Before the days of the internet, new small businesses faced a different set of challenges when trying to get recognition and customers. Let’s say you opened the best seafood joint in town but didn’t tell the public about it. Who would come to your grand opening? If you didn’t open on a busy thoroughfare, you may have only been serving your friends, family, and neighbors. To have real success, you needed to invite people like food critics and journalists so they could inform the public of what you offer. Today, there’s a similar way to get the word out about your website: you need a sitemap!
From mouthwatering seafood to air conditioning repair, the latest in particle physics research to tiny hats for cats, search engines like Google index information on everything on the internet. Just like a food critic could write about your fancy cuisine for readers who are looking for exactly that, search engines can direct people to your website when they search for the kinds of things your website offers. But like those food critics, search engines don’t automatically know your site exists. You have to let them know what you offer and how to find it with a sitemap; in turn, they’ll display your pages in related search results.
But now that you know you need a sitemap, how do you get one? What does it look like? And how can you send it to Google? We’ll tell you everything you need to know!
How A Sitemap Works
Simply put, a sitemap is a map of your website in list form. Using this, Google can determine the location of your pages and use its crawlers to index your page. In other words, now that it knows your site exists and where, it can understand what each page contains and have them ready to show in relevant search results. Sitemaps make it easier for Google’s crawlers to access your entire website, particularly if you have a large site or one that uses rich content.
So what does a sitemap look like? There are a few different kinds of sitemap formats that are commonly used, but they all have some things in common. Your sitemap will be an XML file that lists the URL for each page on your site. It should also include some metadata about each page, such as the date and time it was last updated or modified, how many images it has how important it is compared to your other pages.
Here’s part of our sitemap for the Punch Bug Marketing website as an example:
You need a sitemap to help boost your search engine rankings, but it’s not the only step in SEO. You should also start building an internal link structure to connect your pages. Learn how to get started here!
Making and Submitting Your Sitemap
So now that you know what a sitemap is and why it’s important, how do you go about creating it and submitting it to search engines? We have a simple answer: Yoast!
Yoast is a user-friendly, all-in-one SEO plugin for WordPress. It makes optimizing each page easy and can help you visualize how effective your SEO strategies are. While you can pay for Yoast Premium to get access to useful advanced features, the free version of Yoast contains everything you need to create a sitemap.
Creating Your Sitemap with Yoast
Start by downloading the Yoast plugin, available here. Once you’ve set up Yoast in your WordPress site, you will see a SEO option next to the Yoast icon in the menu on the left side of the screen. Hover over it to open a dropdown menu, then click General.
Now that you’re on the Yoast General Settings page, you’ll see tabs at the top of the menu screen. They should include Dashboard, Features, Integrations, and Webmaster Tools. Click Features.
This page contains several toggles for more advanced Yoast functions. Turn the XML Sitemaps function ON and click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page. To see your sitemap, click on the round question mark button next to the XML Sitemaps function, then click See the XML sitemap. Do this now and keep it open, as you’ll need it later.
Submitting Your Sitemap
To submit your sitemap to Google, you’ll need Google Search Console. This tool is for more than just sitemaps. You can use it to see how searchers see your website in their search results and if you’ve earned any rich results. It can also give you information on which keywords and searches are bringing traffic to your website. If your website isn’t already connected to Search Console, learn how to connect and verify it here.
To get started, sign into Google Search Console and select your website. Look for the Index button and click it to expand the section. In this section, you’ll see a Sitemaps button. Click it to bring up the Add New Sitemap field.
This field will either ask for a Site Property or a Domain Property. If the former, simply enter ‘sitemap_index.xml’ into the field. However, if the latter, you’ll need to enter your website’s URL followed by ‘sitemap_index.xml’. It should look like this:
Just click submit and you’re finished!
To be successful, a small business needs to get the word out in the right places about what it offers. In today’s world, that’s why you need a sitemap. This useful tool helps search engines like Google index your website, helping it rank higher in search results. Don’t overlook this simple step in your SEO strategy!