What Is a Sitemap and How to Create It?

Nicolas

If to google "what is a sitemap," the search results refer to XML and HTML structures mostly, though the term is broader. It relates to the technical tools and navigation, as well as the conceptual method of working on website structure. Let's have a look at all aspects of the sitemap.

There are three types of sitemaps: XML, HTML, and visual. The first two are instruments for enhancing website work and SEO results. Like a table of content, helping to navigate the reader in the book, XML and HTML sitemaps assist robots and humans in finding the website's important pages quicker. They are crucial for complex sites with numerous pages and functions and are deemed to be an indicator of higher usability.


Sitemap.Xml: Understanding the Sense, Functions, and Necessity 

XML-documents contain service information in code for crawlers of engines like Google to index pages efficiently. The data includes: 

  • URL's list with the hierarchy
  • The type of published content (for example, images or video)
  • Data about the website's pictures and videos, used for indexing
  • Frequency of updating, the term of the last update
  • A priority of pages for scanning
  • Alternative page versions

Google supports broader syntax for images, providing additional data about the pictures, and decreases the number of errors through scanning. Tags can either form a new sitemap for pictures or complement an existing XML file. Also, it is possible to add XML tags for the video. It allows adding a detailed description to the video file, makes the file visible for Google video. Finally, if a particular video tag is added, a video preview will appear in Google Search.

The sitemap can be named as the navigator for the search engines. It is a recommended file and does not guarantee a 100% indexation of pages mentioned in sitemap.xml. At the same time, its absence does not mean to be critical of fatal. There are cases, when a website with no XML-sitemap faces index troubles, though:

  • There are several pages, not linked with others
  • The site is new
  • The website's structure is sophisticated
  • Many of the pages are updated regularly
  • The pages have major and minor priority

To create sitemap.xml for small websites of rare updating an external online generator can be used. Google has a list of online and desktop sitemap generators. Any of these tools allows using additional tags, for instance, a metatag "meta robots." It provides setting instructions to index pages and includes 10+ basic directives. The most used among them is "Robots noindex," applied to exclude pages from the index. In other cases, when a page gets no index, it is when the website is updated with new content, while the sitemap remains out-of-date. 

CMS modules or plugins help to create XML sitemaps for elaborate web services with a mass of new content. They are capable of supporting and automatically updating XML documents.

Place the XML file in the root directory of the website and put a link for it into robots.txt. To control the efficiency of the indexing process, use a service Google Search Console, that also lets monitor visits and optimize the website visibility. If it finds an error in the created sitemap, you will get a notification via the email.

HTML Sitemaps

HTML sitemap is oriented on real users, facilitating surfing complex-structured websites with lots of data. In other words, it is a hierarchically built catalog of website pages. It always has well-structured content and links headings. Sometimes, the HTML sitemap contains two or three levels, for instance, in complex e-commerce websites. HTML sitemaps shall be available across the service board; that is why they are usually located in the footer. HTML sitemap has a limit for links quantity at the amount of 100; if exceeded, some links will stay out of the index. 

Although HTML sitemaps work for humans, they are also helpful for the crawlers. While scanning, the robots get the list of high-priority website pages, that speeds up their indexation.

Visual Sitemaps for Website Planning

From a higher point of view, the sitemap is a visualization of future website construction. It displays information about page structure. Meanwhile, it is often complemented with images or text content. 

Visual sitemaps provide a full view of the website's informational architecture and allow design navigation and page linking, accounting user experience. It also facilitates planning the working process on a future product, displaying the type of required technologies and content volumes. Finally, all team members and stakeholders are aware of the final product, so the visual sitemap reduces wrong expectations from design and development.   

Visual sitemap by Den Klenkov


The easiest and fastest way to make a visual sitemap is to draw it with a pen or a pencil. The disadvantage is lacking clearness and low presentability of the layout. You can construct it in Sketch or Figma, or any other graphical editor, too. But here, some skills of usage are required. 

Mindmaps are an excellent idea to use here, though not each person can read and understand it at a glance. The information should be as brief as possible, so, some crucial details might be missing. 

Finally, there are special services for creating visual sitemaps, where teamwork of designers, content-makers, SEO specialists is possible. Such services provide templates based on best practices of visual sitemapping, comments, sharing, storing information, and efficient cooperation of multi-profile specialists. 

FlowMapp is among a variety of professional tools for creating visual sitemaps. Here you can create and edit an interactive map, comment working results, design the structure of each page,  and follow all changes in a project made by other team members. The ready project can be shared by email or exported in the most popular file formats. 

FlowMapp is advantageous because it is not focused on SEO so much, like many other services.

Free trial implies teamwork on one project. Try it now!

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