For many SEO and web design agencies and consultants, building and submitting a sitemap will often be the first step in a website design project or SEO campaign. Many clients will see a spike in traffic and better SEO results shortly after submitting a sitemap to search engines, making it an important tactic for improving your clients’ website performance.
This post includes an overview of what sitemaps are, why they matter, how to generate them, and how to submit them. I hope you find it useful!
What is a Sitemap?
Sitemaps are xml or html files that list out every single URL on your website, along with important meta data for each URL that includes when it was last updated, how relatively important it is within your website structure and how often you make updates to it.
Why Do Sitemaps Matter?
Sitemaps are a core piece of a website and critical to search engine optimization – xml sitemaps allows search engines to easily crawl a website and index each page so that it appears in search engine results. HTML sitemaps are also important, and are more geared towards human users – they help your website visitors more easily find the content they’re looking for on your website.
According to Google, there are a few specific reasons a client would benefit from a sitemap:
- Their website is new with very few backlinks
- Their website is very large
- Their website content isn’t well-linked internally, making it difficult to navigate
- Their website uses a lot of rich-media content
Visual Sitemap Tools
If you’re a visual thinker like me, sitemap tools that offer a more visual representation are especially useful as an agency or consultant. What’s more, many of these tools are insanely easy to use, offering one-click or drag-and-drop features. Plus, I’ve found that when working with clients, using a visual sitemap tool helps them better understand the purpose of the sitemap and why you’re creating it for them – obviously better positioning you as an expert and proving your value to them.
Here are four of my favorite visual sitemap tools:
Slickplan $/Free Trial
Slickplan is a super-intuitive, visual tool that will help you easily create elegant and professional looking sitemaps. The interface allows for easy drag-and-drop creation plus customization with colors and images, and the final output options include a beautiful, scalable vector graphic for client presentations or a simple text or xml file.
In addition, Slickplan integrates with Basecamp and offers a wordpress plugin, and allows for easy sharing and collaboration between multiple users and editors.
Slickplan offers a free 30 day trial (with multiple pricing plans starting at $9.99/mo thereafter), and can be used for more than just generating sitemaps - it’s a handy tool for planning websites, creating a process flowchart, or developing information architecture for any type of project.
Dynomapper is a great visual tool for developing interactive sitemaps which display more than just URLs - users can collaborate and include comments, analytics data, categories, and more. You can choose from 3 sitemap styles (default, circle, and tree) and can customize them with your logo and color scheme. With drag-and-drop functionality, advanced crawler options, and analytics integration, Dynomapper is definitely one of the best visual sitemap tools out there.
Try a 14 day free trial and/or explore other pricing plans based on number of users, crawl limits, and keyword tracking.
WriteMaps lets you build 3 sitemaps for free using their easy, intuitive visual sitemap planning tool. Similar to the other visual tools mentioned thus far, WriteMaps offers a simple interface and customization with colors, and allows you to map and collect page content. You can also archive old sitemaps as you update to stay organized, and share between both internal teams and clients. Export your final product as an eye-pleasing PDF or XML sitemap.
Mindnode is more of a mind mapping tool that can be used to plan any project in a visual way, but it’s great for planning out website sitemaps if you’re highly creative. You won’t be able to export your visual sitemap as an xml file, but you can use a PDF version for awesome client presentations or get a simple text outline version.
Mindnode is available for Macs, iPhones, and iPads, and can be purchased on iTunes or downloaded at the Mac App Store.
Other Sitemap Generators
If you’d prefer to explore other sitemap generator tools, there are a number of free and paid tools that are also worth using, though less focused on the visual side of things. I’ll finish out the top 10 list with these 6 sitemap generator options (in no particular order):
Many SEO agencies and consultants will be familiar with Screaming Frog’s spider tool, which allows you to crawl up to 500 URLs of an existing website and capture key data for SEO and identify any errors. After crawling a website, Screaming Frog offers an option to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google. This tool is pretty easy to use, and the website walks you through each step, so it’s a surefire way to generate a sitemap for your clients who have websites already but want to improve their SEO.
PowerMapper Free Trial/$
Powermapper offers one-click, automatic site mapping to save you the time of building a manual sitemap. It’s useful for planning a website, as well as identifying existing site map errors, compatability, and usability issues.
This tool does offer visual styling options (though not of the modern visual caliber of the aforementioned tools), and you can export your sitemap as an XML file or Excel CSV. PowerMapper offers a number of site map generator products including PowerMapper desktop, (also available as cloud-based web app) and a couple of full suite options. Try a demo free for 30 days.
XML-sitemaps.com offers a free online sitemap generator, as well as an unlimited and a pro version. The free generator is super simple and only requires 4 quick steps. Set the frequency to how often the content on your selected URL will change, include the date it was last modified, and use the automatically calculated priority option to indicate the URL’s importance relative to other pages on the site. XML-sitemaps.com also offers some additional SEO tools including an XML sitemap validator, competitor analysis, keyword density calculator, and a SERP page checker. I haven’t used any of these tools personally, but they appear to be worth a look if you’re using this tool already.
Because Wordpress is such a user-friendly option, many agencies and consultants (including myself) highly recommend it to clients. So, if you’re building a client a Wordpress site or your client’s current site is on Wordpress, XML-sitemap-generator.org’s plugin is a great tool for generating a sitemap within the CMS environment. It offers easy setup of your sitemap settings and an automatic ping option for when you have updated pages or posts, among other key features.
Inspyder is a simple, quick desktop install for a one-time cost that lets you generate accurate XML sitemaps, in addition to mobile-specific, image, and even video sitemaps. The Sitemap Creator automatically creates your Google sitemap, uploads it to your server, pings you, and sends you an email notification - making it a very convenient choice. Inspyder also offers some free tools like a URL/HTML encoder that might be useful to you, or take advantage of their bundle packages for more robust tools.
Claiming to be the fastest of all sitemap generators out there, Sitemap Writer Pro offers automatic creation of seven different types of sitemaps and a user-friendly interface. You can also use their submit tool to easily notify search engines of your sitemap and get your client’s website indexed effortlessly.
How to Submit a Sitemap
Once you’ve generated your sitemap, you’ll need to upload, check, and validate it. There’s some great information on how to do that here.
Then, I recommend you submit your xml sitemap directly to Google and Bing (which powers Yahoo) so that search engines know it’s available. It’s relatively simple to do through Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. Here’s a quick overview of the steps to take:
In Google Webmaster Tools:
- On your Webmaster Tools home page, select your site.
- In the left sidebar, click Site configuration and then Sitemaps.
- Click the Add/Test Sitemap button in the top right.
- Enter /system/feeds/sitemap into the text box that appears.
- Click Submit Sitemap.
In Bing Webmaster Tools:
- Go to your website dashboard.
- Click “sitemaps” in the “configure my sitemap” dropdown on the left.
Finally, you should list your sitemap in your robots.txt file to ensure it’s found by all search engines other than Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Be sure to periodically check in on your clients’ sitemaps to address any indexation issues that may occur, or after any major site updates.
Are there other sitemap generator tools you use? Do you have other tips for generating sitemaps for clients? Share in the comments!