Reduced down to its simplest form, a sitemap is just a list of URLs. For something so completely basic, it’s incredible to believe how very important sitemaps can be when it comes to successful SEO.
To add pages to search engine results, engines send out what is known as a ‘bot’ or a ‘spider’. This non-human bot will search the internet for pages, and whatever it finds will eventually be indexed (that is, included in a search engine results page). Yet there are literally millions of websites on the internet, and sometimes waiting for a search engine bot to crawl your page and index it – well, it can literally take weeks.
This is where the sitemap comes in. The sitemap is a “heads up”, basically calling the search engine’s attention to your website.
When your website is complete, you will need to build your sitemap (or ideally, build it as you go along). This can be done using a simple Notepad .txt file, with a list of URLs of each page of your site, written on a separate line and then uploaded to your server. Alternatively, if you are using WordPress self-hosted, you can install a plugin called “XML Google Sitemaps” – which automatically generates and updates your sitemap as you go along.
The plugin will generate a URL (usually www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml), or alternatively with the .txt file, upload it and obtain the URL yourself. You should then take the URL of your sitemap, and submit it to all of the major search engines, using a tool such as Google Webmaster Tools. When submitted, the engine will know to send a bot to crawl the pages you’ve submitted – and will usually do so in a matter of days. Sitemaps really can make indexing that easy, and are therefore an absolute must.