What Is A Sitemap?

08 Jul, 2021

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Understanding Google Sitemaps

When we try to get Google to explain how its search engine works by, for instance, asking the Google Search Console what a Sitemap is: we get this unsatisfactory definition:

"A sitemap is a file where you can list the web pages of your site to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site content. Search engine web crawlers like Googlebot read this file to more intelligently crawl your site."

* Google Search Console's explanation of what a sitemap is


Now I know that many of you will have a good understanding of what this means, but this blog is for everyone who wants to learn about Digital Marketing, and we all should take a moment to imagine what this sounds like to someone who is new to this...

Google crawls my website? what? How can a  search engine read a map or sitemap? Where is it going? What do they mean by intelligently crawling? Why did they choose the creepiest possible verb 'crawl'? - I wouldn't want something crawling on me, so why would I want it crawling on my site?' 

If this is your current pattern of thinking, don't hyperventilate, everything is going to be okay. We can all get a good understanding of what a sitemap is and why we need one, with a little more perspective... 


Why Does Google Need A Sitemap?

Most of the time when we search for something on Google, the results are closer to what we are looking for than on any other search engine. 

So how does Google do this? In less than a second, providing us with a pretty good answer for almost any question we can think of? — it's almost like magic, but it's more like a genius magic trick. There is a great deal going on behind the scenes...


rabbit hat sitemaps article


Google knows the content of billions of websites because it is constantly scanning websites across the globe with its so-called Googlebot, also unfortunately named 'crawlers' These crawlers analyze a site and catalog the content so that when you ask Google a question it knows which website to recommend.

Knowing this, you might say to me, if Google has billions of Google super fast Googlebot constantly crawling and cataloging every website on the globe.


Why Doesn't My Business Site Come Up On Google When I Enter Its URL? 

If you don't see your website in the results when typing its URL into Google, it is extremely likely that those Googlebot cannot find your website or access its information so they cannot scan and catalog this information and display your website as the answer to user queries, in other words, Googlebot cannot index your page.

Considering that these Googlebot is constantly scanning almost every page of the internet to index their information in order to answer searches. It is understandable that this bot might miss a few pages, and as a result not index them.

Especially websites that have an unusual structure that these Googlebot find hard to scan, or if the website has hardly any traffic so they don't know it's there in the first place.

 Submitting a sitemap to Google is a good way of making sure that Googlebot knows about your website and which pages to scan, so it can show them in the Google results. I hope that helps!


Still Have Questions About Sitemaps? 

Here is a quick FAQ that tells you everything you need to know about sitemaps... 


How Important is A Sitemap in Getting A Site Indexed?

Many pages from websites that are conventionally built will appear in the Google results without the site owner submitting a Sitemap, but this doesn't mean that all of a website's pages will be indexed, submitting a sitemap is essential for any website owner who wants to make sure that their website is indexed correctly by search engines. 

If your website doesn't appear in Google's results when you type in its URL or multiple lines of text from pages that have been online for over 2 weeks, you should look into sitemaps as soon as possible. 


Robot Sitemap article-jpg


Do I Need to Have A Sitemap?

There is no rule that says a website must have a sitemap, and Google may be able to find all of the information on all of a website's pages without one, but submitting a sitemap is a great way of making sure that all of your site's content can be found, and having one can only be a positive thing. 


Which Websites Definitely Need A Sitemap?

Having a sitemap is good SEO practice. For certain types of websites, it is essential:

  • A website with a lot of content and pages and subpages, for example with an online shop or database

  • A site whose individual pages aren't well-linked 

  • A site with a less conventional site structure 

  • A new website starting without any publicity and therefore only getting a small amount of traffic should definitely submit a site map. Google bot follow links and visitors to find new websites and index them. If a website is new and unknown then submitting a sitemap is a way of making Google aware that it exists.

XML Sitemaps vs HTML Sitemaps

It's important to know that there are two kinds of sitemaps that are important for Digital Marketing. One is for site visitors and the other is for search engines. The type of sitemap that a marketer needs to create to be found easily by Google is an XML sitemap.

An XML sitemap provides an outline of a website's structure in the Googlebot-friendly language of XML. Googlebot can use this sitemap to find and index the site more easily.

On the other hand, an HTML sitemap is made for site visitors. This type of sitemap is found on a page of a user's actual website, often with the page title sitemap. It is a page of a  website that contains a list of a site's pages with hyperlinks to each of these pages, making it easier for a user to navigate a website and find pages they are looking for.

It's important to make sure that the sitemap displays well on smartphones as well as desktop computers. Creating an HTML sitemap for your website is a great way of improving its usability.





How Do I Create A Sitemap for My Website? 

There are many different ways to create a sitemap. For rankingCoach users to create and submit a sitemap it's easy, just need to log in and complete easy to follow step-by-step video tutorial. 

If you are not a rankingCoach user, many CMSs and shop systems provide the tools to make a sitemap. If you don't have a CMS, then you can always try using a sitemap generator to create a sitemap for your website. Then you need to upload the file onto the root level of your server with an FTP program and submit it to Google.


How Do I Submit My Sitemap to Google & Other Search Engines?

In order to notify all search engines about your sitemap, you should indicate where yours is in your robots.txt.Webmasters also have a good opportunity to submit their sitemap directly to Google from inside the Google Search Console (formerly called 'Google Webmaster Tools ).


Are There Other Types of Sitemaps?

Yes, a sitemap can also be used to help the user find specific types of content, other types of sitemaps include: 

- Picture Sitemaps

- Video Sitemaps

- News Sitemaps


Why Do Site Owners Need Video-Sitemaps?

In recent years video content has increasingly become the medium of choice for drawing the attention of visitors and creating interesting web pages. Rather than embedding videos that are posted on a site’s Youtube channel, some site owners choose to host their videos on their own server. 

This could be because the videos are an integral part of a site’s design, or that the site owner wants to make sure that everyone who views the videos, does so on their website where they won’t get distracted by other videos from other channels. Submitting a video sitemap is an important way of making sure Google can find videos hosted this way.




Do I Need  A Video Sitemap?

You should definitely think about submitting a video sitemap If:

1) You are hosting videos on your website that you want search engines like Google to be able to find because these videos have a good chance of bringing people to your site. 

A good example of video content that is useful for this purpose is product description videos: they often feature keyword-rich descriptions of the products offered. On the other hand, it probably isn’t necessary to submit a video sitemap for a site that just features decorative short clips of shifting patterns or animated logos.

2) Any website that deals with fresh video content and needs to appear in the search engine results as quickly as possible to stay relevant should consider submitting a video sitemap.

For example, news websites and topical blogs should submit and regularly update their video sitemap. This will help to ensure that any videos with the short-term appeal are found as quickly as possible by search engines.

This is important because Google crawls some websites less frequently than others. A video sitemap is one of many signals that current affairs websites can send to Google to draw attention to their video content and encourage frequent crawling from the search engine. This will help to make sure that Google finds video content while it is still fresh. This is becoming increasingly important in a world of fast-changing 24 hours news cycles.  


Correct Video Formatting for Google Video Sitemaps 

If you are considering submitting a video sitemap,  you need to make sure that your hosted videos are in accepted file formats that Google can crawl and index. These are the file formats that Google recommends:

.3g2, .3gp2, .3gp, .3gpp, .asf, .avi, .divx, .f4v, .flv, .m2v,, .m3u8, .m4v, .mkv, .mov, .mp4, .mpe, .mpeg, .mpg, .ogv, .qvt, .ram, .rm, .vob, .webm, .wmv, .xap

* Note: in 2020 Flash is not supported by many web browsers so should not be used. 

These video formatting recommendations are taken from Google Webmasters' best practices for VideoIf your videos are not in any of these formats, you should convert them to an acceptable format before taking any further steps with submitting a video sitemap.


Do You Need A Video Sitemap for embedded Youtube videos?

Google best practices encourage users to create a video sitemap for embedded Youtube videos on your site: 


“ it is still helpful if you provide a video sitemap or structured data to help Google find the embedded YouTube video on your page. Sitemaps and structured data also help you provide us additional information about the video.”

*Google Webmasters best practices for Video


So the short answer from Google for embedded videos is yes it couldn’t hurt. However, the value of a video sitemap, in this case, is not as high as with self-hosted videos and there may be more important things to do with your time first.

A Video sitemap may give Google extra information on a site’s video but Youtube is owned by Google, so if you want to make sure this video is found on Youtube for the right terms, it’s more important to make sure that each video is uploaded with effective meta titles and descriptions, as any video on Youtube won’t have any problem being indexed by Google.

Before you submit a Video sitemap for embedded Youtube videos you should make sure that the descriptions and titles of your videos on Youtube are all keyword optimized, and that the video and descriptions have appropriate eye-catching links that will draw users to click onto your website.

Improving these areas will have a bigger impact on where your videos appear in the results,  as a click-through from Youtube is the most likely way that a user will find the video and website of an SMB with embedded Youtube videos.


How to Create or Submit A Video Sitemap?

If you want to submit a Video Sitemap to Google you have two options, either you can add your video sitemap to your existing xml sitemap. Or you can submit a separate Video sitemap. When doing this, make sure your robots.txt isn’t blocking Google bots from the

  • The page URL 

  • The video URL

  • The thumbnail URL

For more info on the coding of sitemaps along with some examples check out this Google Webmaster article on video sitemaps 


Why Do Site Owners Need an Image Sitemap?

Easy-to-use CMSs and widespread high-speed internet connections have made images a more and more essential part of site content. The average E-commerce website can contain hundreds or even thousands of images. Many of these images have a chance of appearing in Google’s image search results and bringing visitors to the website.

It’s important to remember that the main results page isn’t the only place visitors find websites to click on. Images can also boost a site’s SEO with the keywords used in its image alt tags. Submitting an image sitemap enhances the chances of these images being found. 


Do I Need  An Image Sitemap?

You should definitely think about submitting an Image sitemap if your website has hundreds or thousands of images that could have keyword-rich descriptions added to them. Such as product photos and educational diagrams. 

Image sitemaps are also strongly recommended for websites that present images using unorthodox coding languages such as Java or that feature images with embedded descriptions. 

They should also be considered for any images that are presented in a way that goes against Google's best practices for publishing images. Though, presenting images that you want to rank, in a manner that goes against these guidelines should only ever be done as a last resort.


How to Create or Submit An Image Sitemap?

If you want to submit an Image sitemap you have multiple options. You can add the info on your images to your existing XML sitemap or you submit a separate Image sitemap to Google.

To make sure Google has as much information on your images as possible you may also want to consider using the  Google image extensions for sitemaps. For more  info on these tips and advice for submitting an Image sitemap visit the Google Webmaster page on Image sitemaps


Why Do Site Owners Need a Mobile Sitemap?

This question should actually be why did site owners need a Mobile Sitemap? Mobile Sitemaps are a relic of early smartphones that connected to the internet through WAP, which required a simplified version of a website. Modern Smartphones access the main version of your website and so the mobile sitemap is the same as the main sitemap. This means an additional Mobile Sitemap is not needed anymore.


Do I need A Mobile Sitemap?

Unless your website intends to target the extremely niche audience of WAP phones from the 2000s, definitely not, when was the last time you met someone with a WAP phone? Forget about Mobile Sitemaps and instead focus on your Image sitemap, video sitemap, and meta descriptions!  


I don't know how visible my site is should I create a sitemap? 

If you don't know and if you are not 100%  sure that you don't need a sitemap, you should definitely submit a sitemap.


What is rankingCoach?

rankingCoach is the complete Digital Marketing solution for online businesses and bricks and mortar SMBs.The application analyzes your website and creates a tailored Digital Marketing strategy.

Each Digital Marketing plan includes step-by-step video tutorials -  showing you exactly how to optimize your site, easy-to-use, Google-data-driven SEO and SEM tools with precision keyword targeting, utilizing Google search data and competition analysis to find the best keywords for your local and national markets.

rankingCoach is the definitive Digital Marketing solution for SMBs looking to secure top rankings on Google, manage their online review profile, and be found in all crucial local directories and maps.  


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