What Is a Sitemap: How to Create One and Submit to Search Engines

Download Guide To Writing Business Plan

A sitemap acts like a website blueprint, listing all its pages, images, and videos. Not only does a sitemap help organize the website, but it also benefits your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

That is because web crawlers use sitemaps to discover all pages on the site, speeding up the indexing process and consequently boosting the site’s visibility in search results.

If you’re not sure where to start, we will guide you through the entire process of making a sitemap and submitting it to major search engines.

A sitemap is a file that contains the website’s structure. It helps search engines understand the connection between web pages, identifying the most important ones.

Why Is Sitemap Important

Search engines like Google discover new pages on a site by following links. If the website lacks internal links, search engine crawlers will struggle to find all its pages.

That’s where sitemaps play an important role. By providing crawlers with a clear website structure, they can index the site’s posts more quickly and efficiently.

As a result, it’s easier for your website content to appear on results pages when users look for related keywords.

Types of Sitemaps

Generally, we can group sitemaps into three formats: visual, Extensible Markup Language (XML), and HyperText Markup Language (HTML).

Visual Sitemap

When making a website from scratch, web designers use visual sitemaps to define its page hierarchy and navigation flow. This process helps them deliver better user experience (UX) design.

Here’s what it looks like:

A visual sitemap illustration

A visual sitemap uses a flowchart, providing an overall view of the site’s structure and connection between pages.

Although beneficial for the web design process, search engine crawlers don’t recognize this type of sitemap, so it doesn’t affect SEO.

XML Sitemap

This text-based file contains all URLs within the site, helping crawlers discover and index important pages more quickly.

To optimize the website indexing process, provide additional information for each URL, such as the update frequency and content priority. The default priority value of a page is 0.5, but it ranges from 0.0 to 1.0.

When it comes to the update frequency, the possible values are: always, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and never.

Take this XML sitemap file from Hostinger as an example:

The XML sitemap of Hostinger

Apart from listing page URLs, there are also other types of XML sitemaps for specific purposes:

  • Media sitemap. It helps search engine crawlers understand rich media content like video and image files. A video sitemap includes the video location, title, and description, while an image sitemap consists of the image link, subject matter, and licensing information.
  • News sitemap. This type of sitemap specifically contains Google news articles, along with their title and publication date.
  • RSS feed sitemap. If you publish dynamic content like blog posts, we recommend creating an RSS feed sitemap. It informs crawlers about the site’s recent changes, keeping it updated in the search engine’s database.

HTML Sitemap

While the XML format focuses on web crawlers, HTML sitemaps enable human visitors to navigate the website more effectively.

Display all its essential pages by creating a separate page for the sitemap or placing it on the footer.

Take notes from our HTML sitemap page below. It contains a directory to different web hosting services, domain tools, and company information to help users locate content quickly.

The HTML sitemap page of Hostinger

How to Create an XML Sitemap

Before making an XML sitemap, organize the site’s layout and page hierarchy by creating a visual sitemap:

  1. Start by listing the main pages on the site. Examples include About Us, Products, Pricing, and Blog pages.
  2. List their sub-categories. For instance, a Plan Comparison page falls under the Pricing category, and Contact Information will be part of the About Us page.
  3. Consider the number of clicks required to reach the sub-categories from the homepage. According to SEO best practices, keep the link depth to three clicks or less to help crawlers and visitors find important content quickly.
  4. After sorting out the pages, create a visual sitemap using online tools like DYNO Mapper.
The example of a visual sitemap with a shallow link depth

Once you figure out the structure, transform the visual sitemap into an XML file to submit to search engines.

How to Create an XML Sitemap Automatically

If you don’t have the experience or time to build a sitemap manually, use an online generator like Dupli Checker.

The sitemap generator tool by Dupli Checker

Simply input the site’s URL, and the tool will automatically create an XML sitemap. It also has a feature that lets you identify broken links, which is great for improving the site’s quality and the crawling process.

After generating the sitemap, download the XML file and upload it to the site’s root directory. Hostinger users can follow these steps:

  1. Head to hPanel. Access Hosting -> File Manager.
  2. Open the public_html folder.
  3. At the top navigation bar, click Upload Files.

Select the XML file and click Upload.

Uploading an XML sitemap file to the public_html folder on hPanel

If you want to create a sitemap on WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin will automatically build and submit it.

An XML sitemap created by the Yoast SEO plugin

How to Create an XML Sitemap Manually

While online generators provide an easy way to build an XML sitemap, coding one from scratch offers more flexibility in organizing the pages. For instance, you can exclude broken links, duplicate content, or redirect pages during the creation process.

Start by creating a text file using a tool like Sublime Text and adding relevant information to it:

  • XML declaration. This code tells crawlers that they’re accessing an XML sitemap. The XML version should be 1.0, and the encoding must be UTF-8.
  • URL set. It informs search engines which sitemaps protocol is used – Sitemap 0.9 is the most common version.
  • URL. This is the main tag for each URL, containing the page’s location and date when it was last modified.
  • Additional tags. Include optional tags like <changefreq> to set the update frequency and <priority> to specify the page’s importance.

Here’s an example of what it looks like:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
<url>
<loc>http://www.domain.com/</loc>
<lastmod>2022-01-01</lastmod>
<changefreq>daily</changefreq>
<priority>0.8</priority>
</url>
</urlset>

Once finished, save the file using the .xml extension and upload it to the public_html folder.

Pro Tip

Whether creating sitemaps manually or with a generator, it’s crucial to verify your XML sitemap using a sitemap validator to ensure search engines can process it.

How to Submit Your Sitemap to Search Engines

The next step involves submitting your sitemap to search engines like Google and Bing.

Start by generating the sitemap URL using tools like SEO Site Checkup. After that, submit it to Google via Google Search Console:

  1. Create a Search Console account if you don’t have one already.
  2. Head to Sitemaps on the left navigation bar.
  3. Enter the sitemap URL on the Add a new sitemap section.
  4. Click Submit.
Submitting a sitemap to Google via the Search Console

To check whether the sitemap has been stored in Google’s index, visit the Submitted sitemaps section and look for the “Sitemap index processed successfully” report.

Pro Tip

Google limits XML sitemaps to 50,000 URLs and 50 MB in size. If the file contains more links or is bigger than the limit, you’ll need to create multiple sitemap files.

If you want to submit the sitemap to Bing, use Bing Webmaster Tools:

  1. Create an account if you haven’t already.
  2. On the left-hand menu, select Sitemaps.
  3. Click Submit sitemap.
  4. Paste its URL into the relevant field.
  5. Hit Submit.
Submitting a sitemap to Bing Webmaster Tools

Submitting your XML sitemap to these two platforms is enough, as other search engines like Yahoo! and DuckDuckGo use information from Bing and Google for their search results.

Sitemap SEO Best Practices

This section will cover two best practices to improve your site’s SEO using sitemaps.

Add Your Sitemap to the robots.txt File

The robots.txt file is the first place crawlers visit when accessing a website. It informs them which pages to index.

By adding a sitemap to it, they can quickly discover all the site’s URLs.

Most hosting providers offer a control panel that enables you to modify the robots.txt file. If you use Hostinger, add a sitemap via hPanel:

  1. Access Hosting Files File Manager.
  2. Go to public_html and locate the robots.txt file. If it isn’t available, click the New File button to create one.
  3. Right-click the file and select Edit.
  4. Add the sitemap URL.
  5. Click Save.
Adding a sitemap to the robots.txt file in hPanel

If you have multiple sitemaps, add each URL separately:

Sitemap: https://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap_1.xml
Sitemap: https://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap_2.xml

Check for Errors With a Sitemaps Report

Use the Sitemaps report in Google Search Console to identify potential issues. There are several errors that might occur:

  • URLs not accessible. Google found the sitemap’s location but failed to crawl some of its URLs. Use the URL inspection tool to check the pages’ availability.
  • URLs not followed. The sitemap contains too many redirects and relative links for Googlebot to follow. We recommend using direct and absolute URLs when submitting sitemaps to avoid this issue.
  • Invalid URL. The link is not valid due to unsupported characters or incorrect format. For instance, the URL address may have ,com instead of .com or htps// instead of https://.

Furthermore, open the Index Coverage Report to see the total number of links on your sitemap that Google has successfully crawled.

The Index Coverage Report on Google Search Console

Let’s say the site has 20 pages, but when you check the report, only six of them have been indexed. This may happen because of duplicate pages, redirect URLs, or the site has exceeded its crawl budget limit.

Check the sitemap and remove any unnecessary URLs to solve this problem:

  1. Access File Manager via hPanel.
  2. Go to the public_html folder and locate the sitemap.xml file.
  3. Right-click on it and select Edit.
  4. Remove the desired URL.
  5. Hit Save.

Inform Google about the change using the ping tool. Paste the following address in the browser or the command line using your own sitemap URL:

http://www.google.com/sitemaps/ping?sitemap=http://yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml

Conclusion

A well-designed sitemap helps visitors and crawlers in more effectively navigating the site, which is crucial for user experience, SEO, and website optimization.

There are three common formats: visual, XML, and HTML. However, only XML and HTML sitemaps play a role in an SEO strategy.

You can create a sitemap using an online generator to speed up the process. However, consider coding one from scratch if you want more control over it.

When you make a sitemap, prioritize essential pages on the site using the <priority> and <changefreq> tags.

Once finished, submit the sitemap to major search engines and add it to the robots.txt file. Finally, make sure to check for errors regularly using tools like Google Search Console.

We hope this article has answered questions such as what is a sitemap, its purposes, and how to create one. If you have more questions, check out our FAQ or leave a comment below.

What Is A Sitemap FAQ

This section will answer the most common questions about sitemaps.

How Do I Find My Sitemap URL?

The most common way to find the sitemap link is by entering your website address + /sitemap.xml or /sitemap_index.xml on a browser.

Is Having a Sitemap Important for SEO?

Yes, sitemaps help search engine bots discover your website’s pages, helping them get indexed and ranked faster. This is particularly important for new sites with few external links pointing to them, as crawlers might struggle to locate them.

Do All Websites Need a Sitemap?

Smaller sites with pages properly linked and a clear structure might not need a sitemap. However, large websites with tons of pages need one to help crawlers better understand their content structure.

How to Check if a Website Has a Sitemap?

The easiest way to check a site’s sitemap is by using tools like SEO Site Checkup. Simply type in the domain address and click Checkup. The platform will display the sitemap URL if the site has one.

Do I Need to Update My Sitemap?

Update XML sitemaps only when you publish new content or change links. WordPress users can use plugins like Yoast SEO to automate the process. After updating the sitemap, ask Google to re-crawl it using the ping tool.

Author
The author

Dominykas I.

Dominykas began as a Marketing Specialist and is currently working as a Content Editor and Squad Lead. When he's not ensuring the quality of articles, he enjoys both reading and writing fiction.

Author
The Co-author

Brian F.

Brian is a Content Writer at Hostinger who has a knack for transforming complex technology and digital marketing issues into easy-to-digest content. During his free time, Brian likes to surf the internet looking for unsolved mysteries and conspiracy theories.