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Creating an XML Sitemap

Posted 14th November, 2014 by Aliysa

As your website becomes more complex, with more and more interlinked pages, it’s imperative that you create a bot-friendly sitemap to maximise the success of your SEO efforts.

What is a Sitemap?

A sitemap is a file or webpage that lists all the pages of the site which are accessible to users and search engine crawlers. There's two main types of sitemaps which are frequently used; an XML sitemap is solely for search engine spiders, whereas an HTML sitemap is intended for human consumption. In this guide 'sitemaps' refers to XML sitemaps exclusively.

Why Do I Need to Create a Sitemap?

As sites become more complex, it becomes more and more difficult for a search engine crawler, or "bot", to index your site's content and files, especially if parts of your site cannot be navigated to. Sitemaps help bots to navigate through your site more efficiently, so your site gains maximum visibility over search engines.

How to Create a Sitemap?

WordPress Users

If your site runs on WordPress then naturally there's a a super handy plugin to generate your sitemap for you. Despite its name, Google XML generates sitemaps for all major search engines. You don't have to worry about submitting your sitemap time and time again, Google XML will automatically notify search engines whenever you've got fresh content available to crawl.

Online Tools

If you aren’t using WordPress, then don't worry, as there's still a tonne of online tools designed to save you both time and stress. Most of these tools have a free trial and I took some time to test out two. The first, XML Sitemaps, has a 500 page free generator and contains a broken link alert highlighting any problems with the site. This checker is completely online based so there’s no need to download any software and it was pretty quick to fully process my tested site. Sadly if your site contains subdirectories then these won't be processed by this tool.

Web-Site-Maps.com offers a similar service yet has a far higher page limit of 3,500 pages. The broken link checker runs separately from the sitemap generator, so you'll have to run two separate processes. Both tools get a big thumbs up for not missing any links in the finished sitemap during my test.

Creating your Sitemap Manually

If you fancy going it alone and creating your sitemap from scratch, then this long-winded process can be summarized in a few simple steps.

  1. Start by creating a text file, and saving it with an.xml extension. The top line of the file must have:
_< urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>_
_< /urlset >_
  1. Each URL needs to be entered separately and preceded by the < log > tag.
  2. Add any other non critical tags to the code here. Optional tags include:

    • Priority tags (< priority >) let you place a ranking on each of your pages between 0.0 and 1.0, depending on the page importance. Sites with higher priority get better odds of being crawled more often.

    • Modification date (< lastmod >) allows you to alert crawlers to the time since last modification date, therefore providing an indication of how relevant each post might be.

    • Frequency (< changefreq >) shows an indication of how often your page updates, therefore telling bots how often they should be scouring your site. This helps to avoid them missing key posts of yours, especially if you post very regularly.
  3. When completed each URL code should look similar to this example:
    _< url> < loc> http://www.mockexample.com/ < lastmod >2014-03-07< changefreq >daily< priority >1.0_
  4. Place your sitemap within the root directory of your site.

Submitting Your Sitemap to Search Engines

Once you've got a sitemap, it's time to hand it over to the search engines for them to crawl through. Each search engines provides clear instructions of how to make sitemap submissions. Despite the dominance of Google, it’s still worth submitting to each of the major search engines, as these still get millions of users each day.

Yahoo and Bing use the same system for registering a sitemap:

  1. Login to Bing’s Webmaster Tools
  2. Enter your URL in their “My Site” page
  3. Enter your sitemaps URL in the “Add a Sitemap” field.

Google’s submissions process is independent of other search engines, though is very similar:

  1. Log in to Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Add the URL to the “Add Site” page as you would with a normal Google submission and hit OK
  3. Select “Add a Sitemap” and check “General Web Sitemap”
  4. Tick all the relevant check-boxes and click “Add Web Sitemap”

It isn't critical to manually input your sitemap into a search engine, however the overwhelming advantage is that you gain data of how your site is being received by robots, helping to quickly alert you to any faults. This means that you’re less likely to accidentally withhold great content from search engines that you really want them to find!


If you've got any questions about creating an XML sitemap or feel that there's anything which I've missed, then I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Categories: Tips, SEO

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