Sitemap – How to create the perfect page overview

What is a sitemap?
When do you need a sitemap?
What types of sitemaps are there?
How are sitemaps created?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a sitemap?
Conclusion

What is a sitemap?

In short: A sitemap is a file that lists all the individual pages of your website. But be careful! A sitemap is not to be confused with a table of contents. While a table of contents contains individual topics of the website, a sitemap contains all individual documents or better landing pages that are contained on the site. Additionally, it lists all videos, media and other files of a website besides the general pages. It also provides information about alternative language versions, page timeliness and regular updates of individual landing pages.

Important: The sitemap is not created automatically. You specify there which pages should be listed and which information should be included.

The image shows you the structure of a website: From the homepage, i.e. the start page of a website, you can access various subpages or categories. These again contain further landing pages. Example: From the eology homepage, you can easily access the eo:wiki and from there the individual terms that are explained to you.
Website structure

The site structure is important because it helps search engines to crawl websites more intelligently and easily. Among other things, this is significant for indexing. In addition, this in turn can positively influence the ranking of the page accordingly and get better rankings in the SERPs.

When do you need a sitemap?

You don’t always need a site map. If the structure of your page is coherent anyway, the content is logical and correctly linked, the Googlebot should understand your website even without a sitemap. However, if it is a bit more complex, the sitemap increases the chances that all content will be indexed and crawled correctly. If one of the following points applies to your website, you should set up a sitemap according to Google:

But of course, there are also cases where you can very well do without a sitemap if you want to.

When do you not need a sitemap? There are four cases for this:
1. The website is relatively "small".
2. The website uses a simple hosting service.
3. The website is internally very well linked.
4. The website has only few media files.
When do you not need a sitemap?

What are the types of sitemap?

Roughly, there are five main types into which sitemaps can be divided:

Types of sitemap - There are 5 types:
1. XML sitemap
2. HTML sitemap
3. video sitemap
4. news sitemap
5. image sitemap
Types of sitemap
  1. XML Sitemap: The classic of page overviews – Here you will find the listing of all individual documents.
  2. HTML-Sitemap: Just like the XML sitemap, an HTML sitemap is the blueprint of the website.
  3. Video Sitemap: This allows you to make your video content easier for search engines to understand.
  4. News Sitemap: To tell Google which of your content is specifically suited for the Google News panel, you use a news sitemap. This way you show which content should be displayed there.
  5. Image Sitemap: This is a listing of all existing images on your website.

What are the similarities and differences between XML and HTML sitemap formats?

XML-SITEMAPHTML-SITEMAP
OrientationSearch engineUser
“Language”XML, markup language for codingHTML, markup language for browsers
ContentFile with all individual documents of the website that are to be indexedListing of the pages on the website that are most important for the visitor
GoalBetter crawlabilityIncrease usability

Both sitemaps have one thing in common: their suitability as a main directory. Both are perfect for large, content-based websites. However, since both types of sitemaps are otherwise very different, it often makes sense to use both. This is mainly due to their target orientation: the XML sitemap clearly has search engines in focus, while the HTML sitemap, in contrast, is designed with the user in mind. So to satisfy both parties, you should deposit both types.

How are sitemaps created?

Site maps can be created manually or with the help of plugins in a content management system (CMS), such as Joomla or WordPress.

On the way to the perfect sitemap – The manual creation

Step 1: Consideration of the content and its structure

You should take a closer look at all of this in the first step to determine how your sitemap is structured in detail. Pay particular attention to whether the pages are ordered hierarchically or by importance. Especially relevant pages should be as high up in the site hierarchy as possible. Therefore, compare this with the actual existing structure.

The schematic structure of the eology website shows you how a website can be structured. By looking at the homepage, you can see which categories it refers to and then which subcategories there are.
Schematic structure of the eology website

You start on the home page and see where it leads to. In the case of the eology website, the categories “Services”, “Cases”, “The Team” and so on would be on the second hierarchy level directly after the start page. In this way, you look at the continuous individual levels of your website and can create a list. Again, keep in mind that deeper subpages are more difficult to rank. Important pages should therefore be quickly accessible in order to be crawled well and be easily indexable.

TIP:

From an SEO and usability point of view, you should make sure that all subpages can be reached with a maximum of three clicks.

Website hierarchy: At best, a subpage should be accessible in 3 clicks. This means that the first click takes you to the top-level navigation, the second to the second-level navigation, and the third to your destination: the third-level navigation.
Website hierarchy

Step 2: Coding the existing URLs

Through your analysis in the first step, you have at best located and listed all (important) URLs of your website. Now it’s time to code them for the page overview. For this you have to format all URLs in XML or HTML language. You should also include the following information in the code:

Step 3: Checking the code

Manual coding can, of course, cause the error devil to creep in here and there. However, it is imperative to weed them all out so that your sitemap works smoothly and flawlessly.

But don’t worry: There are tools to support you! The XML Sitemap Validator, for example, checks the format and correctness of your sitemap and source code. In addition, there are numerous other validation tools that can help you here. You can find them easily via Google.

Step 4: Adding the sitemap

Now that the site map is up and running, and all errors are corrected, you can add it to the root or main directory and robots.txt. By adding the sitemap to the root folder, it will also be uploaded to the website. However, this is not a problem. Many large websites use the sitemap to help their visitors. This makes it easier for them to find what they are looking for, and they don’t get lost so quickly. You can easily find sitemaps that are uploaded to websites by appending a “/sitemap” to the domain URL. If you want to view the sitemap in XML format, you can do that on some websites as well. Just append a “/sitemap.xml” to the website URL.

Apple's sitemap: Apple uses the sitemap in HTML format. Thus, it is perfectly prepared for website visitors and provides an easy-to-read overview of all pages.
Apple’s site map in HTML format – perfectly prepared for website visitors

In addition to the root directory, you should also add the sitemap to robots.txt. Here you can give precise instructions, which URL the crawlers should follow and which not. In this way, you determine exactly what is indexed and what is on noindex.

The XML sitemap of Apple, on the other hand, can be found in the robots.txt of apple.com. Here, the pages are listed in code and are not as easily readable for humans as in the HTML sitemap.
The XML sitemap of apple.com in robots.txt

Step 5: Submitting the sitemap to the search engine

Adding the site map only to your page is not quite enough, of course. You also have to provide it to the search engines. For this purpose, you can submit it to Google via Search Console, for example.

Submit and view sitemaps in Google Search Console: Via the "Index" section and the "Sitemaps" tab there (marked red on the image), you can access the sitemap overview. There you can easily submit a sitemap to Google (marked blue).
Sitemaps in Google Search Console einreichen und einsehen

To do this, go to the “Index” section and there to the “Sitemaps” tab. You can then submit them via “Add new sitemap”. At the top right of the screen, you will find the function that allows you to test your sitemap. This way it will be checked again for errors. If everything is correct, you can submit it. Google will take care of the rest.

On the way to the perfect sitemap – The creation with the help of plugins and tools

As mentioned above, you don’t have to create the sitemap manually. With the help of plugins, you can also set it up very easily and uncomplicated. In contrast to the manual creation of the sitemap, this saves you the time-consuming manual coding of your URLs and thus a lot of time.

The Yoast SEO plugin

If you use WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin is very helpful. After installation, you can activate the creation of the sitemap via a simple toggle switch. You can find this in the sidebar of WordPress under the term “SEO”. Then you click on “General” and there on the tab “Functions”. Here you will then find all the areas that you can enable or disable.

Insights into the YoastSEO tool: Here you can easily activate or deactivate the creation of the XML sitemap via a toggle switch (marked red in the illustration).
Einblicke in das YoastSEO-Tool
Insights into the YoastSEO tool: Here you can easily activate or deactivate the creation of the XML sitemap via a toggle switch (marked red in the illustration).
Example of a sitemap of the YoastSEO plugin

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a desktop software that has now firmly positioned itself among most SEO experts. This is not least because it brings a wide range of different SEO tools – including the creation of sitemaps. The good thing is that as long as your website has less than 500 pages, the tool will create a site map for you for free.

Slickplan

Slickplan is a software that facilitates the basic planning of your website. With the help of the sitemap builder, you can visualize your website architecture very nicely and thus better understand it. The best: The whole thing is super easy! Drag and drop the different pages into a template of the builder. There you can organize and rearrange them as you like. Once you are satisfied with the result, you can export the XML file. However, Slickplan is a paid tool. You can find out whether the purchase is worthwhile for you via a test version.

TIP: A sitemap generator helps you to create a sitemap quickly and easily. For this, the tool searches all pages from the start page and subsequently pulls the URLs of all HTML pages. It then develops an XML file that you can download. You should note, however, that ONLY the URLs are stored and not other more in-depth information such as modification date, etc.. The number of pages is often limited with sitemap generator tools as well. So if your website is relatively large, it may be that it reaches its limits here.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a sitemap?

Especially for search engine optimization a sitemap plays a big role, because it helps the search engine to interpret your site better. Thus, it is possible that it is displayed more accurately and targeted, if it fits a search query of a user. A sitemap can therefore have a positive effect on the ranking of your website. In turn, you will be found better and be more visible on the web. In addition, you can specifically exclude pages from indexing. These are clear advantages!
The sitemap does not only bring advantages for the search engine. It is also helpful for your website visitors. They can use it for orientation, so that they can better find what they are looking for. This can often be a good addition to the website navigation, because here everything is again structured and hierarchically listed.

The only downside is the time you have to put into creating a sitemap. However, this is not a big deal if you use a sitemap generator or a plugin like Yoast. This will save you the most effort, and you will benefit from the advantages of a sitemap in the long run.

Conclusion

In general, a sitemap is advisable for pretty much any website. After all, even webmasters with a relatively “small” site may find that it grows and contains more and more content over time. However, there is also an alternative to the HTML sitemap, which is primarily intended for the user: a user-friendly navigation! This can also be a good orientation aid. This way, the website visitor does not need numerous mouse clicks to find what he is looking for. You as the site operator also save the time to create an HTML version in addition to the XML sitemap. The complete menu navigation and the page structure should still be well-thought-out. Also, search fields increase the usability. Nevertheless, you should have an XML sitemap, because it sends important signals to search engines. In the best case, you simply have both on your website, an XML sitemap and a user-friendly navigation. This will improve your web presence significantly.

FAQs

How important is a sitemap?

Since a sitemap is the overall representation of all pages of your website, it serves as a structural overview of available landing pages and content for search engines. That means a sitemap is very important, because it helps the search engines to understand the content and connections better or at all. Furthermore, it shows Google and Co. all pages that should really be crawled and indexed.

What is included in a sitemap?

In addition to the general landing pages, a sitemap also lists all videos, media and other files on a website. It also provides information about alternate language versions, site currency, and regular updates to individual landing pages.

How do you create a sitemap?

Sitemaps can be easily created using various tools, such as the YoastSEO plugin for WordPress or Screaming Frog. Of course, you can also do the work and create the sitemap manually. For this, you proceed in the following five steps:
Step 1: Consideration of the content and its structure.
2nd step: Coding of the existing URLs
3rd step: Checking the code
4th step: Adding the sitemap
5th step: Submitting the sitemap to the search engine

Where can I find the sitemap?

Usually you can find the sitemap in the root directory of a domain. If you type in the domain name – e.g. www.eology.net – you only have to append /sitemap.xml. Via www.eology.net/sitemap.xml you can then take a look at the sitemap of eology GmbH, for example. However, not all websites have a transparent and public sitemap. Some have them in a different directory, so that competitors or similar can not see them.

What is the difference between an XML and an HTML sitemap?

XML and HTML sitemaps differ primarily in the following four areas: Alignment, “language,” content, and target. The most obvious difference is in the alignment. While XML sitemaps are optimized for search engines, HTML sitemaps are designed for users, i.e. humans. They are supposed to show the user in a comprehensible way which pages are available. While the XML sitemap is coded, the HTML sitemap is easily readable by humans. Moreover, an XML sitemap contains only landing pages that search engines are supposed to index, while the HTML sitemap gives an overall view of all existing pages of the website. For this reason, the goal of the two formats is also different: HTML sitemaps aim to increase usability, while XML sitemaps aim to improve crawlability.

How do you submit a sitemap to Google?

If you want to submit a sitemap to Google, go to the “Index” section in the Google Search Console and then to the “Sitemaps” tab. You can then submit it via “Add new sitemap”.

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