October 11, 2023

What Is a Sitemap and How Do Search Engines Use Sitemaps?

If you’re here, you’re probably already aware that sitemaps can make a massive difference to a website’s visibility in search engines. But because of the technical nature of the topic, it might often be intimidating to know where to start from. Don’t worry though, we’re here to answer all of your burning questions and demystify the topic. But first, what is actually a sitemap?

A sitemap is a blueprint of your website that’s there to simplify Google’s job of crawling your website. It includes a list of all of the pages and files on your website that you consider important and key information about those assets.

Read on to find out what a sitemap looks like and how to create one for your website. We also look at how search engines use sitemaps and the benefits of having a sitemap for SEO.

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What is a Sitemap?

When you visit a new city, you might find yourself opening a map of it and finding the places you want to visit to help you get around. Of course, you can always ask people for directions and while this often does the job, it can take longer or get confusing.

The same thing applies when Google visits your website; if there is a map of your online place, then Google wouldn’t have to waste time asking for directions and instead, can just get straight to the desired spot – the page you want to rank!

A sitemap is essentially a page/file that shows all pages on your website. Within the sitemap, you can also add any additional files you have; e.g. videos, images, etc.

By adding a sitemap to your website, you’re helping search engines better understand the structure of your website and hence, find your pages quicker.

Types of Sitemaps

There are two main types of sitemaps: XML sitemaps and HTML sitemaps. 

XML Sitemaps

An XML sitemap is created solely to help search engines understand your website better. For example, this is our website’s sitemap. It features all key pages on the Wildcat Digital website, the date that those pages were last modified, and the number of images each page has. 

Wildcat tip: once you have the XML sitemap of your website, submit it to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, plus any other search engines your target audience uses. This will make a massive difference to the speed at which search engines discover new and existing pages.

HTML Sitemaps

While XML sitemaps are solely created for search engines, HTML sitemaps are there to facilitate your website visitors’ journey. 

An HTML sitemap, also known as a human-readable sitemap, usually takes the form of a single page that lists every single page of your website. You might think that’s too simple, but it’s exactly what’s needed to help users have a quick look and find what they’re after.

You’d usually link to the HTML sitemap in your website’s footer.

And here’s something handy: to make the HTML sitemap more user-friendly, you can split the pages into different categories. For example, start with your top-level pages (homepage, categories, etc), and then list Product Categories, then Products, etc. Of course, make it tailored to your website. Simply ask yourself the question ‘What would be the easiest way for me to find a page in the sitemap?’ and then you’ll find what’s the best way to structure it.

The benefit of an HTML sitemap is clear: you’re making sure website visitors can navigate through your website quicker in case they’re looking for something specific. Human-readable sitemaps can also improve internal linking.

What Does a Sitemap for a Website Look Like?

An XML sitemap can take multiple forms, but it’s usually either a single page with all URLs of a website listed on it, or a page with multiple sitemaps within it.

For example, the XML sitemap of our website has all of our pages, grouped into 6 individual categories (sitemaps): a sitemap with all blogs, a sitemap with all current job adverts, a sitemap with all categories, etc. We’ve done it in this way so that it’s easier for search engines to understand our website’s architecture and connection between the different pages.

An HTML sitemap can take multiple forms depending on how you create it. For example, below you can see Broadleaf Tree Surgery’s human-readable sitemap. It has all key pages on the left, all service pages in the middle, and all location pages on the right-hand side.

How Do I Create a Sitemap?

There’s no one way of creating a sitemap. Our top advice here is to use a plugin, which will automatically add new pages or remove any deleted/redirected pages. This will save you tons of time and ensure your sitemap is up to date. 

Creating an XML Sitemap

To create an XML sitemap, we recommend using the Yoast SEO plugin if you’re using WordPress. It’s super easy to set up and the plugin takes care of everything: updating the sitemap with new pages, creating dedicated sitemaps for the different types of pages, etc. Follow this step-by-step guide and start seeing the results.

If you’re using WordPress, but for some reason you can’t or you don’t want to use a plugin, then you can create a dynamic sitemap in PHP. This requires having technical website knowledge, so ask your website’s Developer for help.

Using Shopify? You’ll be pleased to know that Shopify automatically creates a sitemap for your website. Simply type your homepage URL and then add /sitemap.xml to it; that’s your sitemap! If you run into any issues, check out Shopify’s advice for sitemaps.

Reminder: once you’ve generated your XML sitemap, remember to submit it to Google Search Console and other engines. 

Creating an HTML Sitemap

When it comes to human-readable sitemaps, again there are multiple plugins that can help you generate this. Once again, even if it seems tempting to just create the page manually, it’s best to use a plugin or create it in PHP  so that you don’t need to worry about updating it manually.

The WP Sitemap Page and Simple Sitemap plugins are two of our favourites for generating an HTML sitemap. 

On Shopify, it’s slightly trickier as you need to fiddle around with the code. Ask your Web Developer or get in touch if you need help with this and all things SEO.

Finally, don’t forget to add a link to your sitemap in the footer.

How Do Search Engines Use Sitemaps?

Your XML sitemap is the first thing Google sees when it arrives on your website. Once Google and other search engines ‘visit’ your sitemap, they see the URLs on your website and from there, they start crawling and indexing them.

You might think ‘Surely, search engines don’t need the sitemap; they can just use the navigation and internal links to find the pages they need to crawl’. Yes, but what if you have thousands of pages or have pages which are not linked to from other pages? 

That’s where having a sitemap comes in handy. It makes it easier for Googlebot and other search engine bots to discover new/existing pages and understand your content.

Benefits of Sitemaps for SEO

Need Help Creating a Sitemap?

If you’re ready to take your website to the next level, get in touch. We can create an XML and an HTML sitemap for you, while also ensuring there are no other technical issues on your website that might be impacting your website’s visibility. 

Sitemaps FAQs

What Are Google’s Best Practices for Sitemaps?

Have a look at Google’s official documentation for more best practices

Do Small Websites Need a Sitemap?

Google suggests that if your website is under 500 pages, you don’t necessarily need a sitemap. However, considering that creating a sitemap and submitting it can take less than 30 minutes, it can be beneficial to have it from the get-go.

How Do I Get Google to Index My Sitemap?

Simply submit your sitemap to Google Search Console and Google should discover it within 48 hours. You can see when Google’s last read it and how many URLs it has discovered.

If you run into any errors, make sure to check Search Console Help for further advice.

Post by

Svetlina Dimitrova

Will Hitchmough

Founder

Our founder, Will Hitchmough, worked at a number of high profile Sheffield Digital Agencies before founding Wildcat Digital in 2018. He brings an extensive knowledge of all things related to SEO, PPC and Paid Social, as well as an expert knowledge of digital strategy.

Digital Marketing can be a minefield for many businesses, with many agencies ready to take your money without knowing how to deliver results. I founded Wildcat Digital to deliver digital success to businesses with smaller budgets in a transparent way.

Chloe Robinson

Content Strategist Team Lead

With a degree in Marketing and a background in more traditional, offline marketing, Chloe joined Wildcat in 2021 after deciding to move into the digital marketing industry. She joined us as a Content Specialist and quickly moved up the ranks, becoming a Content Strategist and later an SEO Team Leader.

Outside of work, Chloe is an avid creative. If she’s not knitting, you’ll likely find her behind a sewing machine or in the kitchen trying (and often failing!) to make sourdough.

Paul Pennington

SEO Account Director

Paul has a strong background in SEO, having previously founded and ran a successful eCommerce business, as well as running a personal blog that achieves an average of 17K users per month. Paul’s knowledge of SEO is extensive, with a strong emphasis on client handling and technical SEO.

Outside of work, Paul enjoys spending time with his family and staying active with weight lifting and combat sports.

Nadea van der Merwe

Head of Operations

Nadea joined Wildcat in 2021 and has since overhauled the way we work. She has a background in various administrative, operations and HR roles, which gave her the experience and skills needed to lead and organise a growing business. 

Outside of work, Nadea loves anything that keeps her active, but she especially enjoys hiking, camping and mountain biking.

Molly Sturgeon

SEO Account Manager

With a background in sales, Molly is a natural Account Manager, brilliantly handling any issues that come her way. Having joined us as a Digital Marketing Executive, and working part-time through her final year of University, Molly is a shining example of how hard work pays off. She is now an SEO Account Manager with a particular interest in Content and Client Management. 

In her spare time, Molly loves to get out in nature, hiking and exploring the Peak District. She also loves cooking and likes to unwind with a bit of yoga.

Libby Oldale

Senior PPC Account Manager

Libby joined Wildcat in 2021 as our first PPC hire. With a degree in Digital Media Production, a Master’s in Digital Media Management and previous experience in Social Media Management, Libby hit the ground running and has since climbed the ranks to Senior PPC Account Manager and has a particular interest in the eCommerce sector.

Outside of work, Libby likes gaming, and cooking and likes to keep active by lifting weights.

Jasmine Savery

SEO Team Leader

Jasmine joined Wildcat in 2022 with a strong background in SEO and Account Management. At the time, she was finishing up a Level 4 Apprenticeship in Digital Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and has since worked her way up to SEO Team Leader. Jasmine excels at content writing and promotion, and particularly enjoys finding creative ways to join the dots on multi-channel campaigns.

In her spare time, Jasmine volunteers at a charity, helping combat loneliness & social isolation experienced by older neighbours. Outside of Wildcat, she owns a catering company, Savery Grazing, creating delicious grazing tables & platters for a range of events. She also loves skiing and exploring the Peak District.

Braden Godley

Senior PPC Executive

Prior to joining Wildcat, Braden founded and ran his own Social Media Management agency where he gained valuable skills in growing brands’ online presence, which has since proven invaluable in his role at Wildcat. 

Outside of work, Braden is a big football fan, regularly travelling to Pride Park to support Derby County. He also enjoys watching and playing snooker, hiking in the Peak District, and attending air and car shows.

Jon Herdman

SEO Executive

After spending ten years managing businesses, restaurants, cafes and event spaces across Sheffield, Jon decided to change careers and joined Wildcat as an SEO Executive in 2022. He especially enjoys the client management side of the job, helping them to understand digital marketing and ways in which they can build their business’s presence online. 

Outside of work, Jon likes to keep fit with running, badminton and football, and also loves music. 

Rachel Davies

SEO Executive

Rachel joined us as a graduate, having recently graduated from Sheffield University with a degree in English Literature. Since joining, Rachel has proven herself to be a Content Queen, and particularly enjoys getting stuck into projects that allow her to explore her creative side. 

Outside of work, Rachel enjoys a wide range of hobbies, including rugby, singing, reading, and spending time with her family and three labradors.

Carl Atterbury

PPC Team Leader

Carl joined Wildcat in 2023 with a wealth of experience in PPC. He has experience working with a wide range of clients, industries and budgets, from small local businesses all the way to international e-commerce businesses. Carl has a particular interest in strategic planning and forecasting. He is passionate about data analysis and creating sustainable long-term cross-channel strategies.

In his spare time, Carl enjoys keeping fit by lifting weights, bouldering and running. He’s also a keen musician, having played the double bass and bass guitar for 20 years.

Dariusz Baczyk

Team Lead & Technical SEO Account Manager

With a degree in Computer Science and SEO experience dating back to 2017, Dariusz has a wide range of SEO skills and knowledge. His specialist knowledge of Technical SEO has firmly landed him the title of Wildcat’s Technical Wizard, and he has recently taken on the responsibility of Team Leader for the Panthers Team.

In his spare time, Dariusz loves hiking, experimenting and trying new coffees and loves learning new things. He is currently learning more about CRO and AI and how this could benefit our clients.

Jamie Stowe

SEO Account Manager

With a degree in Film and TV production, and a varied career history, Jamie made the move to marketing with a Masters degree in Digital Media Management. He has since worked in SEO at Agencies across Sheffield, before joining Wildcat and working his way up to SEO Account Manager. Jamie has a particular interest in backlinks and Digital PR and has recently gained a client a valuable backlink from Forbes!

In his spare time, Jamie is an avid foodie and loves trying new restaurants and cuisines. He also loves to travel and spent a year travelling to Australia after university.

Andy Blanchard

SEO Executive

Andy joined Wildcat in 2023 after starting his digital marketing career in-house for a local Sheffield company. Since joining, he has developed a strong interest in Technical SEO and has strong skills in Account Management. 

Outside of work, Andy loves music and plays in a couple of bands. He also enjoys rock climbing, cycling, photography and good food.

Siena Russell

Client Success Coordinator

Siena joined us in 2023 with a background in sales and digital marketing. She leads on client relationships across the company, ensuring that our customers are happy throughout their journey with us, from their initial consultation through to onboarding and beyond. 

Outside of work, Siena enjoys travelling and getting stuck into the local culture. She likes to make the most of her experiences and particularly enjoys watching sunrises and sunsets from beautiful locations around the world.

Thea Chapman

Senior SEO Executive

Thea has a wealth of experience in SEO, having previously worked for other Digital Marketing Agencies in Sheffield. She has a particular interest and skills in Technical SEO, but is more than willing to get stuck in and give anything a go. 

Outside of work, Thea spends most of her time with her children, but also loves reading, photography and gardening. 

Tom Brookes

PPC Executive

Before joining Wildcat, Tom worked across different industries, building skills in sales and customer service. He later developed a passion for digital marketing whilst working on personal marketing projects and freelance ventures, and gained numerous certifications in PPC and Social Media. 

Outside of work, Tom enjoys staying active by going to the gym and hiking. He also loves travelling and motorbiking.

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