What Is a Sitemap in Web Design?

Posted on February 20, 2023 | Updated on February 20, 2023

Are you wondering what is a sitemap in web design? A sitemap is a file that shows all the main areas of your site users might navigate to. Search engines tap into your sitemap to crawl your pages and figure out what to show users. However, you can also use a sitemap to plan out the hierarchy of your site and make sure you aren’t missing any major touchpoints with potential customers. 

You can choose a visual or XML structure. A visual sitemap in web design helps web developers ensure they aren’t missing any crucial information. An XML sitemap helps search engines index your site. 

Why Does it Matter What Is a Sitemap in Web Design?

The number of sites online changes by the millisecond, however experts estimate there are approximately 1.1 billion sites or so with approximately 5.84 billion web pages. Imagine search engines crawling all those pages all the time and you get an inkling of the massive effort involved in indexing the world wide web.

A sitemap is crucial to ensuring you get some of the organic traffic from search engine queries. Of course, a lot of other factors come into play to decide your site’s ranking in the results, but a good start is at least letting search engines know what pages are available. 

Let’s look at more than just what is a sitemap in web design and talk about how to ensure yours is stellar. 

1. Consider the Structure of Your Site

Before you create a sitemap, think about the overall structure of your pages. What is your navigational hierarchy? If you need to make improvements, do so before you create a sitemap. What is a sitemap in web design if it isn’t well thought out and helpful to users? You can just lay out an XML file of the pages on your site, but if they aren’t planned for how the user moves through your website, users may grow frustrated and bounce away to a competitor.

2. Know Tools for Your Platform

Many sites are set up on a content management system such as WordPress. Depending on the coding for your site, you may be able to download software that automatically creates a sitemap for you. For example, Google XML Sitemaps plugin is meant specifically to create a readable file for Google to crawl and index your site easily. 

If you’re still a little uncertain about what is a sitemap in web design, using a tool to do the heavy lifting may save you a lot of time and frustration. 

3. Exclude Some Pages

Nearly every site has some pages they’d like to exclude from search results. Perhaps you have content that is older. You don’t want to delete it for reference, but you also don’t want to send new site visitors to those outdated areas. 

You can use robots.txt to exclude some areas or specific pages of your site. The coding is fairly simple to tell search engines how to behave and what to index. Some of the language you’ll use includes some minor coding, such as “disallow: /”. 

You can also exclude pages with the noindex command in WordPress. Again, there are plenty of plugins that will do the coding portion of the work for you if you aren’t quick sure what a sitemap in web design is or how to code it for search engines. 

4. Upload Your Sitemap Straight to Search Engines

Once you’ve created your XML sitemap, it’s a good idea to upload it directly in your Google Search Console and also in Bing. You should remove any old or outdated sitemaps at the same time. 

You may want to create multiple sitemaps as different search engines utilize different methods and algorithms to index sites. A good rule of thumb when figuring out what is a sitemap in web design for your site and what is most helpful is to look at where your traffic arrives from.

If 99.9% of your site visitors come via Google searches, you probably won’t want to spend a lot of valuable time creating sitemaps for search engines that send zero traffic your way. 

5. Visual Cues

You should also create an image rendering of your sitemap for your use and that of your online visitors. ears in HTML or PDF format. Refer to it when you need to see your site’s hierarchy. A visual sitemap usually appears in HTML or PDF format. You can refer to it when you need to see where best to add a new page or if everything is in the proper category. 

6. Understand Minimum Requirements

Some rules of thumb to keep in mind when creating an XML sitemap include: 

  • Reference sitemap in robots.txt 
  • UTF-8 encoded 
  • Compressed to .gz format 
  • No larger than 50mb or 50,000 URLs

If you choose a plugin for your content management system, you’ll find it updates your sitemap automatically. You can set it and forget it, just doing spot checks if you notice some pages aren’t ranking the way you’d like. Once you rule out the sitemap as an issue, you can then look at content, keywords and other performance indicators. 

Why Should You Care What Is a Sitemap in Web Design?

Now that you know what is a sitemap in web design, it’s time to create your own. Get yours completed today so you can upload it and start benefiting from your pages being correctly indexed in search engines. 

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About The Author

Cooper Adwin is the Assistant Editor of Designerly Magazine. With several years of experience as a social media manager for a design company, Cooper particularly enjoys focusing on social and design news and topics that help brands create a seamless social media presence. Outside of Designerly, you can find Cooper playing D&D with friends or curled up with his cat and a good book.

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