Sitemaps Explained

435325345 2

A sitemap is a crucial SEO tool that provides a detailed map of a website's structure and content to help search engines efficiently crawl, discover and index all important pages. This comprehensive guide will explore the ins and outs of different types of sitemaps, their purpose, how to create and optimize them, proper submission techniques, common issues and pitfalls to avoid, and why having a well-structured sitemap is vital for any website's success.

What Exactly is a Sitemap?

A sitemap is an XML or HTML file that lists all the pages on a website along with key metadata like last updated dates, page priorities, alternate language URLs, images, videos, etc. This structured document serves as a "table of contents" for search engine crawlers to understand the architecture of a site and find URLs to crawl and index.

For example, a sitemap entry for a blog post may include:

  • URL of the page
  • When it was last updated
  • How often it changes
  • Its priority relative to other pages
  • Alternate language versions
  • Images and videos contained on the page

This provides crawlers detailed information like the page URL, when it was last updated, how frequently it changes, and its relative priority on the site. Well-formatted sitemaps drastically improve the crawl efficiency of search engines.

Types of Sitemaps

There are two main types of sitemaps:

XML Sitemaps: Optimized for search engine crawlers, XML sitemaps contain metadata like last updated dates, images, and localized/alternate language URLs. They are machine-readable and follow a defined XML structure.

Example XML sitemap:


HTML Sitemaps: HTML sitemaps are designed for better user experience and navigation. They list all pages in a hierarchical structure similar to a table of contents.

Example HTML sitemap:


For SEO, XML sitemaps are most critical. HTML sitemaps enhance navigation but are not required.

Key Benefits and Purpose of Sitemaps

The main benefits and purposes of sitemaps include:

  • Comprehensive List of Pages: Provides search bots a complete reference of URLs to crawl and index.

  • Hard-to-Find Pages: Ensures even deep pages or those with little external linkage get indexed.

  • Faster Indexing: Helps search engines quickly discover new content instead of waiting for crawls.

  • Duplicate Content: Avoids indexing same content multiple times by defining canonical page.

  • Navigation: The structured hierarchy improves navigation and site architecture.

  • Crawl Insights: Seeing indexed vs submitted URLs provides insights into crawl errors.

  • Mobile/International: Can list mobile-friendly, international or translated versions of pages.

Additional Benefits:

  • Improves accessibility for users and search bots
  • Allows control over how pages are indexed
  • Reduces load on servers from crawling
  • Can showcase pages that don't rank well organically
  • Helps during migrations, redesigns, or URL changes

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Sitemap

1. Crawl Site to Generate XML Sitemap

Use a specialized crawler like, Screaming Frog, or Inspyder to crawl your site and auto-generate a comprehensive XML sitemap.

2. Optimize and Customize

Review auto-generated sitemap and customize as needed by adding/removing URLs, assigning priorities and defining alternate versions of pages. Follow best practices.

3. Validate and Split Sitemaps

Validate sitemap formatting using tools like W3C Validator and XML Validator. Split into multiple sitemaps if too large.

4. Submit Sitemaps to Search Engines

Submit sitemaps to search engines like Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, and Yandex.

5. Create HTML Sitemap

Manually build an HTML sitemap to improve site navigation or use WordPress plugins like Google XML Sitemaps.

6. Monitor and Maintain

Monitor indexing and errors in search console reports. Update sitemaps when site structure or content changes.

Detailed Steps:

  • Audit current sitemaps if any and analyze site structure
  • Configure crawler settings and crawl site to export sitemap XML
  • Open sitemap file and customize priorities, change frequencies, last updated dates
  • Break down into multiple sitemaps if too large, keep under 50,000 URLs
  • Validate formatting to avoid XML errors
  • Submit sitemaps to search engines via Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools
  • Add HTML sitemap to site footer for user navigation
  • Set calendar reminders to update sitemaps whenever site content changes
  • Monitor indexing reports weekly and ping search engines of changes

Submitting Sitemaps to Search Engines

Once created, sitemaps must be submitted properly so search engines can discover the URLs and crawl them:

  • Search Console: Upload XML sitemaps directly in Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, etc.

  • robots.txt: Adding a link to your sitemap in robots.txt helps search bots find them. For example:


  • Sitemap Ping: Use tools like to ping and notify search engines of new/updated sitemaps.

  • Monitoring: Check search engine webmaster tools for indexing reports and diagnostics.

Submitting appropriately, maintaining, and fixing errors ensures maximum crawl efficiency.

Additional Submission Tips:

  • Submit ASCII sitemap version for email subscriptions
  • Ping major search engines whenever you update the sitemap
  • Monitor Search Console for crawl errors and fix issues
  • Resubmit new sitemaps after site redesigns or migrations

Common Sitemap Issues and How to Avoid Them

Some common sitemap pitfalls include:

  • XML errors - Validate formatting to avoid mistakes like missing tags, improper nesting, etc.

  • Size limits - Split into multiple sitemaps if exceeding Google's 50MB limit or Bing's 50,000 URL limit.

  • Duplicate URLs - Use canonical tags and remove any duplicate or invalid pages.

  • Indexing failure - If pages aren't getting indexed, resubmit sitemap and check for crawl errors.

  • Not updating - Updated sitemaps whenever site structure changes to avoid dead links.

Additional Issues:

  • Blocked by robots.txt restrictions
  • Excessive URLs slowing down crawling
  • Security plugins blocking access
  • Invalid XML markup and formatting
  • Pointing to incorrect URLs

Proper structuring, validating, and monitoring diagnostics prevents these issues.

Why Sitemaps are Vital for SEO Success

In summary, comprehensive and optimized sitemaps provide huge SEO value:

  • Crawl efficiency is drastically improved, leading to better indexing.

  • Easy discovery of new content without waiting for crawls.

  • No pages get left behind, even those deep in site architecture.

  • Duplicate content issues are avoided.

  • New sites can get indexed much faster.

  • Provides insights into site health via indexing reports.

Additional SEO Benefits:

  • Showcases pages with thin content or new sites
  • Improves indexation of internationalized content
  • Faster discovery of news articles and trending content
  • Helps create a orderly, logical site architecture
  • Allows control over crawl prioritization

Given these many benefits, taking the time to properly generate, optimize, maintain and monitor sitemaps is one of the highest ROI activities for improving any website's search performance. They serve as a blueprint for search engines to unlock the value of your content.

Sitemap Tools and Resources

Here are some useful sitemap generation tools and resources:

Sitemap Generators:

WordPress Plugins:

Webmaster Tools:


Sitemaps serve as a vital blueprint for search engines to efficiently crawl and index your website's pages.

Taking the time to properly generate, optimize, maintain, and monitor your sitemaps provides tremendous SEO value. It leads to improved indexing, faster discovery of new content, better international and mobile visibility, and insights into site health via crawl reports.

Follow this comprehensive guide to:

  • Leverage specialized tools to generate a full XML sitemap of your site's structure.

  • Customize and optimize by assigning priorities, change frequencies and adding metadata.

  • Split into multiple sitemaps to avoid size limits and validate formatting.

  • Submit sitemaps to search engines through webmaster tools.

  • Create supplementary HTML sitemaps to aid navigation.

  • Monitor indexing reports weekly and refresh sitemaps whenever site content changes.

By implementing these best practices, your sitemaps will serve as accurate blueprints for search bots to unlock the full potential of your website. Properly optimized and maintained sitemaps can significantly improve your search rankings, organic traffic, and visibility for target keywords.

Make sitemap creation and management a key part of your overall SEO strategy. Complement your sitemaps with other technical optimizations like site speed improvements, responsive design, metadata enhancement, and content optimization.

With comprehensive sitemaps powering your website's search visibility, you can focus on creating stellar content while letting the sitemaps take care of search engine crawl efficiency under the hood.

Turn your website into a search engine friendly and easily navigable resource that ranks highly and gets discovered for relevant consumer searches. Sitemaps make it possible.

Increase your service-based marketing by using a website.

Schedule a call with one of our website specialists and take the first step in optimizing your website. We’ll discuss your company goals, current website issues, technology, and marketing strategies. Together we'll determine the best way to help you achieve success.