently crawling? Why did they choose the creepiest possible verb 'crawl'? - I wouldn't want something crawling on me, so why would I want it crawling on my site?' 

If this is your current pattern of thinking, don't hyperventilate, everything is going to be okay. We can all get a good understanding of what a sitemap is and why we need one, with a little more perspective... 

Why Does Google Need a Sitemap?

Most of the time when we search for something on Google, the results are closer to what we are looking for than on any other search engine. 

So how does Google do this? In less than a second, providing us with a pretty good answer for almost any question we can think of? - it's almost like magic, but it isn't, it's more like a genius magic trick. 

Google knows the content of billions of websites because it is constantly scanning websites across the globe with its so-called Googlebots, also unfortunately named 'crawlers' These crawlers analyze a site and catalog the content so that when you ask Google a question it knows which website to recommend.

Knowing this, you might say to me, if Google has billions of Google super fast Googlebots constantly crawling and cataloging every website on the globe. Why doesn't my little business website come up on Google when I type in it's URL? 

If you don't see your website in the results when typing its URL into Google, it is extremely likely that those Googlebots cannot find your website or access its information so they cannot scan and catalog this information and display your website as the answer to user queries, in other words the Googlebots cannot index your page. 

Considering that these Googlebots are constantly scanning almost every page of the internet to index their information in order to answer searches. It is understandable that these bots might miss a few pages, and as a result not index them.

Especially websites that have an unusual structure that these Googlebots find hard to scan, or if the website has hardly any traffic so they don't know it's there in the first place. Submitting a sitemap to Google is a good way of making sure that those Googlebots know about your website and which pages to scan, so it can show them in the Google results. I hope that helps!

Still have questions about sitemaps? 

Here is a quick FAQ that tells you everything you need to know about sitemaps... 

How Important is A Sitemap in Getting A Site Indexed?

Many pages from websites that are conventionally built will appear in the Google results without the site owner submitting a Sitemap, but this doesn't mean that all of a website's pages will be indexed, submitting a sitemap is essential for any website owner who wants to make sure that their website is indexed correctly by search engines. If your website doesn't appear in Google's results when you type in its URL or multiple lines of text from pages that have been online for over 2 weeks, you should look into sitemaps as soon as possible. 

Do I Need to Have A Sitemap?

There is no rule that says a website must have a sitemap, and Google may be able to find all of the information on all of a website's pages without one, but submitting a sitemap is a great way of making sure that all of your site's content can be found, and having one can only be a positive thing. 

Which Websites Definitely Need A Sitemap?

Having a sitemap is good SEO practice. For certain types of website it is essential:

  • A website with a lot of content and pages and subpages, for example with an online shop or database

  • A site whose individual pages aren't linked very well together or has a less conventional site structure 

  • A new website starting without any publicity and therefore only getting a small amount of traffic should definitely submit a site map. Google's Bots follow links and visitors to find new websites and index them. If a website is new and unknown then submitting a sitemap is a way of making Google aware that it exists.

I Don't know how visibile my site is should I create a sitemap? 

If you don't know and if you are not 100%  sure that you don't need a sitemap, you should definitely submit a sitemap.

XML Sitemaps vs HTML Sitemaps

It's important to know that there are two kinds of sitemaps that are important for Digital Marketing. One is for site visitors and the other is for search engines. The type of sitemap that a marketer needs to create to be found easily by Google is an XML sitemaps. An XML sitemap provides an outline of a website's structure in the Googlebot friendly language of XML. Googlebot can use this sitemap to find and index the site more easily.

On the other hand, an HTML sitemap is made for site visitors. This type of sitemap is found on a page of a user's actual website, often with the page title sitemap. It is a page of a  website that contains a list of a site's pages with hyperlinks to each of these pages, making it easier for a user to navigate a website and find pages they are looking for. It's important to make sure that the sitemap displays well on smartphones as well as desktop computers. Creating a HTML sitemap for your website is a great way of improving its usability. 

Are there other types of sitemaps?

Yes, a sitemap can also be used to help the user find specific types of content, other types of sitemaps include: 

-Picture Sitemaps

-Video Sitemaps

-News Sitemaps

How do I create a Sitemap for my website? 

There are many different ways to create a sitemap. For rankingCoach users to create and submit a sitemap it's easy, just need to login and complete easy to follow the step by step video tutorial. If you are not a rankingCoach user, many CMSs and shop systems provide the tools to make a sitemap. If you don't have a CMS, then you can always try using a Sitemap generator to create a sitemap for your website. Then you need to upload the file onto the root level of your server with an FTP program and submit it to Google.

How do I submit my Sitemap to Google and other search engines?

In order to notify all search engines about your sitemap, you should indicate where yours is in your robots.txt.Webmasters also have a good opportunity to submit their sitemap directly to Google from inside the Google Search Console (formerly called 'Google Webmaster Tools' ).

We hope this article has improved your understanding of sitemaps.

What is rankingCoach?

rankingCoach is the complete Digital Marketing solution for online businesses and bricks and mortar SMBs. The application analyzes your website and creates a tailored Digital Marketing strategy.

Each Digital Marketing plan includes step-by-step video tutorials -  showing you exactly how to optimize your site, easy-to-use, Google-data-driven SEO and SEM tools with precision keyword targeting, utilizing Google search data and competition analysis to find the best keywords for your local and national markets.

rankingCoach is the definitive Digital Marketing solution for SMBs looking to secure top rankings on Google, manage their online review profile and be found in all crucial local directories and maps. 

Learn about the rankingCoach Digital Marketing App

To learn more about key Digital Marketing terms check out these great articles:

What Are HTTP Status Codes?

Understanding Google Ads and Google Search Network Campaigns

What SMBs Can Learn from Amazon

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