A sitemap is an important part of a site's SEO strategy. We look at the three methods of generating a sitemap for your site and weigh the pros and cons of each.
Does your site have a sitemap? A page listing and linking to all of the content on a website might seem like a relic of the early days of web design, but while sitemaps might not provide a lot of value to human eyes, they are a critical piece of any site’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
Including a sitemap on your website provides instructions for search engines, telling them what content you would like to be indexed on your site, as well as the frequency at which your content is updated. Sitemaps usually take the form of a XML file that is hosted on your site or that you upload directly to search engines through resources like Google’s Search Console Sitemaps tool.
For sites using a Content Management System (CMS), there are a number of options available for generating sitemaps. The choice between these options will often depend on an organization’s commitment to sitemap maintenance. Let’s look at the three main methods of sitemap creation and examine the pros and cons of each:
Sitemaps generated using this method are manually created by an individual or agency, providing a list of all of the content that a site’s owners would like to be indexed by search engines.
This method provides a high level of control over what is included in a site’s sitemap. It is usually best for very small sites.
With more control and flexibility comes more accountability. Since a manually generated sitemap requires a manual update for every change which occurs on the site, these sitemaps often become stale very quickly. For sites using a manually generated sitemap, a staff member or partner agency must be aware of everything that is happening on the site, and they must understand how sitemaps work and are structured in order to keep the sitemap updated.
Auto-Generation by CMS
For most CMS platforms, plugins are available that will generate a sitemap based on what is stored in the CMS database and automatically update the sitemap for every change made within the CMS.
Sitemaps generated by CMS will usually be inclusive of all content, and along with ongoing changes to the site, they can include information about when each piece of content was last updated. This process is automatic, removing the need for manual updates.
Automatic sitemap generation can be a double-edged sword. These solutions will usually create a sitemap that includes everything in a site’s database, including pages meant to be temporary and content that is not meant to be publically visible.
This type of solution will often require a significant curation commitment. In order to ensure that a site’s content is clean and that no broken links or duplicate pages exist in the sitemap, site editors need to be aware of what content exists on the site and what should and shouldn’t be included in the sitemap. Any content which should not be included in the sitemap (such as private content that is only visible to a site’s logged-in members) will need to be tagged as such in the CMS database.
Generation by Third Party Tools
As an alternative to manual or automatic generation of sitemaps, third party apps or SaaS-based tools can be used to index a site on a regular basis. These tools will “spider” the site, following its menus and internal links to determine the site’s structure. Sitemaps created using this method will be based on the site’s information architecture (IA), and they will be constructed in a way similar to how search engines index a site.
This method is best aligned with how search engines index a site. Since the sitemap is creating using the site’s information architecture rather than the CMS database, it will only include content that is publically available. This method will also respect rules specified in a site’s robots.txt file or any “nofollow” tags.
These tools can be set to run on a regular schedule and update a site’s sitemap automatically. Overall, this method is the best combination of automated and manual sitemap generation.
Third party sitemap generation tools are usually not free. While they are not prohibitively expensive, there is a cost to using these services. They also require some initial configuration by a person or agency who is experienced with sitemaps.
The Importance of Sitemaps
The data in a website’s sitemap is often overlooked and assumed to be accurate, but for many organizations, this is not the case. Sitemaps that have not been updated along with the site’s content do not provide an accurate picture of the site, which will result in penalties to the site’s search rankings when search engines are unable to index the site properly.
Since sitemap data is crucial for ensuring that search engines are able to correctly index your site, having a strategy in place for keeping this data correct and up to date is an important part of your SEO strategy.
Do you have any questions about sitemaps? Do you want to learn more about which of the above options is right for you? Please contact us, and we’ll work with you to develop a strategy for your website’s sitemap fits into your overall digital strategy. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!
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