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What Is Sitemap and How to Submit a Sitemap?

By Digital Journal Blog

A sitemap is an XML file that lists all the pages on a website to help search engines crawl and index the site efficiently. Submitting a sitemap to Google, Bing and other search engines is an important search engine optimization (SEO) technique for improving discoverability, indexation and rankings.

This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about sitemaps, from creation to submission to troubleshooting.

We’ll explore the various types of sitemaps, best practices for implementation, and tips for optimizing different types of website content. Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

Importance of Sitemaps in SEO
Benefits of Submitting a Sitemap
Creating a Sitemap for Your Website
XML Sitemaps: The Backbone of Search Engines
HTML Sitemaps: Boosting User Experience
Image and Video Sitemaps: Showcasing Rich Media
News and RSS Sitemaps: Highlighting New Content
Mobile Sitemaps: Adapting to the Mobile-First World
Submitting Sitemaps to Search Engines
Sitemap Errors and Troubleshooting Issues
Sitemaps and E-commerce Websites
Multilingual and International Sitemaps
Sitemaps for Different CMS Platforms
Security and Privacy Considerations for Sitemaps
The Future of Sitemaps: Beyond SEO
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sitemaps

Importance of Sitemaps in SEO

Sitemaps serve multiple important functions:

  • Provide search engines a list of all pages to crawl and index for better visibility
  • Help search engines understand site architecture and priority pages 
  • Allow control over crawl frequency for individual pages
  • Facilitate indexing of new or updated content 
  • Supplement robots.txt directives for search engine crawling

An optimized sitemap improves search engine visibility and traffic to a website.

Benefits of Submitting a Sitemap

Key benefits include:

  • Faster indexing of new pages and content
  • Increased indexation of important pages
  • More targeted crawling of high-value pages
  • Quicker removal of deleted or broken pages 
  • Handle large websites and complex architectures
  • Greater control over crawling and indexation

By submitting a sitemap, you help search engines efficiently crawl your site.

Understanding Sitemaps in Depth

Let’s take a deeper look at how sitemaps work and the different types available.

How Do Sitemaps Work?

Sitemaps are XML files that list URL, priority, update frequency and other data for each page. Search engines use this structured data to crawl sites efficiently. Pages listed in a sitemap can be crawled, even if not linked internally.

Different Types of Sitemaps

  • XML: Standard sitemap format consumed by search engines
  • HTML: Human-readable sitemap for site navigation
  • Image: Specifies images to index
  • Video: Lists video content for search engines
  • News: Highlights latest news content 
  • Mobile: Separate sitemap for mobile-friendly pages

Sitemaps: The Best Practices

Optimize your sitemaps with these tips:

  • Include all indexable pages, especially new ones
  • Set logical update frequencies and priorities
  • Keep file sizes under 50MB and use sitemap index
  • Ensure XML is properly formatted and error-free
  • Upload sitemap to root domain and robots.txt
  • Submit sitemap to Google, Bing, Yandex and Baidu

Creating a Sitemap for Your Website

To implement sitemaps suited to your site, follow these steps:

  • Audit site content and structure 
  • Select optimal sitemap types
  • Use plugins or sitemap generators
  • Customize priority and frequency as needed
  • Create separate sitemaps for large websites
  • Test sitemap for errors before submitting

The key is creating properly optimized sitemaps suited for your site architecture.

XML Sitemaps: The Backbone of Search Engines

XML sitemaps form the foundational framework that all search engines rely on to crawl and index websites efficiently. Optimized XML sitemaps are critical for unlocking the full SEO potential of a website.

Key Elements of an XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap provides search engines with a list of all pages on a website along with key metadata including:

  • URL of each page
  • Update frequency for each URL
  • Priority from 0 to 1
  • Last modified date
  • Optional elements like images and videos

Optimizing XML Sitemaps for Large Websites

For large websites with thousands of pages, it is important to follow best practices:

  • Split into multiple sitemaps with under 50,000 URLs and 50MB size each
  • Use a sitemap index file to list all the separate sitemap files
  • Adjust page update frequencies and priorities accordingly for optimal crawl efficiency
  • Leverage compression for large XML sitemaps

Careful XML sitemap optimization is key for large and complex sites.

Handling Dynamic Content in XML Sitemaps

Dynamic websites that generate pages on the fly need to implement some additional XML sitemap strategies:

  • Use placeholder variables for dates, page numbers and other dynamic parameters
  • List all possible URL variations that may be generated
  • Include all canonical versions of category and tag pages
  • Set reasonable restrictions on date ranges and pagination limits

Planning for dynamic content is necessary for comprehensive XML sitemaps.

HTML Sitemaps: Boosting User Experience

In addition to XML sitemaps for search engines, HTML sitemaps aimed at site visitors play an important role in usability.

What is an HTML Sitemap?

An HTML sitemap is a human-readable, visual guide to the overall structure and content of a website. It organizes links to key pages and sections in a simple hierarchical or list format.


Designing User-Friendly HTML Sitemaps

To create an optimal site navigation experience with HTML sitemaps, ensure:

  • Scannable layout with clear headlines and structure
  • Logical information architecture and groupings
  • Responsive design for mobile-friendliness
  • Consistent design aligned with overall site look and feel
  • Direct access via site-wide navigation and footers

Integrating HTML Sitemaps into Your Website

Seamlessly blend HTML sitemaps into site architecture:

  • Add a link labeled “Sitemap” in headers and footers pointing to the page
  • Name the page sitemap.html conventionally
  • Make design consistent with site style and navigation
  • Place in HTML root directory for direct access

Proper integration makes HTML sitemaps readily discoverable site-wide.

Image and Video Sitemaps: Showcasing Rich Media

Rich media like photos and videos can be made more discoverable to search engines through dedicated image and video sitemaps.

Image Sitemaps

Image sitemaps specify details about photos on a page including:

  • Filename and URL
  • Image title, description and captions
  • Geographic location data
  • Licensing and copyright information

Video Sitemaps

Video sitemaps highlight rich metadata for videos:

  • Titles, descriptions and thumbnail images
  • Duration, publication date and expiration
  • Category tags and age rating
  • Links to different platform locations like YouTube

For both, follow best practices around sitemap sizes, updates and submissions.

News and RSS Sitemaps: Highlighting New Content

News and RSS sitemaps help search engines stay on top of the latest articles and content.

The Role of News Sitemaps

News sitemaps play a key role for publishers by:

  • Notifying search engines about new articles and blog posts
  • Ensuring timely and trending content ranks well
  • Driving more traffic to new stories as they come out

Proper news sitemap implementation is vital for publishers to maximize search visibility.

Understanding RSS Feeds and Sitemaps

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds notify subscribers about new content via delivered updates. News sitemaps serve a similar purpose but for search engine crawlers rather than human readers.

Implementing News and RSS Sitemaps

Tips for effective implementation:

  • Update the news sitemap frequently as fresh content is published
  • Follow Google’s technical guidelines for news sitemap formatting
  • Promote new articles when most relevant by adjusting page priorities
  • Make new content immediately accessible to crawlers via sitemaps

Mobile Sitemaps: Adapting to the Mobile-First World

With mobile usage surpassing desktop, mobile-specific sitemaps are now essential.

Mobile Sitemaps vs. Desktop Sitemaps

Mobile sitemaps list only mobile-friendly pages of a website. Desktop sitemaps include all pages, mobile or not. Maintaining separate sitemaps avoids directing mobile bots to non-mobile pages.

Mobile-First Indexing

As Google shifts to a mobile-first index, optimizing mobile sitemaps for crawling is critical:

  • Tag all mobile pages in the sitemap with the “mobile” attribute
  • Set the mobile version of pages at higher priority than desktop
  • List responsive pages without a separate mobile URL since they dynamically adapt

Mobile sitemap best practices will be increasingly important going forward.

Submitting Sitemaps to Search Engines

To activate sitemaps, they must be properly submitted to Google, Bing and other search engines:

Preparing Your Sitemap for Submission

To ready sitemaps for submission:

  • Host the XML sitemap files on your web server
  • Verify no format errors using online XML validators
  • Ensure all pages are mobile-friendly
  • Allow access to sitemaps via robots.txt

Submitting to Google

In Google Search Console:

  • Add the sitemap URL under “Sitemaps” section
  • Confirm successful indexing of pages in report
  • Resubmit updated sitemaps as needed

Submitting to Bing

In Bing Webmaster Tools:

  • Verify ownership of the website
  • Submit sitemap URL under “Site Configuration”
  • Monitor crawl stats and errors in “Diagnostics”

Sitemap Errors and Troubleshooting Issues

Sitemap problems can arise, but can be quickly diagnosed and fixed:

Common Sitemap Errors

  • XML formatting mistakes like missing tags
  • Inclusion of non-existent or blocked pages
  • Exceeding maximum file size limits
  • Invalid or malformed URLs

Troubleshooting Approaches

  • Leverage Google Search Console sitemap error reports
  • Use online XML validators to detect issues
  • Monitor site crawl rates for drops after submission
  • Check for crawl errors in search engine tools

Preventative Practices

  • Split up large sitemaps
  • Test sitemaps locally before deploying
  • Enable compression for large files
  • Re-submit updated sitemaps frequently

Sitemaps and E-commerce Websites

E-commerce sites with large catalogs and frequent changes benefit greatly from sitemaps optimized for product content.

Handling Seasonal and Promotional Pages in Sitemaps

Seasonal pages like holiday promotions are a key part of most e-commerce sites. To maximize their visibility:

  • Create separate sitemaps just for seasonal or promotional pages
  • Increase the priority of these pages during peak relevant timeframes
  • Lower priority once the seasonal period or promotion ends
  • Dynamically adjust page priorities as your catalog changes

With the right priority adjustments, seasonal and promotional pages will stand out.

Sitemaps for Enhanced E-commerce Tracking

Include product, category and brand pages in sitemaps along with attributes like:

  • Product identifiers such as SKU, UPC, etc.
  • Inventory quantities and availability
  • Price and formatted price ranges
  • Brand, color, material and other attributes

This complete data enables search engines to support enhanced e-commerce tracking when customers click from results pages to your product pages.


Multilingual and International Sitemaps

Sitemaps can be leveraged for targeting local audiences and languages.

Implementing Sitemaps for Multilingual Websites

For sites with multiple languages:

  • Make a separate sitemap for each language.
  • Translate page titles, descriptions and hreflang markup
  • Link sitemaps together via sitemap index file
  • Submit language-specific sitemaps to search engines

This allows right-language pages to surface for searchers.

Geotargeting with Sitemaps for International SEO

To geotarget different regions with sitemaps:

  • Add geographic tags like region, country and city to page markup
  • Specify language alongside geotargeting
  • Set cultural conventions like date formats, currencies etc.
  • Link to region-specific versions of pages via hreflang

Sitemaps make it easy to customize pages for local visibility.

Hreflang and Sitemap Recommendations

For optimal geotargeting and multilingual SEO:

  • Include hreflang annotations directly in sitemap XML
  • List geo-targeted URLs together with language alternate versions
  • Be consistent with hreflang links across sitemaps and internal pages
  • Use self-referencing hreflang tags when URLs are identical

Combined properly, hreflang and sitemaps ensure maximum reach across languages and regions.

Sitemaps for Different CMS Platforms

Most content management systems offer built-in or plugin sitemap functionality:

WordPress Sitemaps: Tips and Tricks

WordPress has great SEO sitemap solutions:

  • The Yoast SEO plugin handles automatic sitemap generation
  • The Google XML Sitemaps plugin creates a basic sitemap
  • Enable auto-updates as content changes for optimal uptime
  • Submit sitemaps through Search Console for WordPress

The rich WordPress ecosystem provides all the sitemap tools you need.

Sitemaps for Joomla, Drupal, and Other CMS

Other major CMS have sitemap extensions available:

Joomla – Sitemap Generator or jSitemap extensions Drupal – XML Sitemap or Simple XML Sitemap modules Magento – Built-in sitemap functionality and SEO extensions

For other CMS, search the plugin libraries for available solutions.

Custom CMS and Sitemap Integration

For proprietary CMS platforms, work with developers to build custom sitemap generation leveraging:

  • Content APIs to access pages or database
  • Server-side scripting to output XML sitemap
  • Custom code to incorporate images, videos, etc.
  • Scheduler for automatic regeneration

With some upfront work, sitemaps can be integrated into any custom system.

Audio and Podcast Sitemaps

Audio sitemaps help search engines crawl podcasts, audio books, lectures and other spoken word content.

How Audio Sitemaps Enhance Discoverability

Audio content often lacks text transcripts and metadata that search engines can process. Audio sitemaps identify and highlight audio files to enhance their discoverability:

  • List podcast, audio book and music files for indexing
  • Include metadata like episode name, publish date, duration
  • Link to audio file locations and formats
  • Provide supplemental text transcripts when possible

This metadata helps search engines comprehensively index audio content.

Creating Podcast Sitemaps for iTunes and Google Podcasts

Follow podcast-specific sitemap guidelines:

  • List individual episodes with podcast series info
  • Include episode runtimes, descriptions and images
  • Specify audio formats and enclosure URLs
  • Follow Apple podcast specifications for iTunes
  • Submit to Google Podcasts through Search Console

Properly formatted podcast sitemaps enhance distribution.

Utilizing Sitemaps for Audio SEO

Some tips for optimizing audio content with sitemaps:

  • Transcribe audio into text for search indexing
  • Place audio transcripts on site with sitemap links
  • Insert chapter markers for long-form content
  • Tag speakers, topics, brands mentioned in audio
  • List supplemental show notes or articles in sitemap

Comprehensive audio SEO requires sitemaps plus metadata best practices.


Sitemaps for Non-Standard Content

Sitemaps can help search engines access all types of content, not just webpages.

1. Sitemaps for PDFs, Docs, and Other File Types

Include links to supplemental content like:

  • Presentations, spreadsheets and documents
  • PDFs of guides, reports and catalogs
  • Image galleries and zip files to download
  • Software downloads, executables and user manuals

This exposes non-HTML content to search engines.

2. Sitemaps for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Submit separate sitemaps listing just AMP page URLs to:

  • Facilitate crawling of optimized lightweight mobile pages
  • Enable serving fast-loading AMP pages in search results
  • Ensure proper attribution and analytics tracking

Follow Google’s AMP sitemap specifications.

3. Leveraging Sitemaps for Voice Search Optimization

Voice search requires semantic optimization that sitemaps can supplement:

  • Optimize pages for conversational long-tail queries
  • Highlight FAQ, how-to pages in sitemap for voice queries
  • Include structured data like FAQ schema markup in sitemap
  • Submit sitemaps to voice assistants like Alexa and Siri

Voice search expands the importance of sitemaps beyond just text content.

Sitemaps and Crawl Budget

Sitemaps directly influence how search engines allocate their crawl budget.

Understanding Crawl Budget and Its Importance

Crawl budget is the limited capacity search engines have to crawl a website before hitting diminishing returns. Prioritizing the right pages is crucial.

How Sitemaps Affect Crawl Budget Allocation

Sitemaps guide crawl budget spending by:

  • Indicating the most important pages through priority data
  • Setting recommended crawl frequencies via change rate
  • Identifying recent content that needs recrawling
  • Providing a complete list of pages to be budgeted

Optimized sitemaps lead to an ideal crawl budget split.

Maximizing Crawl Efficiency with Sitemaps

Follow best practices to maximize crawl budget efficiency:

  • Assign higher page priorities to high-value content
  • Set higher frequencies for frequently updated pages
  • Lower priorities for stale or unimportant pages
  • Split large sitemaps to facilitate parallel crawling
  • Compress data for faster crawling and processing

Intelligent sitemap implementation stretches limited crawl budget.

Security and Privacy Considerations for Sitemaps

Balance search optimization with security and privacy needs.

Handling Sensitive Content in Sitemaps

Avoid listing pages meant to be private like:

  • User profile and account pages
  • Shopping cart and checkout pages
  • Content behind paywalls or login
  • Error pages

These are better off excluded from sitemaps.

Sitemap Security Best Practices

To keep sitemaps secure:

  • Password protect sitemap or IP restrict access
  • Block search engine crawling of sitemap in robots.txt
  • Require user authentication to access the sitemap
  • Use HTTPS URL for sitemap file

Follow standard web security principles.

Compliance with Privacy Regulations

Respect regional website privacy laws by:

  • Excluding regulated pages from sitemaps
  • Implementing consent flows before tracking data collection
  • Blocking search engines from crawling pages as needed

Do not include personal user data in sitemaps.

The Future of Sitemaps: Beyond SEO

While a key SEO tool now, sitemaps have expanding applications:

  • Integrating with social media crawling needs
  • Supporting marketing automation platforms
  • Enabling more intelligent site analytics
  • Powering content management workflows
  • Feeding business intelligence platforms

The structured data foundation of sitemaps creates valuable connectivity across technologies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sitemaps

Q. What is the purpose of a sitemap?

A sitemap’s core purpose is to inform search engines about all the pages on a website and how often they are updated. This facilitates comprehensive crawling and indexing.

Q. How often should I update my sitemap?

In general, aim for daily or weekly sitemap updates. Add important or new pages immediately and re-submit sitemaps. Use change frequencies to indicate page update patterns.

Q. Can I have multiple sitemaps for one website?

Yes, large or complex sites can have multiple sitemaps organized by sections, content types, locales etc. Use a sitemap index to list all the individual sitemaps.

Q. Are there any limitations on sitemap size?

Each sitemap file should be under 50MB uncompressed or 50,000 URLs. Split larger sitemaps accordingly.

Q. Do sitemaps guarantee better search engine rankings?

No, sitemaps just help search engines crawl. They don’t directly influence rankings, which depend on many other on-page and off-page factors.

Q. Should I include all pages in my sitemap?

Only include pages you want indexed. Exclude pages like login, contact forms, shopping carts, and those with thin or duplicate content.

Q. How do I check if my sitemap is working correctly?

Use Google Search Console to see indexed page count, sitemap errors, crawl stats, and diagnostic info to confirm your sitemap is optimally configured.

Q. Are there any SEO benefits to using image and video sitemaps?

Yes, rich media sitemaps make images and videos more discoverable to search engines, leading to more multimedia results driving traffic.

Q. What’s the distinction between HTML and XML sitemaps?

HTML sitemaps are human-readable listings of website pages for visitors. XML sitemaps are machine-readable for search engine crawling.

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