How to Create a Sitemap

SEO Guide Step 9

Give search engines a map

Help the Search Engines Find Your Content

What is a Sitemap: a sitemap is a file that tells a search engine information about the pages, images, videos, and other sitemaps and the relationships and importance of them. Search engines (Google, Bing, and others) use this file to crawl your site. There are two forms of sitemaps: HTML and XML.

Spiders use Sitemaps to index your content: the common SEO tool to make that happen is a Sitemap, a file that points to the important pages on your site and that is used by the search engines when they are scheduled to spider your site. A search engine spider needs to know your content exists and we need to help that process with sitemap files.

Creating a sitemap for your website and keeping it up-to-date are important SEO best practices. Search engines can crawl and index your website more completely if you create a sitemap for reference.

This necessary SEO lesson covers how to create a sitemap so you can welcome search engine spiders and help them find their way around when they visit.

What Is a Sitemap?

There are two kinds of Sitemaps: HTML and XML and they serve very different SEO purposes. An XML sitemap is a text file webmasters create that tells search engines like Google and Bing about pages, images and videos on your website. An HTML sitemap serves site visitors and identifies the important parts of your website.

XML: Basically, it’s a list of all the URLs (the page addresses) that you want indexed for your site — URLs of web pages, images, videos and other content files on the site — formatted with a few XML tags.

HTML: It is a website page that is friendly to visitors and helps them to locate key parts of your website. This, as a webpage, is crawled by search engine spiders. It is believed that a page in the HTML sitemap is a very important page and it may influence search results rankings.

Learn how to create a sitemap for your website. Creating HTML and XML sitemaps is the best way to tell search engines about your webpages for indexing.

XML vs. HTML Sitemaps

XML sitemaps should not be confused with HTML sitemaps, which are regular web pages created to help human visitors get around a website. Each has SEO benefits, so you should create both XML and HTML types for your site. Here are the differences:

XML Sitemap HTML Sitemap
Crawlable by search engines Yes Yes
Read by human visitors No Yes
Maximum size 50,000 URLs or 10MB uncompressed Unspecified, but keep it user-friendly
Format XML file (plain text) Webpage (can be pretty)
Linked from Robots.txt file Site navigation (footer)
Can be manually submitted to search engines Yes Yes, as a regular URL
Recommended for SEO Yes Yes


How Many Sitemaps Should I Create?

Every site needs at least one XML sitemap. Having an up-to-date XML sitemap is really an essential SEO best practice. Likewise it is a best practice to have a HTML sitemap for your users.

(By contrast, submitting your site manually is an optional task. You only need to do a submission occasionally, such as when you launch a new site, add a new site section, or change content and don’t want to wait for the crawlers to find it.)

Large websites may need to break their list of URLs into multiple XML sitemaps. This ensures that the number of page URLs per sitemap doesn’t exceed the limit. Although an XML sitemap can contain up to 50,000 page URLs, we recommend not more than 2,000 per XML file to improve SEO coverage.

It is also recommended (for any size website) that certain types of files be listed in their own specialized sitemap: videos and news are two examples. Therefore, if you have videos on your site, create a specialized video XML sitemap to help make sure the search engines find your video files.


In another useful video from Google Webmaster Help, Matt Cutts answers why it’s important to offer an HTML sitemap AND an XML Sitemap.

Listen as he explains that since they meet different needs, both are important, especially for search engine crawling.

How to Create an XML Sitemap

You can create a sitemap manually, but using a sitemap generator makes the job easier. There are many good third-party tools for creating XML sitemaps automatically. One is Microsoft Bing’s free server-side Bing XML Sitemap Plugin, which can automatically generate two types of XML sitemaps that can be read by any search engine:

  • Comprehensive sitemap, which includes all files (except any you disallow in your robots.txt file)
  • Recently updated sitemap, which includes URLs of changed files only (useful for your own tracking or for prioritizing the pages that search engines should crawl)

NOTE: Any search engine can read your XML sitemap files because they comply with protocol.

How to Create a HTML Sitemap

Simply put, this is a page on your site that is commonly by convention linked to in a footer (sometimes page header) that will help a user that is having difficulty locating what they want on your site. Under normal circumstances it is a limited list of links to key areas of your website. If you have a site search you should be sure to include it because often a user of this page is lost. Simply make a page of key links and link to it from every page template in the footer.

Since the HTML sitemap is referenced via links from your site pages there is no need SEO to submit it separately – the search engines can easily find and spider it.

How to Submit Your XML Sitemap to Search Engines

You can submit your XML sitemap(s) to Google and Bing using the Sitemaps feature within their webmaster tools:

  • Google: Log in to your Google Search Console account. Under the Crawl menu, choose Sitemaps.
  • Bing: Log in to Bing Webmaster Tools. You can use the Sitemap widget on your Dashboard or go to the Sitemaps feature, located under the Configure My Site section.

The above methods let you proactively submit your XML sitemap file(s) to the search engines if you want to. Regardless, make sure you specify your XML sitemap’s location in your robots.txt file, where the spiders are sure to find it then next time they come crawling. (A robots.txt file is simply a text file saved at the root of your website that gives instructions to visiting search engine spiders.) Your robots.txt file should look similar to this, with a Sitemap directive line for each of your different XML sitemaps:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /tmp/
Disallow: /filename.html

That’s it! Once you create your XML sitemaps and tell search engines where to find them using your robots.txt file, the search engine spiders should do the rest. If you need more details on creating a Sitemap, see Google’s Search Console Help.

Next in the SEO tutorial, you’ll learn how to use rich media elements properly to make your site more engaging and more rankable.

Need more SEO tips?
Building an XML Sitemap

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