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What is an XML Sitemap and How Can I Create One?

seo cover

Just as it is challenging to find a new destination without a map, sometimes it is difficult for Google to see all the pages on your website without a sitemap.

Fortunately, it is easy and quick to build and submit an XML sitemap to Google.

Do not panic. We are going to walk you through this step by step.

But first things first, let us cover some basics.

Table of Contents:

What Does an XML Sitemap Look Like?

XML sitemaps are created for search engines, not humans. They can look a bit daunting if you have never seen one before.

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>

<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>

<url>

<loc>https://linkisgnal.ai/</loc>

<lastmod>2019-08-21T16:12:20+03:00</lastmod>

</url>

<url>

<loc>https://;inkisgnal.ai.ai/blog/</loc>

<lastmod>2019-07-31T07:56:12+03:00</lastmod>

</url>

</urlset>

Let us break this down.

XML Declaration

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>

This one tells search engines that they are reading an XML file. It also specifies the version of XML and character encoding used.

For sitemaps, the performance should be 1.0, and the encoding has to be UTF‑8.

Why Do I Need a Sitemap?

Google finds new content by crawling the web. When they crawl a page, they pay attention to both external and internal links on the page.

If a found URL is not found in their search index, they can parse its contents and index it where suitable.

But Google cannot find all content with this method. If a web page is not connected to other known pages, then they will not find it.

This is where sitemaps come in.

Sitemaps tell Google where to find the most critical pages on your website so they can crawl and index them.

This is necessary because search engines cannot rank your content without indexing it first.

How to Create a Sitemap?

Some CMS’ can generate a sitemap for you. These are automatically updated when you remove or add posts and pages from your site.

If your CMS does not do this, then there is usually a plugin available which does.

Creating a sitemap on WordPress

Even though WordPress powers 35% of websites, it does not create a sitemap for you. To create one, you need to use a plugin like Yoast SEO.

To install Yoast SEO, you have to log in to your WordPress dashboard. By the way, you can find out about WordPress plugins for your SEO from this article.

Go to Plugins > Add New.

plugin

Search for “Yoast SEO.”

Tap “Install now” on the first result, and then press “Activate.”

yoast

Move to SEO > General > Features. Always make sure the “XML sitemaps” toggle is on.

sitemap

You should now see your sitemap at either yourdomain.com/sitemap_index.xml or yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml.

Creating a Sitemap on Wix

Wix generates a sitemap for you automatically. 

Sadly, you do not get much power over the pages that do not get involved in your sitemap.

If you want to eliminate a page, head to the “SEO” settings tab for the page, then turn the

“Show this page in search results” switch off.

search result

This also adds a no-index meta tag to the page, which suspends it from showing up in search results.

Tip from LinkSignal: If you canonicalize a URL in Wix, it will not exclude it from your sitemap. While this apparently will not concern most users, be aware that having canonicalized pages in your sitemap is not the best practice and can send mixed signals to Google. 

Creating a Sitemap on Squarespace

Squarespace also generates a sitemap for you automatically. 

There is no way to manually edit your sitemap in Squarespace. However, you can ban pages from search engines in the “SEO” tab.

page settings

This will also eliminate the page from your sitemap.

Creating a sitemap on Shopify

Shopify automatically creates a sitemap for you. 

Sadly, there is no easy way to index a page in Shopify. You have to edit the code in the “liquid files” directly.

Creating a sitemap without a CMS

If you think there are less than ~250 pages on your site, install the free version of Screaming Frog.

Once you installed it, go to Mode > Spider.

Paste your homepage URL in the box labeled “Enter URL to spider.”

Hit “Start.”

screaming frog

When the crawl is finished, look at the bottom-right corner.

It says something like this:

If the number is 499 or below, then you have to go to Sitemaps > XML sitemap.

Because Google ignores <lastmod>, <changefreq>, and <priority>, we suggest banning them from the sitemap file.

include

Tap “Next” and then save the sitemap to your computer. 

If the number is “500 of 500,” then there is no point exporting a sitemap.

Why? Because it means you have reached the crawl limit before it crawled all of the pages on your website.

As a result, many pages could be missing from the exported sitemap, making it relatively ineffective.

One way to solve this is to search for a free sitemap creator. There are lots of them.

Sadly, most are not safe.

So, what is the answer?

If Screaming Frog has failed to crawl your entire website, then shuffle your site with Ahrefs Site Audit.

Tip from LinkSignal: Verify your site for quicker crawling. Here is how.

Once the crawl is finished, go to Page Explorer, and add these filters.

explorer

Hit Export > Current table view.

Open the CSV file, copy and paste all the URLs from the URL column into this tool.

Hit “Add to queue,” then “Export queue as sitemap.xml.”

This file is your completed sitemap.

How to Submit a Sitemap to Google

To start, you want to know where your sitemap is.

If you are using a plugin, chances are the URL is domain.com/sitemap.xml.

If you are doing this manually, name your sitemap something similar to sitemap.xml, then upload it to your website’s root folder. You should be able to access the sitemap at domain.com/sitemap.xml.

That is, it. Done.

Fixing Popular Website Issues That Affect Your Sitemap

Google Search Console shows you the most technical failures related to your sitemap.

For example, this a warning that one of our submitted URLs is blocked by robots.txt:

details

There might be some problems that Google does not tell you about. Below are a couple of the more popular ones and how to find and fix them.

Low-quality, Useless Pages In Your Sitemap

Every page in your sitemap should be canonical and indexable.

Sadly, that does not mean all those pages have a high quality.

If you have an enormous amount of content, some low-quality pages have likely made it into your sitemap.

clusters

Having low-quality pages on your site is wrong for three reasons:

  • They waste a crawl budget. Making Google waste resources and time crawling low-quality, useless pages is not ideal. They might be spending that time crawling more valuable content instead. 
  • They “steal” link authority from more critical pages. There is a clear relationship between the power of pages and their rankings. Internal links to low-quality pages serve only to reduce the control that could flow to more relevant pages. 
  • They result in a poor user experience. There is no benefit to visitors landing on these pages. It is irritating for visitors to click on them, and they may end up bouncing if they feel your site is neglected and low-quality.

The best action is to exclude low-quality from your website and your sitemap. If you are doing this, you should also remember to remove any internal links to those pages. Fail to do that, and you will trade one problem for another.

Beyond near-duplicates and duplicates, you can also look for pages with thin content.

Just check the “On page” report in Site Audit for pages with a “Low word count” warning.

Pages excluded from your sitemap by accident

If you used any of the suggested methods above to generate your sitemap, pages with canonical or no index tags would not be involved.

That is a great thing. You should not combine no indexed URLs or canonicalized pages in your sitemap.

So, if you have no-index tags on your site, pages can get banned by accident.

To check for the errors, head to the “Indexability” report in Site Audit and click the “No-index page” warning. This shows all no indexed pages.

noindex

Most of these will likely be intentionally no indexed, but it is worth skimming the list to double-check.

Usually, no index tags are easy to find as they will exist across the entire section of your site.

If you see pages that should not be indexed, remove the rogue no index tag from the page and attach it to your sitemap. If you are using a plugin or CMS, then this has to happen automatically.

How to create a sitemap for an e-commerce site?

You create a sitemap for an e-commerce website exactly as you would for any site.

So, it is worth checking for near duplicate and duplicate pages on e-commerce sites as these often slide through the net on a grand scale due to the joys of faceted navigation.

XML Sitemaps are Key to SEO

Building a sitemap is not rocket science, especially if you are using a plugin that does the heavy lifting for you.

It is not hard to build one from scratch either—just crawl your site and format the resulting lists of URLs.

So, it is essential to learn that Google does not have to index the pages in your sitemap. And sitemaps have nothing to do with your rankings.

Got questions? Give me a shout in the comments section below.

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