Among the several SEO techniques available to boost your E-commerce ranking, creating a sitemap is definitely one that will help your website perform better on search engines.
A sitemap is not mandatory, and the user experience will not be affected either way. However, creating an optimal sitemap for your E-commerce website is a necessity for improving your SEO strategy.
What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is exactly what the name suggests, a map of the content on your website or E-commerce. The sitemap is not relevant to your users, but it is very important for search engines.
Try to imagine you are traveling to a city and you want to know what to see there and how to get to these different spots. How do you do that? You need a map of the city to orientate yourself, to understand where the top spots are and how to get from point a to point b. If you have a good map with you, you can easily travel around the city and locate the sites you want to visit. Without such a map, you will get lost and could miss many important spots.
Your E-commerce site can be compared to a city or, in the case of large E-commerce, a metropolis with an extensive number of things to see. When a search engine robot comes and visits your platform, you don’t want it to get lost. Therefore, you need to provide it with a map that explains the hierarchy of your website, where the pages are located, how important each page is, and how it is related to other content on your E-commerce. To accomplish this, you need to add a sitemap to your E-commerce website.
The work of search bots is to discover content online and index this information so that the search engine can show relevant content when users type a search query. Consequently, you want to make sure that the crawler can discover the relevant content on your E-commerce, otherwise, you will not appear in the search results.
Moreover, since an E-commerce may have several similar pages, without a sitemap, the robot may think that it is duplicated content. This will have a negative effect on your SEO performances.
In a nutshell, even though adding a sitemap is not mandatory, there are many reasons why having one is a good idea and why we suggest it.
Types of Sitemaps
There are different types of sitemaps that you can implement on your E-commerce and each one can serve a different purpose. Depending on the structure of your website, or on the content you want to rank well, you may implement all of them or only some.
This kind of sitemap is the only one created for the user, who can access it from a link on the website. You can see an example here https://www.apple.com/sitemap where Apple has created a table of contents to help users locate the content on the website. The HTML-sitemap is usually implemented only by very large websites.
The XML sitemap should always be added to your website. This sitemap is specifically designed for search engines. Since users will not access this sitemap it is usually in a machine-readable format.
This sitemap lists all the URLs on your E-commerce site and informs search engines how your online shop is structured, what the important pages are, how they relate to each other and so on.
This is similar to the XML sitemap but lists only the images on your E-commerce. On this sitemap, you can add some information to the images such as location, subject matter, title, type of image and so on. As an example of how this sitemap is beneficial, it will help your images to rank higher on a Google Image Search.
The video sitemap is used for your video ranking on Google Video Search or similar search engines. As in the case of the image sitemap, you can add additional information to your videos so that search engine bots can easily understand the content and add it to the index and then show it to users.
If you have a news section on your website, you should add the news-XML-sitemap to make this content discoverable to search engines. This sitemap is specifically designed to get a better ranking on Google News and similar entities.
The mobile sitemap is used if your E-commerce delivers content to and for feature-phones. These are phones that do not have a full-fledged browser but use WAP/WML or something similar. This sitemap is not a concern for smartphones that don’t have problems with the other sitemaps.
What Is Included in Your Sitemap?
As we mentioned earlier, the sitemap contains a list of all the URLs on your E-commerce. However, as a result of the XML format, you can communicate additional important informa about your pages to search engines. Always keep in mind that the sitemap is intended to make it easy for a crawler to navigate through your pages and understand the content.
Here is an example of how an XML sitemap looks.
The tag <url>...<url> is the one you use to list your URL. This tag is the parent to which you can add other child tags to include additional information about the URL, as in the following example.
As you can see, you can add the <loc> tag to specify the canonical URL of the page and the <lastmode> tag to provide information about the last time the page has been updated. Other tags you may add are the <changefreq> to indicate how frequently the page is updated and the <priority> tag to indicate the importance of the page in comparison to other content.
Why Are Sitemaps So Important for an E-commerce Site?
We already explained how important sitemaps are to search engines that are ranking your content.
This is especially important for E-commerce sites since they may easily have thousands of pages and new content or elements added regularly. Therefore, the sitemap will keep your E-commerce updated with search engines, thus helping your SEO performances.
If your E-commerce is not very large, you may not see the need to add a sitemap since search engines can still crawl and index your content. However, whether your site is large or not, there are several advantages to implementing a sitemap.
First of all, it is true that in time, search engines may discover your content, but it will take time. Since your E-commerce will have new product pages added regularly, you need them to be indexed as soon as possible and this can be achieved by submitting a sitemap.
The same is true every time you update a page. If you don’t use a sitemap to inform search engines that there was an update, it will take a long time for the robots to discover the fresh content. As a result, you will miss out on important ranking opportunities.
Another factor to consider is that search engines mostly rely on links to discover your pages. If you don’t have a well-planned internal link strategy or enough backlinks, your content may go unnoticed for a long time. This is an additional reason to implement an XML sitemap.
Consider the images and videos as well that you have on your E-commerce. To be indexed, they largely depend on sitemaps. Therefore, unless you add one, it may be difficult for your E-commerce to appear in images and video searches.
It is clear that sitemaps are valuable for your E-commerce. Your website can survive without them but adding one will contribute to the improvement of your ranking and will make the indexing of your content much faster.
Creating the Optimal Sitemap for Your E-commerce
Creating a sitemap may sound daunting and like something only a tech wizard would do. In reality, though, creating a sitemap is not difficult and can be done either manually or through tools that automate the process.
Create the Sitemap Manually
These are the steps to follow to create an XML sitemap manually.
First of all, review the structure of your website to understand how your pages are organized. You may do that using one of the sitemap templates available online. You will end up with a schema similar to this one:
Using the sitemap template, you can easily determine which pages are the most important, which ones are not easily reachable from the homepage and, in some cases, which ones you do not want to be indexed. You may need to reorganize a bit of your content to create a logical hierarchy based on each page’s importance. As you organize the structure of your pages keep in mind that pages that require more than three clicks to be reached from the homepage may be more difficult to rank.
Once the content is organized, you can use a software tool like Screaming Frog to create a list of all your URLs. When the list is ready you can start coding your XML sitemap using a text editor like Sublime Text. The coding is very simple.
Your code must start with a <urlset> tag like the following:
Next, you have to add your first URL using the parent tag <url> and the child tags you wish to add to define the canonical URL (<loc> tag), last update (<lastmod> tag), frequency (<changefreq> tag) and priority (<priority> tag.) You may end up with a code looking like this:
Once all the URLs have been added to the sitemap, do not forget to close the <urlset> tag adding </urlset>
Now, you need to validate your code to make sure there are no errors. This is an important step because if your code contains errors, the sitemap will not work.
You can easily validate your code using tools like XML Sitemap Validator. Save your sitemap file and name it sitemap.xml. Then paste the file in the validator tool. If any errors show up correct them and validate the sitemap again to make sure everything is fine.
Alternative Ways to Create a Sitemap
If you want to make your life even easier, there are several tools available that can generate your sitemap automatically.
This is the most popular plugin if you have a WordPress website. Yoast will generate and update your sitemap automatically, without you taking any action.
Google XML Sitemaps
This is another plugin for WordPress. Google XML Sitemaps generates the sitemap automatically and updates it every time you modify your content.
XML Sitemap Generator
This is a free online tool used to create your sitemap. All you have to do is type your website’s URL and XML Sitemap Generator will scan your website and generate the sitemap.
This is a desktop software that offers many SEO functionalities including generating a sitemap. If you have less than 500 pages on your site you can use it for free, otherwise, you have to upgrade to the premium version. Screaming Frog allows you to change the settings for the sitemap to easily add information like its priority, frequency and so on.
Slickplan is a software that requires a purchase, but it works very nicely. You will start from a sitemap template where you can check the structure of your E-commerce. From here, you can modify the structure and hierarchy of your website using the drag-and-drop functionality to move pages around. Once you are happy with the structure of your E-commerce, you can export the sitemap into an XML file.
Where to Place Your Sitemap
Now that your sitemap is ready, you need to add the file to the root of your website which will then be located at your site.com/sitemap.xml. You can ask a developer to do that or you can add it through the FTP.
Then, you need to add a link to the robot.txt file. This is a simple text file that instructs the robots visiting your website telling them where the sitemap is located and ensures that they will visit it. This is the line you have to add to the robot.txt file:
Sitemap: https://your site.com/sitemap.xml.
How to Submit Your Sitemap
The last action to take is to submit your sitemap to search engines. You can do so for Google and Bing (Bing now includes Yahoo).
If you haven’t already, you need to open accounts with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tool. Once the accounts are active, you need to verify your website and then follow the instructions to upload your sitemap.
After your sitemap is uploaded, in a very short time it will be crawled by robots that will index your pages. From time to time, you will want to check that your sitemap is being regularly crawled. Keep in mind also, that if you don’t use a plugin that automatically submits your sitemaps, do not forget to manually add a new version of them each time you update your content.
Creating an optimal sitemap for your E-commerce website is not difficult. It doesn’t take much time and it will help your content to rank better on search engines. A sitemap is an important part of your SEO strategy.
If you still have questions about your sitemap or if you need help in creating one, contact us and we will be happy to help you.