XML sitemap

A beginner’s guide to navigating XML and HTML sitemaps 

11 MINS
Diana Alcanzar

The internet is like a huge city that’s teeming with digital streets, alleys, and structures. With this, it can get hard to get noticed online because of the number of attractions and competition. To ensure that your website stands out and is easily discoverable in search engines, using a sitemap is key. 

Sitemaps require a bit of technical know-how, but this article will give you a step-by-step guide on how to set up a sitemap in an hour or less. This alone isn’t going to double your search engine traffic overnight, but it’s certainly going to help.  

First, know what a sitemap is and how it helps get more traffic to your site.  

What is a sitemap? 

A sitemap is a map of your website that lists all your pages, videos, and files, and shows how they are linked. It helps search engines like Google to find and understand your website’s content easily. This is important for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) because it helps your new or updated pages to be found quickly and added to search results. 

Just like a map helps you find your way around a city by showing you all the streets and locations, a sitemap shows the structure and organization of your website. 

A sitemap typically consists of a hierarchical list or visual diagram that shows the main pages of your website and how they are connected. It helps both you, as the website designer and your visitors navigate and understand the layout of your site. 

For example, you’re designing a website for a bakery. Your sitemap might show the homepage at the top, and then below it, you’ll have branches or sub-pages that represent different sections of your website, such as “About Us,” “Menu,” “Gallery,” “Contact,” and so on. You can also have sub-pages within those sections, like different types of pastries or cakes under the “Menu” section. 

By having a sitemap, you can visualize the structure of your website and ensure that all the pages are logically connected. It helps you plan the user experience and make sure visitors can easily navigate from one page to another. 

Sitemaps are also important for search engines like Google. Search engine crawlers use the sitemap to understand its structure and index the pages more efficiently. This can improve the visibility of your website in search results. 

Types of sitemaps 

XML sitemaps 

XML sitemaps are like the library’s index—a meticulously crafted catalog that lists every page, post, and piece of content on your website. Designed primarily for search engines, XML sitemaps are coded files that provide a roadmap for search engine spiders to both crawl and index through your site efficiently. 

Benefits: 

  • Improved indexing – XML sitemaps ensure that search engines discover and index all your essential content, preventing important pages from slipping through the cracks. 
  • Prioritized crawling – You can indicate the priority and frequency of updates for each page, guiding search engines on where to focus their crawling efforts. 

HTML sitemaps 

An HTML sitemap is a straightforward, organized list of all the pages on your website. It’s designed to help visitors easily find and access different sections or information on your site. The sitemap presents your website’s structure in a clear, easy-to-follow format, allowing users to quickly locate the page they need without searching through the entire site. 

Benefits: 

  • Enhanced user experience – HTML sitemaps provide a visual overview of your site’s structure, helping visitors quickly locate specific pages or topics. 
  • Accessibility – Users who may struggle with traditional navigation menus can rely on HTML sitemaps for a more accessible browsing experience. 

Image and video sitemaps 

Visual content, including images and videos, plays a crucial role in modern websites. Image and video sitemaps are specialized versions of multiple sitemaps that focus on indexing and showcasing these media assets effectively. 

Benefits: 

  • Visual discovery – These sitemaps allow search engines to understand and index your visual content, potentially leading to enhanced visibility in image and video search results. 
  • Better user engagement – By ensuring your visual assets are discoverable, you’re creating opportunities for users to engage with your content in more diverse ways. 

News sitemaps 

For websites that feature news articles, blog posts, or timely content, these sitemaps are essential. These sitemaps provide a structured way to notify search engines about new articles and updates. 

Benefits: 

  • Timely indexing: – They ensure that your latest news articles are promptly indexed by search engines, increasing the chances of appearing in news-related search results. 
  • Improved visibility – They help your timely content reach a broader audience, especially those who are actively seeking current events and news stories. 

Why do you need a sitemap? 

You need a sitemap to help search engines understand:  

  • Which pages exist on your site. 
  • Where those pages are. 
  • That those pages are important enough to be indexed. 

When a page on your site is indexed, it means it’s included in a search engine’s library of pages that they’ll check whenever someone performs a search query. If a page isn’t indexed, it is not eligible to appear in the search results. 

However, simply telling a search engine that you have website pages, where those pages are, and that you think the search engine should index them is not enough to get them indexed. This is because search engines consider factors such as content quality, relevance, user value, and website authority before they index your site. Nevertheless, having a sitemap will increase your pages’ chances of getting indexed. 

A well-structured sitemap ensures that search engines can easily discover and understand your website’s structure, boosting your site’s SEO and user experience. If you’re a Web.com customer, and you’ve used our intuitive website builder tool to build your website, you’ll want to use an HTML sitemap for your website. 

How to create an XML sitemap 

XML refers to the markup language (also known as the code) that makes up a sitemap. Sitemaps can also be created in HTML, the markup language used on most web pages.  

XML sitemaps are usually made for search engine bots. The bots can read an HTML sitemap, but all other things being equal, it’s generally preferable to use an XML sitemap. The good news is, that you do not have to know XML markup to create a sitemap for your site. You’re not going to have to do any coding.   

There is a slew of different tools that can make the sitemap for you. You may have some of these tools on your site already, especially if you have a WordPress site. If you have a WordPress site, any of these SEO plugins can create a sitemap for you with a couple of clicks: 

  • AIOSEO 

Check out this video tutorial that will show you how to set up a sitemap in AIOSEO.  

  • Yoast SEO 

Check out Yoast’s tutorial on how to set up a sitemap with their plugin.  

If you want to keep things simple, this specialized plugin can also create an XML sitemap for you: 

This plugin is free. We’ll use it to create a sitemap in the instructions below.  
If you don’t have a WordPress-based website, or you don’t want to use a plugin to create your sitemap, XML-sitemaps.com can do the job. The basic version of their tool is free, which will be enough for most websites.  

Google also has a detailed page about how to create a sitemap. But unless you’re a website developer, it’s a little bit advanced with too much information. We’ll keep this as simple as possible for you, so we’re going to walk you through our version of how to create a basic sitemap.  

How to create an XML sitemap with the Google XML Sitemaps plugin for WordPress 

  1. Log into your WordPress site, then go to the Plugins > Add New link in the left corner. 
  1. In the field that says Search plugins, type the name of the plugin you want to add: Google XML Sitemaps. 
  1. When the plugin’s description box shows up, click the Install Now button.  
  1. The Install Now button will then turn blue and say Activate. Click it again to activate the plugin. 
  1. Click Settings > XML – Sitemap on the left column menu. You’ll see the link to adjust the settings for this plugin. 

The plugin has already created a sitemap for the site. The red arrow points to its location. Notice how the plugin is also set to notify Google and Bing of the new sitemap (In the Basic Options section below). This is why the right tools help so much. This plugin handles pretty much the entire sitemap setup for you.  

This is what the sitemap looks like. Not much to see, but it’s meant for the search engines’ eyes anyway.  

One of the benefits of having a plugin create your sitemap like this is that it will update your sitemap every time you make a change to your site. Before WordPress, webmasters would have to crawl their sites and create a new sitemap every time they made a significant change. If you use a plugin, you don’t have to do that anymore and it saves a lot of time.  

So now that you’ve got a sitemap, here’s what to do with it. 

How to submit a sitemap to Google Search Console 

Your new sitemap already exists on your site, so you don’t have to upload it anywhere or move it to another location. You just need to let two very important tools know where it is:  

Many people skip Bing, but it’s a big enough search engine to be worth the extra work. There’s an excellent tutorial on how to submit a sitemap to Bing. Submitting a sitemap to Bing is a very similar process to submitting a sitemap to Google. 

For this tutorial, we’re just going to show you how to submit a sitemap to Google. Follow these simple steps: 

  1. Log into your Google Search Console account or create a Google Search Console account. This lets Google Search Console know where your sitemap is. 
  1. Find the site you want to add the sitemap to, then go to Index > Sitemaps in the list of links in the left-hand column. 
  1. Go back to the XML Generator page on your site and confirm the address of your sitemap (it will be something like yoursite.com/sitemap.xml). 
  1. Then enter the sitemap file name into Google Search Console, right where it says Enter sitemap URL.  
  1. Click Submit. You’ll see a pop-up confirming that you’ve submitted the sitemap and Google will notify you if anything is wrong with it.  

Note: You’re just entering the filename, not the full web address. Google has pre-populated your website address for you. You just need to add the filename of your sitemap (assuming it’s in the main directory of your site, which is where it’s supposed to be). 

Sometimes, you’ll see an error when you first submit your sitemap. Just click reload on your browser and it will update the Google Search Console page correctly.  

How to upload a sitemap to your website 

If you’re on a WordPress site and you used a plugin to create your sitemap, the plugin will automatically add the file to the right place on your website. AIOSEO, Yoast SEO, and the other plugins listed in this article will add the sitemap for you.  

If you aren’t on WordPress, or you didn’t use a plugin, you’ll have to add the file yourself. Let’s say you used a tool like XML-Sitemaps.com to create your sitemap. You’ve downloaded the sitemap they made for you to your computer. Now you need to upload it to your site.  

To do this, you will need FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access to your website. A free tool like Filezilla will give you that access, but you’ll have to know your site’s: 

  • IP address or URL. 
  • Your hosting account username. 
  • Your hosting account password. 

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Filezilla, enter the website’s host address (the URL or host address your hosting company gave you), FTP username, and FTP password. If you can get the port number for your FTP access, that’s helpful, but often you can get into a site without the port number. 

  1. Click Quickconnect. If all goes well, you’ll connect to your server. 
  1. Find the public_html folder on the right-hand side and double-click on it.  
  1. On the left-hand side of the screen, you can see a tree menu. Use this to locate your sitemap.xml file from your computer.  
  1. Once you’ve located the .XML file on your computer, drag it to the right side underneath all the folders.  
  1. After dragging it there, look for the sitemap.xml in the list of files. That’s when you can certify it’s uploaded correctly.  

Get noticed online today! 

A full sitemap automatically guides both users and search engines through the digital maze of your website. By implementing a sitemap, you enhance user experience, optimize your site for search engines, and facilitate efficient indexing. The whole process is not a walk in the park because it involves tedious and continuous work for your website to be considered relevant. But with this article, hopefully, it’ll ease the weight on your shoulders.  

After completing the steps in this article, you might want to explore Web.com’s professional Search Engine Optimization Services. You’ll drive more traffic to your website, improve your search engine ranking, and have your site listed in popular directories by a group of SEO experts. All you need to do is manage your website while our experts handle the SEO work for you. Contact our experts today to get a quote! 

  • Diana Alcanzar

    Diana is a Technical Writer at Web.com. She's dedicated to creating compelling and impactful web content that empowers online businesses from around the world. Outside work, she enjoys trying out new foods and visiting different places. She's always eager to experience something fresh and exciting.

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