What is a Sitemap? | How to Submit a Sitemap to Google
Let me paint a quick scene for you.
You’ve set up your new site, you’ve done proper keyword research and written up some awesome content, but when you try and find your site in Google you get zilch.
Your site might not have been indexed yet. One of the most important ways that Google actually finds your site is through backlinks (people who link out to your site on their site). But if you’ve got a brand new site you probably won’t have any of these yet, so how can you give Google the hint to crawl your site?
In this article I’m going to walk you through how to submit a sitemap to Google, but I also want you to understand what a sitemap actually is, WHY it’s important and also why it’s not just a magic pill to instantly get your site indexed.
First thing’s first: What’s a Sitemap?
A sitemap is basically a roadmap of your website that helps Google find and then crawl the pages on your website.
Side note: “crawling” your site is just Google looking through it and categorizing your content – so we definitely want that to happen.
Not only do sitemaps tell Google what pages and files you think are important on your site, they also provide some pretty useful information about these files, like when the page was last updated.
There are different types of SEO sitemaps including HTML and XML sitemaps.
But we’re going to be focusing on the XML sitemaps, because those are the most important ones.
The HTML sitemap is more geared towards VISITORS on your site. It’s a straight-forward navigation to help users find their way through your site and looks something like this example from apple.com.
Why are Sitemaps Important?
Great question 😉
So, if you DON’T submit a sitemap to Google, you’re basically leaving it to find your website and content all on its own without any help. Google can still crawl your site without one, but it might take longer, especially if you don’t have many backlinks or social signals to your site.
But you can be an action-taker and actually TELL Google to go crawl your site – it doesn’t guarantee that it’ll happen right away, but it’ll give them a little tap on the shoulder to put it in line to crawl and index sooner rather then later.
Here are some of the biggest benefits to submitting a sitemap to Google:
- Google can find updated content more easily.
- If you’ve changed the structure of your site (moved posts around, deleted pages, created new pages, changed menus etc) then it can give Google the updated information about your site.
- It helps you check for any sitemap errors that might be affecting your SEO.
- If you have a brand spanking new website, with little or no backlinks, it can help get your website crawled (and then indexed) quicker.
- If you have a large website with lots of pages (like an ecommerce site) it can help Google prioritize which URLs to crawl.
But before you can actually submit your sitemap to Google you need to know where to FIND it first.
Where to find your XML SEO Sitemap
This will depend on what content management system you use (aka WHO you built your website with).
Let’s look at each one individually.
Finding your Sitemap on Squarespace, Shopify & Showit
I have some good news for you my friend – your sitemap has already been created for you!
9/10 times your sitemap will just be your domain name followed by /sitemap.xml like in this example:
Finding your Sitemap on WordPress
If you’re using WordPress then you’ll have to create your own sitemap – don’t worry though, plugins like Yoast can create a sitemap FOR you.
If you’re on WordPress and using Yoast it’ll usually be yourdomain.com/ sitemap_index.xml
Here’s mine: https://www.mariahmagazine.com/sitemap_index.xml
Double check the URL for your sitemap
Regardless of the platform you’re on, make sure you double check that your sitemap is at the right URL before going forward.
If you’re using a different website platform that I haven’t mentioned, feel free to go to Google and type in “Sitemap URL for” and then pop in your platform name.
Here’s an example of what a sitemap created by Yoast looks like:
Here’s an example of what a sitemap created by Squarespace looks like:
Don’t submit it to Google without checking that it’s the RIGHT sitemap URL.
How to Submit your Sitemap to Google
Okay, so now that you’ve got your sitemap URL you’re ready to feed it to Google – which thankfully is a pretty simple process.
But you’ll need an account on Google Search Console first.
If you don’t have one already check out my post about getting started with Google Search Console.
Once you have one you can submit your sitemap by doing the following:
How to submit a sitemap to Google Step-by-Step:
- Copy your sitemap URL
- Log in to Google Search Console
- On the left side-bar menu click on “sitemaps” > “Add a new Sitemap”
- Paste in your sitemap slug (the part that comes after your domain name)
- Click “submit” and then refresh the page
After you submit it, it will probably say 0 under “discovered URLS” but that’s okay, because it hasn’t gotten the chance to actually crawl your site yet.
Prefer to see this in action in video form? I got you covered 😉
How long does it take Google to crawl your site?
Google likes to keep a pretty tight lid on what goes on behind the scenes, so we don’t really know and there isn’t really a cut-and-dry formula.
It could take two days, two weeks, two months… it really depends.
One thing that WILL get Google’s attention is if your site keeps picking up backlinks from other sites (remember I mentioned those waaaay back in the introduction?)
Each time a site links to your site it gives Google an indication that your site has some type of authority (which is good for getting it to crawl and index your site).
So even though a sitemap can definitely speed up the process of getting your website crawled, backlinks are incredibly important.
Does having an SEO Sitemap Guarantee that my Site will get Crawled?
Very few things in the SEO game come with a guarantee.
It’s ALWAYS a good idea to submit a sitemap to Google, but having one doesn’t guarantee that your site will be crawled, or they may crawl and index SOME parts of your site and others not so much.
Why might Google NOT index some pages on your site?
Before we get into this, it’s important to understand the difference between Google CRAWLING your website and INDEXING your website.
If Google can crawl your site then it has access to look around and read your content.
From there, Google will decide what it will actually INDEX from your site, AKA what it will actually allow to show up on the Google search results page.
Sometimes after submitting a sitemap you’ll see a discovered URL that has this message: crawled – currently not indexed.
There can be a lot of reasons for this, here are some of them:
- “Thin Content”: if a page doesn’t have a lot of content then Google won’t think it’s important enough to show up in the search results. Sometimes this is a GOOD thing – like for a Thank You page that you don’t want appearing in organic search results.
- Duplicate Content: Google doesn’t like duplicate content because a lot of people will try to manipulate the algorithm by stuffing lots of pages with the same content over and over to try and rank.
- Expired products: if you have an ecommerce site and you have a lot of links that point to expired or out-of-stock products, Google might choose not to index those pages. They won’t want to include these in the search results because if someone lands on that page looking to buy that product they won’t be able to.
There are a lot of other reasons and for a fuller list an explanation you can check out this article from moz.com.
Now you’ve got your new shiny sitemap – what’s next?!
Submitting a sitemap to Google is a great first step towards improving your overall SEO site health, but there’s a lot more to ranking than that.
But it doesn’t have to be super complicated or technical – you can get on Google’s good side and start boosting your rankings by downloading my FREE SEO Roadmap.
It’s my 6-step process to improving your SEO, getting your content on Google, and increasing your website traffic to skyrocket your sales.
(And don’t worry, it’s not stuffed full of tech-lingo. I make SEO understandable, actionable and even fun ;))