What is a sitemap?

A sitemap is an XML file that tells Google which URLs on your website should be crawled and indexed for search. Submitting a sitemap to Google can help speed up the process of getting your pages indexed and searchable. However, it’s worth noting that Google will still crawl your website whether or not you submit a sitemap. Without a submitted sitemap, Google will index any URLs it can find on your website.

How do I get a sitemap?

Many website builders will automatically generate your sitemap and some even submit it to Google for you. If you’re using WordPress, I’d recommend the Yoast SEO plugin, which automatically creates a sitemap for you. Once you’ve installed the plugin, you can find your sitemap at this URL

Where is my WordPress Sitemap?

How to submit a sitemap to Google

  1. Open Google Search Console
  2. Select the property you’d like to submit a sitemap for
  3. Click the Sitemap menu item from the index pane on the right-hand side
  4. Enter the URL of your sitemap

Sitemaps are a good starting point to better understanding all of the files, folders, and subfolders that make up your website structure. Website structure, or how your website pages are connected, makes it easier for crawlers, like Google’s, to discover content on your site and as a result has major implications for your organic traffic. 

Crawl maps are visualizations of website structure. They visualize relationships between pages on your website, you can quickly see at a glance any orphaned pages, unnatural link structures, or difficult to crawl areas of your website. The dots represent pages on your website and the lines represent links. The largest dot in the center of a crawl map is your home page.

Good Website Architecture

A good website structure looks like the inside of a tree, with concentric circles of pages all connected to one another and supporting key pieces of content leading linking into the homepage.

The benefit of this structure is that it’s easy for Google to index and easy for site visitors to find what they’re looking for. Another benefit is that the primary pages of the website are supported by lots of content and backlinks. Looking at this crawl map it’s relatively easy to see which pages are the most important by their closeness to the homepage.

This is called page depth, which is the number of clicks it takes to get to a page from your homepage. Google’s John Meuller recently revealed in a Webmaster Central Hangout that page depth is actually more important than URL structure. 

“We don’t count slashes in the URLs…What does matter for us a little bit is how easy it is to actually find the content.”

If you want to see proof of the page depth concept, check out the footer of any B2B SaaS company’s website, like Zapier. You can quickly tell which keywords are most important to them.

 So if you want a specific page to rank for a keyword, try adding it into your footer or somewhere on your homepage to see how it affects rankings.

Bad Website Structure

The reality is most websites aren’t well planned out. We can’t all have perfect little trees for crawl maps. Sometimes pages get created ad hoc without a second thought about sitemaps or subfolders. This all-too-common website structure looks less like a tree and more like a constellation.

The real shame here is that the relationship between different sections of the website is impossible for crawlers, or even humans, to understand. If you were Google, how would you decide which sections/pages of this site to prioritize?

If you’re just getting started, then it’s easy to set up a very logical website structure, but what if you’ve been in business for a decade or two? No worries, it’s never too late to fix your sitemap and the results can have an immediate impact on your organic traffic.

How to use subfolders to plan a sitemap

Whether you’re fixing a broken sitemap or setting up a new domain, subfolders are the easiest way to get started. Let’s say for example that we’re starting a B2B SaaS company and all we have is a very basic website with a few products. The sitemap might look something like this.

7-page website
Homepage
Product 1
Product 2
Product 3
Pricing
About
Contact

This is a very simple sitemap with a very flat website structure. Since we only have 7 pages, everything is either in the primary navigation or in the footer of our homepage. But as the company grows, things get more complicated.

For example, let’s say we just secured a new round of funding and wanted to start hiring more marketing resources to build out our website.

7-page website14 pages
Homepage
Product 1
Product 2
Product 3
Pricing
About
Contact
Homepage
Product 1
Product 2
Product 3
Blog
Post 1
Post 2
Post 3
Pricing
Careers
Customers
About
Contact
Press

This site is still very small, but as you add industry-specific pages, customer stories, and educational content, you lose the hierarchy that was so much clearer with a smaller site.

7 pages14 pages34 pages
Homepage
Product 1
Product 2
Product 3
Pricing
About
Contact
Homepage
Product 1
Product 2
Product 3
Blog
Post 1
Post 2
Post 3
Pricing
Careers
Customers
About
Contact
Press
Homepage
Product 1
Product 2
Product 3
Industry
Media
Automotive
Information
Technology
Blog
Post 1
Post 2
Post 3
Post 4
Post 5
Post 6
Videos
Product Overview
Company
Culture
Ebooks
Guide
Webinars
Customer #1
Customer #2
Pricing
Careers
Customers
Enterprise
SMB
About
Contact
Press
News
Privacy Policy

By moving some of your pages into subfolders, it helps organize the content in a more logical way.

36 pages
Homepage
Products
– Product 1
– Product 2
– Product 3
Industry
– Media
– Automotive
– Information Technology
Customers
– Enterprise
– SMB
Resources
– Blog
– Post 1
– Post 2
– Post 3
– Post 4
– Post 5
– Post 6
– Videos
– Product Overview
– Company Culture
– Ebooks
– The Ultimate Guide to Ultimate Guides
– Webinars
– Customer #1
– Customer #2
Pricing
Company
– Careers
– About
– Contact
– Press
– News
– Privacy Policy

Now we have a homepage plus six subfolders that clearly define the different sections of our website. Not only do these subfolders make it easier for Google to understand the hierarchy of our website, but it also can easily be reflected in the navigation to improve user experience.