When you hear the word “sitemap”, most people think of a page on your website that list all of your websites pages, organized in a way that an end user could navigate through. This is what’s referred to as an “HTML Sitemap, or Spider Map”. While this is recommended to always have on your site so that people have a go-to resource for finding the information they need quickly, there is another type of sitemap your website should have.
This is an XML Sitemap, which most just refer to as “sitemap”. This is an XML formatted file that list all pages and subpages in your site, with embedded information about the type of content the page contains, the date it was last modified, the rate that it typically gets modified, and finally the importance of the page in relation to you website on a whole.
While all of that might sound a little scary and over-the-top, I assure you it’s easy to manage and well justified to have. Having a sitemap file will make your site much easier for Google to parse through, will increase the rate that Google scans your content, and will subsequently increase your Google placement in search results over time. I’ve detailed how to submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools as well as how to set up an account. I recommend you check it out after you finish up here.
The easiest way to generate your sitemap is to have a service do it for you. You have the option to do it by hand, but that could be time consuming, and it leaves human error in missing pages or typing in a URL wrong. If you’d like to create your sitemap file by hand, I’ll go ahead and give you the basics of what you need to do that, then we’ll talk about ways to have the file automatically generated for you.
To create a sitemap file, you’ll want to create a new blank file. The easiest way to do this in windows is to open the notepad program, go to file -> save as -> change the dropdown to “all files” and then type in “sitemap.xml” into the filename bar and click as. Now, you have a blank XML file to work with. I recommend using a more advanced text editor to add content to your file like Notepad++, but if all you have is notepad, that’s just fine, you just won’t have any color coding or code hinting and folding.
Here is the basic structure of the code you will have to include for each and every URL on your website
<urlset xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd" xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"> <url> <loc>http://www.tillerphish.com</loc> <lastmod>2015-04-26T05:35:22+00:00</lastmod> <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> <priority>0.2</priority> </url> </urlset>
This sets up a “urlset” which will hold all of your “urls”. The “loc” is the actual URL. The next line is the date modified, the next line is how often the page is modified generally with the options being daily, weekly, monthly or yearly, and the last line being the priority, which ranges from 0.1 to 1.0. I like to keep the change rate at monthly and the importance at 0.2 across the board. In some instances it is important to better regulate these settings, but for most sites these settings will work just fine. Once you have placed this code in your file for every single URL, you are ready to use it, but uploading it to the root of your website. So, if your website is “www.tillerphish.com” you would upload your file to “www.tillerphish.com/sitemap.xml”
Now, if you don’t really want to deal with all the foot work, there are options. The easiest, if you are using WordPress, is to use a plugin. The plugin I recommend is “Google Sitemaps”. It will automatically generate a Google friendly sitemap for your entire website and place it on your server where it needs to be.
If you are not using WordPress, another option is to use a third party service. I recommend using https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/. All you need to do is input your website domain and they will output a full XML file for you to upload to your server, free of charge. The only limitation is that it will only parse the first 500 URLs on your website. So, if you have under 500 pages you are good to go!