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An Ultimate Guide to Sitemaps: Top Tips & Tools with SEMrush

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An Ultimate Guide to Sitemaps: Top Tips & Tools with SEMrush

This post is in English
Kevin Indig updated
This post is in English
An Ultimate Guide to Sitemaps: Top Tips & Tools with SEMrush

In my first weeks at Atlassian, I was seeking for a quick-win to get a stronger foothold within the company and evangelize SEO. So, I audited our main site and noticed it didn’t have an XML sitemap. What an easy win!

I went to the devs and asked them to activate it in the CMS. To my surprise, they told me that it wasn’t possible; I was baffled.

After some thinking, I remembered that Screaming Frog had an XML sitemap function, so I scraped the site and uploaded the crawl as an XML sitemap.

Google ate it within a few seconds, and we saw a noticeable impact on our traffic in the following days.

The moral of the story is that XML sitemaps are important and sometimes underrated.

What XML Sitemaps Are and Why You Need to Have One

XML sitemaps are digital maps that help Google discover important pages on your site and how often they are being updated.

Google states on its help center page:

A sitemap tells the crawler which files you think are important in your site, and also provides valuable information about these files: for example, for pages, when the page was last updated, how often the page is changed, and any alternate language versions of a page.

According to Gary Illyes, XML sitemaps are the second most important source of URLs to be crawled by Googlebot after hyperlinks and previously discovered URLs. That’s massive and shouldn’t be underestimated!

Every website should have an XML sitemap. They are especially important for:

  • Large sites

  • New sites

  • Sites with lots of orphaned pages

  • Sites that use lots of images and videos

Whereas the robots.txt helps you to exclude parts of your site from being ranked in search engines, XML sitemaps do the opposite. They help search engines discover new pages – even when they are not linked from the main site.

Google started using XML sitemaps in 2005 and shortly after was joined by search engines like MSN or Yahoo. Nowadays, they use them for even more than just URL discovery.

Don’t confuse them with HTML sitemaps. XML sitemaps are not visible to visitors, only to Google and the SEOs that want to look at important pages of competitors (wink wink). HTML sitemaps are (sometimes pretty) lists of internal links that pass PageRank from the homepage to important pages, serve as crawl hubs, and make it easier for users to navigate. Yes, you should have both.

Sitemaps come in XML format that Google can quickly parse to find new URLs. XML — eXtensible Markup Language — is lightweight and portable between devices and was made to store data.

The easiest way for you to check if your site has a sitemap is to look in Google Search Console or in Bing Webmaster Tools under “sitemaps.” Most search engines, such as Google or Bing, look for the “Sitemap: <sitemap_location>” entry (or entries) in your site’s robots.txt file. Alternatively, you can also ping your sitemap directly to Google, Baidu, Bing, and Yandex.

An Ultimate Guide to Sitemaps: Top Tips & Tools with SEMrush. Image 0 XML sitemaps in the Bing Webmaster Tools. 1: Sitemaps report. 2: Adding new sitemap paths. 3: existing sitemaps Bing found.

An Ultimate Guide to Sitemaps: Top Tips & Tools with SEMrush. Image 1 XML sitemaps in Google Search Console. 1: Sitemaps report. 2: Adding new sitemap paths. 3: existing sitemaps Google found.

XML Sitemap Minimum Requirements

For your XML sitemaps to work optimally, you have to meet the standards. An XML sitemap should:

  • Contain only canonical URLs with a 200 status code.

  • Include up to 200K URLs per sitemap and up to 50K sitemaps per index sitemap.

  • Be referenced in the robots.txt.

  • BUTF-8 encoded.

  • Be compressed in .gz format.

  • Be no larger than 50mb or contain 50,000 URLs (whatever you hit first).

But there is more you can and should do to get the most out of XML sitemaps. You can signal to Google which URLs are important by including only important pages in XML sitemaps, and by updating it often.

Most CMSs have a function to automatically update sitemaps when a new URL is created or an existing page changes. For Google, the update frequency of the sitemap itself and the lastmod tag of pages can be a signal of freshness. Whether that is important for its ranking depends on the page and the context.

Think of an XML sitemap as a city map for tourists with the city being your website and the tourist being Google — you want to make sure to only include the important buildings, not every address. That is why unimportant pages shouldn’t be included; examples are pages like your privacy policy or about us page. While these pages should be indexed, they don’t need to be crawled often and are not important when we are talking about SEO.

XML Sitemap Tips for Large Sites

There is more you can do to elevate your sitemap game, beyond meeting the standard requirements.

Large sites like news publishers, for example, should make use of index sitemaps, which contain (up to 50,000) normal sitemaps, and should also not be heavier than 50mb. They are like the XML sitemap mothership that carries lots of smaller sitemaps. Large sites need them because they can’t fit into a single sitemap. You shouldn’t try to fit everything into a single sitemap, anyway.

You can make the most out of these sitemaps by structuring them either per page type or topic. In practice, you would create dedicated XML sitemaps per subdirectory or page template to get an understanding of technical and indexing problems with your site.

An Ultimate Guide to Sitemaps: Top Tips & Tools with SEMrush. Image 2

There are specialized XML sitemaps for specific purposes. Sites that operate heavily around rich media (think: Pinterest or YouTube) benefit a lot from image or video sitemaps. Publishers should have news sitemaps.

Image sitemaps increase your site’s chance to be found in Google image search. You don’t have to have a dedicated image sitemap; you can also use image extensions in your regular sitemap.

This is what image extensions look like (XML specifications):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"
xmlns:image="http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-image/1.1">
<url>
<loc>http://example.com/sample.html</loc>
<image:image>
<image:loc>http://example.com/image.jpg</image:loc>
</image:image>
<image:image>
<image:loc>http://example.com/photo.jpg</image:loc>
</image:image>
</url>
</urlset>

Video sitemaps function after the same principle: either create a dedicated sitemap or add extensions to your regular one:

<url>
<loc>https://example.com/mypage</loc>
<video> ... information about video 1 ... </video>
</url>

But be careful with the meta-data you add to video sitemaps or extensions.

Google states, “Google might use text on the video landing page rather than the text you supply in your sitemap if the page text is deemed more useful than the information in the sitemap.” They are speaking about the text delivered through the description. Besides a description, you can feed Google a thumbnail, video length, rating, family-friendliness, and more (full list of video XML sitemap meta-data). For sites that heavily use video, this certainly makes sense. For all others, it is relatively optional.

News sitemaps are different in that you should always have a separate news XML sitemap. Google doesn’t recommend (or offer) extensions in this case. News sitemaps help Google discover and rank new articles, which is especially challenging in the publishing industry because it produces a lot of content. Even though Google states that publishers with news sitemaps are not favored, it does help to get hot news ranking in Google News faster.

News sitemaps have special requirements:

  • Include articles not older than 2 days.

  • Don’t add more than 1000 new entries to an existing sitemap at a time.

  • Update existing sitemaps for article updates.

You can also use XML sitemaps to define and indicate certain meta-tags for Google. One example is hreflang; you can add as an extension to a sitemap (full guidelines):

<url>
<loc>http://www.example.com/english/page.html</loc>
<xhtml:link
 rel="alternate"
 hreflang="de"
 href="http://www.example.com/deutsch/page.html"/>
<xhtml:link
 rel="alternate"
 hreflang="de-ch"
 href="http://www.example.com/schweiz-deutsch/page.html"/>
<xhtml:link
 rel="alternate"
 hreflang="en"
 href="http://www.example.com/english/page.html"/>
</url>

Google ignores the priority attribute in XML sitemaps but does pay attention to lastmod, according to John Mueller. Google determines the priority of your pages itself, probably by popularity and authority. Lastmod, however, is a tag that indicates when the URL has changed the last time, which is really interesting to Google.

Also, you don’t need to add XML sitemaps for AMP URLs, according to John Mueller.

How Do Web Crawlers Scan Your Site?

A new tool to understand how search engine bots work

Please specify a valid domain, e.g., www.example.com

XML Sitemap Tools and Generators

Most content management systems come with prepackaged functions that allow you to create an XML sitemap automatically. But some don’t, and in this case, you need a third-party tool.

Best Sitemap Generators

These are my personal picks for XML sitemap generators.

Name

Price

Limit

Features

Free trial

Slickplan

$8.99/month

n/a

  • Drag and drop builder
  • Custom page type inclusion
  • Import text file
  • Cloning
  • Batch editing
  • Highly customizable
  • User permissions
  • Custom branding

30 days

Dynomapper

$40/month

200K URLs per crawl

  • Monitor URLs in sitemaps in Google Analytics
  • Highly customizable
  • Custom page type inclusion
  • Workflow management
  • URL tagging
  • Sitemap filtering
  • User permissions
  • Custom branding

14 days

Writemaps

$14.99/month

n/a

  • Customizable
  • Custom groups
  • Drag and drop builder

3 sitemaps free

Screaming Frog

Free to 500 URLs

£149.00/year

n/a

  • Not made for XML sitemaps but good workaround for technical restrictions

n/a

Powermapper

$49/month

15K pages

  • Not made for XML sitemaps but can export a feed into XML format

30 days

XML Sitemaps

$4.99 for 1K pages

$189.99 for 1.5m pages

1,5m pages

  • Image and video sitemaps
  • Email notifications
  • Mobile app
  • Detects broken links

Free for 500 pages

Best Wordpress Plugins for Sitemaps

Name

Price

Limit

Features

Ratings

Simple Wp Sitemap

free

n/a

  • HTML and XML sitemap
  • Dynamic sitemaps

4.4/5

33 reviews

Google Sitemap by BestWebSoft

free

n/a

  • Hreflang support
  • Customizable

4.3/5

112

Google XML Sitemaps

free

n/a

  • Dynamic sitemaps
  • Customizable

4.9/5

2090 reviews

Yoast SEO

free (premium available)

n/a

  • Basic, dynamic sitemap

4.9/5

26,745 reviews

WordPress XML Sitemap Plugin

free

n/a

  • Highly customizable

n/a

All in One SEO Pack

free

n/a

  • Basic, dynamic sitemap

4.4/5

449 reviews

XML Sitemap & Google News

free

n/a

  • Basic, dynamic sitemap
  • Customizable
  • Updates lastmod automatically

4.4/5

59 reviews

Do you have any XML sitemap tips or tools? Let us know in the comments.

24-hour online marketing conference

October 30, 2019

Please specify a valid domain, e.g., www.example.com

Kevin Indig
columnist

SEMrush columnists are authors who had proved their expertise in digital marketing and contribute regularly to our community.

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2000
Newcomer

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I have a website on which I am working and there I have faced many problems regarding the sitemap as the website is on WordPress and there were two sitemaps generated one from Yoast plugin and other from the jetpack. So I need to ask whether having two sitemaps is ok or I must make a manual sitemap.
Navneet Chauhan
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i google many sitemap generators but screaming frog is the best for a large site ...
Sree Murthy
Helper

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I am a big fan of Yoast
Newcomer

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That's a very helpful article and we have just used it ourselves to guide us in our sitemap generation - thank you! We went for XML sitemaps website, but have been surprised at how slow the generation has been. As it turns out, this is because it is the first time generating one and we have 360,000 products so we are having to learn patience as well!

Also reading some further comments down, I agree with you not to include crawling sites on to this blog post - I think that could the add confusion. You could even create a whole new blog article on the topic itself! Please let me know if you have already done this as I'd like to read it.
Newcomer

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great article! i'm getting in trouble with my sitemap in yoast seo. Because, we have changed it from ".../product/" to /product/?varId=10550 (every page details have taken dinamic parameters). Thus, we are not able to get that pages with params. It looks like yoast only handle url without parameters, i was wondering for a way to add all dinamic urls automatically. But it is getting harder!
Newcomer

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Pretty article on XML, bookmarked.
Newcomer

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We are not able to use Yoast SEO xml sitemap feature correctly for our WordPress site ; because Swift Equipment is developed on WordPress and it has some custom pages.

While we are trying to create XML sitemap using Yoast SEO free tool its not considering custom pages.

Any help appreciated... thanks in advance.
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Mark Lum
Hey Mark,

I got your point, that issue we have been already faced. We also were custom pages as you have as shown here like this {link removed by moderator}

In such case we have been used free XML Sitemap tool as suggested in the article for all URL fetching and later uploaded that XML sitemap onsite and that's working for us... You may also try this.
Dmitry Kotlyarenko
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Thanks for useful post. Especially i am impressed by detailed comparison of different sitemap generators and plugins. It is really great research. Thanks for sharing.
Shailendra Vijayvergia
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

XML has always been one of the key component for easy crawling and help Google to index the updates and updated pages. Useful post to get a refresher exclusively on XML.
Lukasz Zelezny
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

I would add DeepCrawl as DeepCrawl combine data from SearchConsole, Analytics and Internal Links during XML sitemap file preparation.
Kevin Indig
columnist

SEMrush columnists are authors who had proved their expertise in digital marketing and contribute regularly to our community.

columnist
Lukasz Zelezny
Yes, they're doing good stuff. I chose not to add crawlers, except for Screaming Frog because I mention them in my lead story. Do you think I should reconsider?
Yo Patel
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

I use Yoast SEO Plugin for XML Sitemap.
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Great share, very well explained...
Jyoti Thapa
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Wonderful perfect blog post, thank you for sharing in valuable content. Yes, sitemaps are so very important and that is the reason why Google search console coverage have two separate indexing types, one is submitted and indexed, and another is indexed but not submitted. Actually those urls which are indexed but not submitted could be duplicate pages and could actually harm your page raking or could be some valuable urls which you might not have submitted in sitemap and Googlebot have discovered while scraping.
Newcomer

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I am using Yoast SEO plugin to create sitemap. The plugin works properly and it has created XML sitemap. But when I check in my google search console, it shows the sitemap only for pages, categories. And does not list Post sitemap in GSC. Not sure why. So I manually created separate sitemap for posts only and added that new sitemap.txt . GSC now listing blog posts from this new sitemap.txt. Is that good?
Jeff Byer
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We talked about this post on Digital Rage Podcast Episode 22 - "Google mentioned that actually XML sitemaps are the second-most important method to find and crawl URLs. It doesn’t matter how large your site is, you should always have XML sitemaps. You should use the full extent of what they offer." - Kevin Indig
Kevin Indig
columnist

SEMrush columnists are authors who had proved their expertise in digital marketing and contribute regularly to our community.

columnist
Jeff Byer
Right! Thanks for adding :).
Sean Chaudhary
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

actually solid post for sure regarding fundamental onsite seo, I'm impressed!
Paul Lovell
Master

A veteran community member.

Thanks for sharing Kevin
I love working with sitemaps and most people do not realize that if you split out your sitemaps you can really understand where google sees the value on your site this is especially useful for larger sites
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Hey Kevin

Really awesome and helpful best sitemap overview its really great article and helpful to all webmaster!

Thanks for sharing great and valuable article.
Newcomer

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Hey Kevin, this is really helpful. I've just recently joined a new organization that has at least 40,000+ pages on the main domain, with an additional 60-80,000+ on subdomains. Shocked to find out they have no sitemap! Question to you (or anyone really): recommended generator for a site of this site?
Kevin Indig
columnist

SEMrush columnists are authors who had proved their expertise in digital marketing and contribute regularly to our community.

columnist
Terri Jean
Have you checked the table "Best Sitemap Generators" above?
Chavdar Marinov
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Terri Jean
Hey Terri, check if all pages really deserve to be in a Sitemap. You can then share your SEO experience with it and this can make a great blog post @Semrush.
Newcomer

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It's wild how often sitemaps are getting overlooked, interesting insights on Atlassian's initial case - thanks for sharing. Great article!
Kevin Indig
columnist

SEMrush columnists are authors who had proved their expertise in digital marketing and contribute regularly to our community.

columnist
Scott Mathson
100%! Thanks, mate.
Bill Scully
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for the great article, and list. I had never heard of writemaps
You're next article should be how to fix them. :) There are so many issues with improper configuration and conflicting WP Extensions.
Kevin Indig
columnist

SEMrush columnists are authors who had proved their expertise in digital marketing and contribute regularly to our community.

columnist
Bill Scully
Thanks, BIll! And I agree, there can be tons of issues with XML sitemap generation, especially with Wordpress. But, as you said, it'd take it's own article ;-).
Makol
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Great list sitemap generators, I like use only one, this Screaming Frog
Newcomer

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Great Post! A sitemap reveals the initial definition of what you are going to offer on your website. This gives you an opportunity to make a good impression especially to new visitors who don’t have an idea how to navigate on your website. Simple structures work well but avoid the danger of making it too basic to be misunderstood. Thanks for Sharing this type of Blog.
Newcomer

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Hi, thanks for your unparalleled publication
one question
Do you think it's better to create a site for our site manually or use online systems?
Are generators automatically identifying new content and pages (links)?
Nick Samuel
Pro

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

It would be interesting to know if anyone anyone use any Sitemap.xml plugin for Wordpress AND also use Yoast? Are there any use cases where it makes sense to use a dedicated xml Wordpress Plugin? Ta SEMrush.
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Nick Samuel
it is a good point if you use Yoast Free edition and you want to be indexed properly yes this is a choice to use another plugin to generate sitemap.xml and you disable it from Yoast.
Artur Maklyarevsky
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Launching in 2019! https://VisualSitemaps.com
Demo: https://beta.visualsitemaps.com/share/7b4fd8556b102ed739cc308efdf78c9f

*and we are just getting started..
Newcomer

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These are great tools. There is one I use all the time that is great http://ezsitemap.com
Newcomer

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Semrush is an excellent tool for SEO Point of View. I Would always Use Semrush For My Web Site.

Semrush Tool Helps Me To Manage my Website For Present and Future. Thanks for Making this Tool.

Thanks, Semrush Team
Newcomer

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tnx for tools . i always checked my site white semrush
[link removed by moderator]
Newcomer

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This is a great article. A sitemap should be indicative of your site's tracking path. A lot has happened since the mid 1995's, but it's one page that has remained relatively simple in form and has been rather easy to build.

- Susan [link removed by moderator]
Newcomer

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Hi Guys! Do you happen to know a plugin or a tool that does generate visual sitemap to include blog posts?
Marco Diversi
Helper

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

You should definitely add a sitemap generator tool in SEMrush, once a website is crawled it should be easy to create the sitemap! All of these tools except screaming frog are buggy!
CNG Digital Marketing
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Great list. We're always on the lookout for tools that can help visualize data for our clients to help them understand the work we do with internal and external link building. While the tools Jessica shares here are very practical for information architecture and content planning, here's an additional fun one: http://www.visualsitemapper.com/ It's value is more in abstract visualization than the practical planning, but it can help you get a quick "pulled-back" perspective on how a site is organized, especially if it is large and unruly :)
Nikola Roza
Expert

Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

CNG Digital Marketing
Hi there.
I tried your tool and it looks cool. Though I'm not really sure how to use it. It look like a mess to me and it didn't want to filter outgoing or incoming links. Either I didn't know how to use it, or it was a temporary glitch? But I like the idea though:)
Newcomer

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Great Post! Thanks for this informative post and the good thing is that you can build sitemap online. A sitemap reveals the initial definition of what you are going to offer on your website. This gives you an opportunity to make a good impression especially to new visitors who don’t have an idea how to navigate on your website. Simple structures work well but avoid the danger of making it too basic to be misunderstood. You can reference it in sitemaps, content strategies and functional specifications and it’s also a great way to show to the client what you are planning to build them.
Marc Hernandez
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Great list, we've used a few of the tools listed here. Anyone have experience with Sitebulb and how it might be different than Dynomapper?
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what do you guys think of Gloo Maps?
Newcomer

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I have been searching for the best sitemap tool for my blog [link removed by moderator] and now i found one! Thanks so much Semrush you're the best
Newcomer

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This article actually helped me for the site: [link removed by moderator] and I have experienced good indexability. Thanks for sharing this great article.
Newcomer

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very thank . like it
https://www.xml-sitemaps.com is the site which I use for my wp [link removed by moderator]
my problem is that this link is broken : http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2012/12/13/building-ultimate-xml-sitemap/#5
i dont know where should i place my sitemap.
Newcomer

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its amazing post thanks for sharing.
Newcomer

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Perfect tools to review and try. Also, would like to recommend another free online sitemap generator : http://countwordsfree.com/generate-sitemap. It can filter pages by size, name and filter out the pages based on the robots.txt file
Anil Valvi
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Kiryl
its Bad Request, Error 400. Could you please share the right link?
Enthusiast

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Hi,Jessica
Thanks for sharing these useful tools.Have you tried SiteBulb for visualizing internal link data? I think Sitebulb is the only notcy tool that does it automatically.
Artur Maklyarevsky
Enthusiast

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

Up
and this does that too but with high-res screenshots too!
https://VisualSitemaps.com
Newcomer

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Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have Keep up the good work you are doing here.Well, got a good knowledge.
[link removed by moderator]
Andrey Severin
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Hi! For building online sitemap, keeping website requirements and managing projects, you can try flowmapp.com too.
Francesca Oliviero
Helper

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I am Really looking in something like in InSpyder or xml-sitemap but for MAC !
Screaming Frog is good but too expensive just for one time use!
I just need to generate sitemaps for like10 websites with more than 10k pages each and I have no idea how to do it for cheap and just for one time and on mac computers ! anyone can help me ?
Newcomer

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Thank u so much for the information. I will try for my website [link removed by moderator]
Leslie Nyahwa
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Thank you guys for sharing this awesomeness, your all awesome
Charles Yarbrough
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Great list, I like the PC based desktop programs best. Online ones seem to have issues with a site that has a lot of pages.
Thesis Scientist
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Thank You
Newcomer

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Hi, visual sitemaps are good for visitors. Search engines like Google need xml files with sitemaps. One of free tools for creating this kind of file for any website is http://www.g-sitemap-generator.com
Newcomer

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Try countwordsfree.com/generate-sitemap .
I found it useful and user friendly
Steve
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I was wondering if there is a free visual sitemap generator tool out there at all (multi-tool/multi-level). All the sites I have visited seem to be paid for versions...
Thomas Schulz
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If you are into Windows/Mac desktop tools for sitemaps, you could also check A1 Sitemap Generator which can generate image, video and visual HTML/CSS sitemaps (various styles supported)
Steve SEO
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I've used screamingfrog in the past, right now i use https://www.crawlmonster.com, works wonders.
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Brian, take a look at Site Visualizer.
Newcomer

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I need something that I can install to run on an intranet. External services won't work. Any other suggestions besides ScreamingFrog?
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Brian
Thanks for sharing this. I have an issue with my site, it is saying nested xml on my search console. Please what do I do?
Honoree Tigrett
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Basic School News
Basic School News: hopefully this link provides the answer to your question
https://support.google.com/webmasters/forum/AAAA2Jdx3sU7iH9uLfTRgY/?hl=en&gpf=%23!topic%2Fwebmasters%2F7iH9uLfTRgY%3Bcontext-place%3Dtopicsearchin%2Fwebmasters%2Fauthorid%243AAPn2wQdhr5JmqE9ZM4iUV_fQIYvXPKJSA87ErjnwaPaOUkF9KD6C13kYKK0hCQABIpA5XImcv6y_%257Csort%3Adate%257Cspell%3Afalse

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