This article is taken from my bonus section on the On-Page Mastery Course. I hope you enjoy it, and if you aren’t already involved with my On-Page SEO Group I recommend you check that out here.
What Is A Sitemap?
A Sitemap is a basic model of links to help Users and Search Engines navigate your site in an easy way.
Sitemaps are now regularly served up as .XML files primarily, however some sites still provide regular pages as well as .XML Sitemap files. This is often the case when a site feels Users need to use their Sitemap, or if they are trying to use the Sitemap as a Hallway or Doorway page to manipulate their rankings.
How Do You Setup A Sitemap?
It’s relatively simple to setup a Sitemap in WordPress since there are many plugins to do so. I personally use the Yoast SEO plugin for 80% of the Sitemaps that I create, and this is for a good reason… Yoast’s Sitemap feature doesn’t create an excessive amount of sub-sitemaps. More on why I like that in a bit.
How To Use Sitemaps The Right Way
Using Sitemaps properly is something that isn’t given nearly enough thought in the realms of SEO. In a sense it’s a technical topic, and technical topics aren’t always the most popular… Most people believe that you should simply setup your Sitemap, submit it to Google Search Console and be done with it.
This couldn’t be more wrong.
Different plugins create vastly different Sitemaps depending on which one you choose. The reality is, not all of these Sitemaps are created equal. For example, the plugin “Simple XML Sitemap Generator” is anything but simple. I noticed on a client site of mine that this plugin was creating multiple sub-sitemaps for no good reason.
Most Sitemaps on WordPress are going to do this, and that’s fine. But creating more than necessary is not a good thing…
Sites with only a few dozen pages don’t need a Sitemap that is split up into more than 3 or 4 different sub-sitemaps. This sends Crawlers like Googlebot down one funnel, then they don’t come back up. Since smaller sites get crawled less frequently, this is Crawlability issue that needs to be avoided, or fixed.
A larger site on the other hand, benefits a lot more from having more than one child sitemap within the overall sitemap. Ecommerce sites are good examples of sites that tend to have a lot more pages, and therefore usually require a more expansive sitemap.
Rule of thumb: Bigger sites need more sub-sitemaps, smaller sites need less.
A Sitemap can’t contain more than 50,000 URLs, including the URLs to secondary Sitemaps. So you can in theory have 50,000 Sitemaps in one Sitemap each containing 50,000 URLs.
Each Sitemap also has a file size limit of 10MB.
Optimizing Your Sitemap
The next thing you want to do once you’ve selected the plugin you’re going to use is make sure your Sitemap is optimized on your website.
I’ve seen good results from testing and in real world situations where I’ve added the Sitemap link to the Footer of my site. I’ve also gone and taken the extra step to make sure I’ve included the location of my Sitemap in the robots.txt file of my websites.
You can do that easily;
The last thing you need to make sure of, is that you’ve put your sitemap onto Google Search Console (Used to be called Webmaster Tools).
If I’m creating a new sitemap, I usually take the extra step of Fetching the Sitemap in GSC as well. This helps because it sends Googlebot directly to your Sitemap and can help get things indexed nicely, as well as helping them identify that the Sitemap is actually alive and well.
When is creating a Sitemap manually a good thing? Usually never, unless you have a website that is so infrequently updated that you can easily manage the Sitemap when it is.
Meeting in the middle, by creating a way to crawl your site and create the Sitemap yourself is a good idea though. There are many ways you can do this.
When I created a Sitemap for a client, removing pages that didn’t need to be in the Sitemap and optimizing the structure of the Sitemap we saw some really good gains in the SERPs due to improving the Crawlability of the site.
When I did this, we created a Sitemap that follows Silo rules.
So where the client had a category, I created a sub-sitemap that contained all the URLs in that category. I then repeated this for every category and sub-category in the site. This was a logical way to structure the sitemap, and not all Sitemap plugins on WordPress or other CMS’ allow you to do this. So creating a hybrid manual-auto Sitemap was a good use of our time. As I said, this rewarded us in the SERPs. It’s definitely a good example of why you might want to do this on your own site.
Sitemaps aren’t a super complicated topic, but they’re more important than people give them credit for. It’s an important part of your On-Page Optimization and an extremely important aspect of managing and optimizing your Crawl Budget.
I hope you enjoyed this little preview article, and don’t forget, if you’re thinking about purchasing the course, get your 10% Discount Code before the course is launched!