Over the years, I’ve come across several instances where owners of small websites & small businesses have come and told me interesting things about sitemaps. They told me that their SEO agencies and sometimes freelance SEO consultant have informed them that their websites are ranking low in Google partially due to the absence of ‘sitemap.’
Likewise, several bloggers have asked me whether not having a sitemap will hurt their blog’s ranking in Google.
These questions have always weighed heavily on my mind and hence I thought of coming up with this blog post. This blog post is specifically addressed to SEO students & beginners as well as owners of small websites.
So, do small websites need a sitemap? The answer is ‘no.’ in a one swoop, I’ve busted a myth that tends to take many people for a ride, especially due to the lack of SEO knowledge.
Of course, I’ve a very strong justification to support my argument and I’ve shared the reason in this post.
Before I start with my argument, I’d like to define ‘Sitemap.’
What is a SiteMap?
Sitemap is nothing but a blueprint of a website that basically informs the visitors about the entire content of a website. It essentially tells about all the important sections, pages, categories and posts existing in the website.
Sitemap can be compared with a guide or directory that solely seeks to provide easy navigation to visitors.
Please note that the word visitors in the above paragraph have been used subjectively. Simply because it applies to both search engine crawler or human beings like you and me. And this very thing takes me to the next point.
Types of SiteMap
Many SEO experts classify sitemap in several types but sitemap are fundamentally classified in two types, XML sitemap and HTML sitemap.
XML Sitemap: XML Sitemap is solely designed for search engine crawlers like GoogleBot or BingBot. Humans visitors cannot see Xml sitemap since they are uploaded in the Website’s Google search console (GSC) account.
XML sitemap essentially lists out all the URLs of your website. In other words, it not only tells the GoogleBot about your website content but also how to reach to it. It does exactly what sitemap is supposed to do, acting like a roadmap.
Below I’ve shared the image of how sitemap streamlines & simplifies the content of a fairly large website.
Had it not for a sitemap, Googlebot or Bingbot may have struggled to crawl few pages and categories/sub-categories of this website. Especially those pages and categories that are located deep inside the website structure.
As is apparent from above image, XML sitemap simplifies search engine crawlers’ path by systematically putting pages, categories, sub-categories and other contents in one place.
Below I’ve shared the image of how actually sitemap really looks like… This is a sitemap of the ‘post section’ of my own website Digital Trending.
HTML Sitemap: HTML sitemap performs the same functions of XML sitemap. There is fundamentally no difference between them except one. This difference being that HTML sitemap is created for humans while XML sitemap is purely made for search engine crawlers.
In fact, I bet most of you have unknowingly checked out HTML sitemap on several websites. Just check out the below screenshot.
I am pretty sure that many of you must have seen these collections of clickable text at bottom or footer of several websites.
HTML sitemap can be simply defined as a collection or list of clickable texts that are linked to all the important pages of a website. Their main aim is to make all the important pages accessible to visitors and enhance the latter’s overall user experience.
So does a small website really need a Sitemap?
I would like to answer this question by bringing answer right from the horse’s mouth. Below is the screenshot that I have taken from Google search console’s help section. Check out the section marked in the red color to know about Google’s policy about sitemap.
It clearly states that small websites with fewer than 100 pages and if these pages are reachable by following one or two links then the website doesn’t need a sitemap. However, please don’t confuse ‘pages’ with ‘posts.’ In its policy, Google is clearly not referring to posts. It actually is referring to static pages like ‘contact us’ & ‘about us’ as well as non-static pages like ‘category pages.’
It is no-brainer that small websites including blogs have less than 100 pages. In fact, small websites usually have less than 10 pages.
As for the large websites then they surely have lots of pages, more than 100. The perfect example of a large website is ecommerce website like Amazon.com & Ebay.com. Just check out these websites and you’ll come to know that these two websites have lot of categories, sub-categories and static pages.
It may prove to be little daunting for search engine crawlers to crawl every page on such a huge website without a proper sitemap. Without a proper sitemap, Googlebot and Bingbot may end up missing on crawling some important pages.
Having a sitemap won’t hurt either
Although small websites don’t need sitemap, it really won’t hurt them either to have one. It is tempting to have a sitemap also because it takes barely few minutes to create and upload sitemap.
This is true for Xml as well as Html sitemap. You can create both these sitemaps with the help of plug-ins. The names of these plug-ins have been given above but I’m repeating them once again below.
- XML sitemap: Yoast Plugin
- HTML sitemap: HTML Page SiteMap
XML SiteMap and Myths
There are many myths in the SEO industry and few of them happen to be associated with the XML SiteMap. One of the popular myths is that having a XML sitemap encourages Google to crawl and index your website faster. The argument is that with faster crawling and indexing, the website will stand a very good chance of ranking higher on the Google’s SERP than competitors.
This myth implies that if you upload a fresh post on your website right now, Sitemap will help the post get crawled and indexed by Google or Bing in 1 or 2 hours rather than 4 or 6 hours.
But this is not true at all. SiteMap doesn’t guarantee fast indexation of webpages. As I’ve already established and also highlighted Google’s own policy, Google doesn’t mandate having a sitemap for fast indexation.
Whether Google crawls and indexes your website’s latest posts on priority basis depends on various factors. Some of these factors have been listed below:
- Website should be old (at least, more than 6 months).
- Website must have decent number of backlinks
- Website must be regularly updated with fresh content?
If your website tick marks all the three above boxes then your website will be crawled and indexed on priority basis even if it doesn’t have an XML sitemap.
As for new websites or websites that are less than 6 months old, a good internal linking and regularly posting fresh content is important. These two practices will encourage Google to crawl and index webpages more often.
Besides, one can also login to their Google Search Console (GSC) account and request indexing to Google by submitting URL. One can also live test the URL on GSC. A live test will mostly show one of the three statuses:
- URL is available for crawling
- URL has been crawled but not indexed
- URL has been indexed
It must be noted that manually requesting for indexing does not guarantee that Google will crawl & index your webpage on priority basis. The final decision to crawl & index your webpage rests with Google.
The absence of a sitemap (especially an XML sitemap) does not adversely impact a small website’s visibility on Google or Bing’s SERP. As for HTML sitemap is concerned then their purpose is to enhance the user experience of human visitors. Although having a sitemap is not mandated, I’d like to repeat again it doesn’t hurt to have one. As I’ve mentioned above, with plug-ins one can create sitemaps within few minutes. But all said & done, next time don’t fret out if someone comes and tells you that your website’s ranking is going down because of sitemap issues.