Skip to main content
GET UPDATES!

“What Is A Sitemap?”. This essential tool is often not fully understood, despite its crucial role in successful website management.

Whether you’re a seasoned webmaster or launching your first site, grasping the concept of this definition and how to use it effectively can significantly enhance your site’s visibility and user navigation.

Our guide will provide all the necessary information you need about sitemaps.

What Is A Sitemap - ROI Digitally

What Is A Sitemap? 

A sitemap is essentially a blueprint of your website that helps search engines like Google navigate through your site more effectively. You might not know about the conversion rate affected by the website sitemaps. 

Sitemaps contain details about the different files on your site, such as pages and videos, and outline the connections between them.

This tool lets you communicate to Google which elements of your site you deem significant. It gives further insight into these files, such as the last time a page was updated or if there are other language options available.

Moreover, it can be used to share information about specific content types found on your pages, such as videos, images, and news. 

For instance, a video entry could include details about its duration, rating, and suitability for different ages. 

Similarly, an image entry might pinpoint the location of images on a page, while a news entry could provide an article’s headline and date of publication.

Read more: What is meta description? 

3 Popular Types of Website Sitemaps

Here are three widely used types of website sitemaps:

XML Sitemap

This format of sitemaps is the most adaptable and can be extended to provide additional details about images, videos, news content, and localized versions of your webpages.

Below is an example of what a XML sitemap looks like:

XML Sitemap

XML Sitemap for Luxury Brand’s Website

  1. Pros:
  • Versatile and extensible.
  • Capable of providing extensive information about your URLs.
  • Content Management System (CMS) users can easily find plugins for generating sitemaps.
  1. Cons:
  • It can be challenging to handle.
  • Maintaining the mapping can be complex for larger sites or sites where URLs frequently change.

RSS, mRSS, and Atom 1.0

These sitemaps have a structure similar to XML sitemaps. However, they are often easier to provide as CMSes automatically generate them.

  1. Pros:
  • Most CMSes automatically generate RSS and Atom feeds.
  • They can be used to give Google information about your videos.
  1. Cons:
  • They can only provide information about videos, not images or news, apart from HTML and other indexable pages.
  • They can also be challenging to work with.

Text sitemap

As the simplest sitemap format, it only lists URLs to HTML and other indexable pages.

Here is the snippet from Harvard’s HTML sitemap.

Harvard’s HTML sitemap
Harvard’s HTML sitemap
  1. Pros:
  • Simple to create and maintain, especially on large sites.
  1. Cons:
  • Limited to HTML and other indexable pages.

4 Ways to Find a Sitemap

Discovering a website’s sitemap can be accomplished through several methods. Here are four ways:

Manual Check

Locating a website’s XML sitemap is often quite straightforward and involves checking a few standard places. This process is relatively simple – you must input your website URL into the browser and experiment with several variants. Here’s an example:

www YourWebsiteUrl com/net/ sitemap.xml 

This location is widely used, but it’s not the only one. If this first attempt doesn’t yield results, here are some other quick options to explore:

/sitemap_index.xml (this is the index of all sitemaps if a site has more than one).

Our own blog’s XML sitemap is structured this way. Here’s how it appears:

ROI Digitally’s sitemap
ROI Digitally’s sitemap

Essentially, these are individual sitemaps, each divided by the type of posts they contain.

If you’re still not finding what you’re looking for, there are even more possibilities to try:

  • /sitemap-index.xml
  • /sitemap.php
  • /sitemap.txt
  • /sitemap.xml.gz
  • /sitemap/
  • /sitemap/sitemap.xml
  • /sitemapindex.xml
  • /sitemap/index.xml
  • /sitemap1.xml

Remember: XML files are just one method of describing a sitemap. RSS and Atom formats are also available.

So, we should consider adding a few more potential locations:

  • /rss/
  • /rss.xml
  • /atom.xml

We’ll delve deeper into these later.

Just to clarify – while trying these various alternatives, ensure to prepend the domain name of the website before the “/”.

Search Operators

Search operators are unique phrases or symbols that can be included in a search query to yield more precise results. 

Here are some you can use to find a website’s sitemap:

  • site:domain.com filetype:xml
  • site:domain.com inurl:sitemap
  • site:domain.com intitle:sitemap

Replace “domain.com” with the actual website address and enter the operator into the search bar of any popular search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. 

The search results should reveal the location of the website’s sitemap, assuming it exists and has been indexed by the search engine.

Google Search Console

If you can access a website’s Google Search Console, you may find the submitted one there. Navigate to the “Sitemaps” report under the “Indexing” section of the left-hand menu. 

Use Google Console to find yours
Use Google Console to find yours

A section titled “Submitted sitemaps” will show the URL of any previously submitted XML sitemaps. 

Robots.txt

Robots.txt is a file on a website that instructs search engine crawlers which parts of the website should be crawled and which should be ignored. 

It should be placed in the website’s root folder: https://domain.com/robots.txt. 

If the robots.txt file is correctly configured, it will link to the website sitemap. Search for “sitemap” within the robots.txt document to find this link.

If none of these methods reveal your XML sitemap, it’s likely that your website does not have one. 

In such cases, consider learning how to create a sitemap for a website or use a generator tool.

4 Steps to Review Your Sitemap for Issues 

If you want to ensure your sitemap is set up correctly, consider using a website auditing tool such as Semrush’s Site Audit. 

This tool will explore your website in a similar manner to Googlebot and identify any technical SEO problems.

Here are the steps to set up and use the tool:

  1. Create Your Project: After signing up for a free account (no credit card required), navigate to “Projects“. Here, you can create your first project by entering your domain and a name for the project.
  2. Select Your Domain: Proceed to the Site Audit tool and select your domain by clicking on the input field.
  3. Configure Settings: A “Site Audit Settings” window will pop up, allowing you to configure basic settings. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, refer to the detailed setup guide provided.
  4. Start the Site Audit: Once configuring your settings, click the “Start Site Audit” button.

After an audit with the tool, you’ll find any site errors under the “Issues” tab. Simply search for “sitemap” to get a list of issues related to your sitemap.xml file.

Common sitemap-related issues you might encounter include:

  • Incorrect Pages: Your sitemap contains pages that shouldn’t be there, such as pages with redirects or non-canonical pages.
  • Sitemap Format Errors: These could be missing XML tags in your sitemap file.
  • Oversized Sitemap Files: Your sitemap may exceed Google’s size limit if it’s more than 50 MB or contains more than 50,000 URLs.

By clicking the link with the number of affected pages, you’ll see a complete list. 

Additionally, you can click the “Why and how to fix it” link next to each issue type. This will open a window with more information about the problem and suggestions for rectifying it.

3 Key Tips to Optimize Sitemaps 

Tip #1: Leverage XML Files for Organizing Internal and External Links

An XML file provides a list of URLs that guide web crawlers to the content and pathways on your website. By incorporating internal and external links into your sitemaps, you signal to crawlers which site elements are important. 

This helps minimize the occurrence of orphan pages, enhancing your overall SEO health and potentially improving your ranking. 

Remember that while XML sitemaps don’t guarantee that your web pages will be indexed, they enhance the likelihood of this happening.

If you lack human resources for optimizing these tasks, outsourcing website optimization services is a wise option.

Why? You may be wondering.

Experts have in-depth knowledge of SEO best practices and can streamline your sitemap effectively. 

We ensure every webpage is included, boosting search engine visibility. Outsourcing frees up your time, enabling you to focus on core business tasks while professionals optimize your sitemap, improving website navigation, user experience, and search engine ranking.

Tip #2: Maintain a Clean and Well-Organized Root Directory

The root directory is the central storage location for all folders and files on a domain, and it’s where all web requests initiate.

Although it’s technically possible to place your sitemaps outside of the root directory without causing harm, this practice deviates from the established protocol. The location of your sitemap impacts the files it can include. 

It’s worth noting that search engines may not prioritize your site as highly if the sitemap.xml file is not located in the root directory. 

Therefore, avoid cluttering your root directory with multiple files, negatively impacting your website’s responsiveness.

We recommend utilizing quality templates to visualize your website sitemap before launching it. It’s then better to manage and adjust the sitemap when needed:

A template to visualize
A template to visualize

Tip #3: Incorporate All Web Pages into the Sitemap’s Page URL

Sitemaps serve as a roadmap for Google bots, guiding them to all web pages on your site, even those with less than optimal internal linking. 

By including all web pages within the sitemap file, you facilitate better communication between your website and search engines.

6 Tools to Create Sitemaps Easily 

There are various tools available to help you create different kinds of sitemaps. 

Here are some of them:

XML Sitemap Generator Tools

  • Screaming Frog: This tool is an excellent choice for generating a sitemap, especially if you want to create one after crawling your URLs. Screaming Frog is free for up to 1,000 URLs, but you’ll need to purchase a license for more. Here is how it looks:
XML Sitemap generated by Screaming Frog
XML Sitemap generated by Screaming Frog
  • XML-Sitemaps.com: This web-based application lets you input your website URL and then generates an XML file for you. It’s a free tool for up to 500 URLs.

Depending on the CMS you’re using, there are also numerous XML sitemap generator plugins available. However, exercise caution, as even the best tools have their limitations. 

Always double-check the output.

Some best SEO plugins for WordPress to generate a sitemap:

  • Yoast SEO
  • All-in-One SEO
  • Google XML Sitemaps

You can look at a small instance of XML sitemap generated by Yoast SEO as below:

XML sitemap generated by Yoast SEO
XML sitemap generated by Yoast SEO

HTML Sitemap Generator Tools

  • Dynomapper.com: This free online tool allows you to scan your website URL or upload a document to generate an HTML sitemap. Remember, if your site is poorly structured, there might be better methods than using a generator.
  • Crawler: If you have a large site and are already using a crawler like OnCrawl, DeepCrawl, Screaming Frog, or SiteBulb, you can use the output from a crawl to help generate your HTML sitemap.

Just like XML sitemaps, various CMS plugins can create HTML sitemaps. 

Here are a few for WordPress:

  • Simple Sitemap
  • All in One SEO (can help with both XML and HTML sitemaps)
  • Companion Sitemap Generator (can also generate both XML and HTML sitemaps)

10 Things to Exclude on Your Sitemaps

When creating your sitemaps, it’s a good practice only to include pages that are relevant for SEO. 

This approach makes the most of your crawl budget, enabling search engines to crawl your site and potentially improve indexation more efficiently.

Here are 10 types of content you should exclude from your sitemaps:

  1. Duplicate Pages: These are pages with identical or very similar content to other pages on your site.
  2. Paginated Pages: These are usually part of a series of pages presenting content in sequential order.
  3. Non-Canonical Pages: These are alternative versions of canonical pages that search engines don’t recognize as the authoritative versions.
  4. Archive Pages: These are old pages or pages that compile previous posts or content.
  5. Redirected (3xx), Missing (4xx), and Error (5xx) Pages: These pages can create a poor user experience and are best left out of your.
  6. Comment URLs: These are URLs that link directly to comments on your site.
  7. No-Index Pages: These are pages you’ve instructed search engines not to index.
  8. Resource Pages Useful to Visitors but Not Serving as Landing Pages: While these pages might be helpful to users, they’re not intended to attract search engine traffic.
  9. Site Result Search Pages: These pages display the results of a site-specific search and typically don’t need to be indexed.
  10. Pages Shared Via Email: If a page is primarily shared via email and not intended for search engine discovery, it doesn’t need to be in the sitemap.

Final Thoughts

By now, you should have a clear answer to the question, “What Is A Sitemap?” and understand its significance in managing a successful website. 

Sitemaps act as navigational aids for search engine bots, ensuring they discover all your important pages. While the process may seem daunting initially, the SEO benefits make it worthwhile. 

We hope this guide has helped demystify sitemaps and equipped you with the knowledge to implement one effectively. 

Now, it’s time to put this knowledge into practice!