Many small business owners avoid search engine optimization because they don’t really want to get into the technical complexities of SEO (like how to upload a sitemap!). They either hope Google and Bing will just figure out their sites and all will be okay, or they focus on social media and other promotional tactics to build their business.
We completely understand this resistance. As a small business owner, you have limited time at your disposal and must focus on priorities that move the needle. But if you’re reading this, you understand SEO can help your website and grow your business. This is huge because you’ve broken through what holds a lot of small business owners back.
Sitemaps do require a bit of technical know-how – but you can do this! With this article, access to your website, and a Google Search Console account, you can probably get a sitemap set up in an hour or less. This alone isn’t going to double your search engine traffic overnight, but it is certainly going to help.
First, let’s talk about what a sitemap is and how it helps get more traffic to your site.
You need a sitemap to help Google/Bing understand:
Simply put, a sitemap is a map of the pages on your website. It’s a way to tell a search engine bot (Google, Bing, etc) which website pages you want the search engine to index. A sitemap is a document that says to search engine bots, “These are the pages on my site I would like you to index.”
When a page on your site is “indexed,” it means it’s included in Google/Bing’s library of pages that they will check whenever someone performs a search query. If a page isn’t indexed, it is not eligible to appear in the search results. For a variety of reasons, not all pages are indexed (only about .004% of the internet is indexed).
Simply telling Google/Bing 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. The search engines will decide on their own whether they’ll index your pages or not. But you will significantly increase your pages’ chances of getting indexed by having a sitemap for the search engine bots to read.
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 webpages.
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, you do not have to know XML markup to create a sitemap for your site. You are not going to have to do any coding.
Note: If you’re a Web.com customer, and you’ve used our website builder tool to build your website, you’ll want to use an HTML sitemap for your website. If you’re a Web.com customer who’s using WordPress to build your website, you’ll want to use an XML sitemap.
There are 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:
If you want to keep things simple, these specialized plugins can also create an XML sitemap for you:
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 and a bit too much information. We’re striving to 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 for Free with the Google XML Sitemaps Plugin for WordPress
First, I’ll need to log into my WordPress site, then go to the “Plugins > Add New” link in the left corner.
In the field that says “Search plugins…” I’ll type the name of the plugin I want to add: Google XML Sitemaps.
When the plugin’s description box shows up, click the “Install Now” button.
The “Install Now” button will then turn blue and say “Activate.” Click it again to activate the plugin.
Now if I go over to the installed sitemaps menu, I’ll be able to see the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.
And if I click on the “Settings” link a bit below in the left-hand column, I’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. Back in the olden days (before WordPress – it was rough!), webmasters would have to crawl their sites and create a new sitemap every time they made a significant change. If we use a plugin, we don’t have to do that anymore and it saves a lot of time.
So now that we’ve got a sitemap, here’s what to do with it.
Your new sitemap already exists on your site, so you don’t have to upload anywhere or move it to another location. You just need to let two very important tools know where it is:
*Note: many people skip Bing, but it is a big enough search engine to be worth the extra work. For this tutorial, we’re just going to show you how to submit a sitemap to Google. There’s an excellent tutorial on how to submit a sitemap to Bing here. Submitting a sitemap to Bing is a very similar process to submitting a sitemap to Google.
To let Google Search Console know where your sitemap is, either log into your Google Search Console account or create a Google Search Console account.
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.
Go back to the XML Generator page on your site, confirm the address of your sitemap (it will be something like “yoursite.com/sitemap.xml”). Then enter the sitemap file name into Google Search Console, right where it says “Enter sitemap URL”.
Note that 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).
Click the blue “Submit” button.
You’ll see a pop-up confirming that you’ve submitted the sitemap, and that Google will notify you if anything is wrong with it.
Then you’ll see that your sitemap is all set up:
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.
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 in your website. All in One SEO, 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:
Here’s what it looks like after you’ve downloaded and installed Filezilla, and entered the website’s FTP host address (the URL or host address your hosting company gave you), my FTP username, and my 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.
Click the blue “Quickconnect” button. If all goes well, you’ll connect to your server. That main directory listing will appear in the middle right panel, like this:
You’ll be adding your sitemap.xml file to the main directory (“/”). That’s what the screenshot above shows. This is where you should add your sitemap.xml file whether you’re on a WordPress site or using another website builder tool.
Navigate through the files on your computer to find the sitemap.xml file you just downloaded. Select it. It will turn blue, like the screenshot above.
Next, right click with the sitemap.xml file selected. You’ll see the upload menu. Click “Upload.”
You should see some brief activity in the top panel as the file is uploaded to the main directory of your website. But unfortunately, you won’t see your new sitemap.xml in the listing.
To get around this, click the bottom tab that says “Successful transfers” and you’ll see a record of your file upload. This screenshot shows me uploading the same file twice… because I didn’t see it in the directory listing, and thought I had done something wrong. But it’s there – it’s just not listed in that middle-right panel/directory listing.
Once you’ve confirmed the sitemap.xml has been uploaded, you should let Google Search Console and Bing know (see the instructions above for how to do that).
But after that – YOU’RE DONE. You have successfully created and uploaded a sitemap. Who knows what you can do next!
Feature Image: Unsplash / Alvaro Reyes
All screenshots taken by the author, April 2019.
Image 1-7: screenshots via WordPress
Image 8-11: screenshots via Google Search Console
Image 12-15: screenshots via Filezilla