6 steps to creating a search-engine site map

If you have a web site but it’s nowhere to be found on Google, you can easily improve your rankings by submitting a site map.  A site map is a listing of the pages within your site. In addition to telling the search engine what pages are within your site, you can also send instructions to the search engine — such as hide pages or prioritize pages.

There are software applications to automate the creation of site maps but the purpose of this whitepaper is to show you how to create a site map for your HTML site for free.

1. Create a list of all of the pages in your site.

Since a site map is a list of all of the pages within your site, you need to first generate a list. Depending upon the size of your site, this could be a very big project or an easy task. Assuming that you have a few dozen or less pages, and that you have access to your file list, you can make your own list of articles and pages. (If your HTML site has more than 50 or so pages, I recommend the Google Sitemap Automator from RAGE Software.)

Log in as the administrator of your site using an FTP software or using the file-manager software that your hosting company provides (as I have shown below).

Figure 1 When you access your site using an FTP software or the file manager application provided by your hosting company, you can get a view of every page of your site. This makes it easy to create a list to be used at a site map. Don’t forget to look inside folders for other nested folders or files. If you don’t want a page to be returned in search results, don’t include it in the list.

Your view may be different, but look for the similarities.

If I were to make a list of files for this site, it would look something like this:

https://www.cshaffstall.com/articles.html

https://www.cshaffstall.com/books.html

You may use any word processor to create your list, but do not bother to format it. All formatting will be lost when you save the file as a plain text file.

If you have folders in your site directory, you might have an entry that looks like this:

https://www.cshaffstall.com/resources/new-story.html

You might have lots of nested folders, and in that case, separate the folder and file names with slashes as I have done in the example above.

Here are more guidelines for an effective site-map list:

  • Do not put more than one URL on a line.
  • When you save the file, save it as a plain- or simple-text file in UTF-8 encoding. Generally this is an option during the save process.
  • Do not include any information other than a list of URLs.
  • Save the file with a .txt file extension.
  • Name the file something descriptive, such as c-shaffstall-sitemap.txt.

Use the file manager software provided by your site-hosting vendor and upload the file to the root directory of your site (generally this is wwwroot, public_html, or something similar).

2. Create a Google Webmaster account.

Now that you have a site map, you need to tell Google about it. Google has a host of tools for the webmaster and most of them are free. Start by creating a Google Webmaster account.

Figure 2 Google provides a host of tools for improving and monitoring the performance of your site. Create a Google Webmaster account and add tools to this account as you develop a need.

Once you have created and acknowledged the account using the email Google will send you, add your site to your management dashboard. Click the add a site button and type your URL into the modal dialogue box that appears. Click continue.

Figure 3 Once you have your account set up, click the add a site button and type your URL in the field that pops up. Click continue.

You may add as many sites as you choose, but each site must be verified.  This step is to ensure that you are not monitoring or changing the settings of a site that does not belong to you. The verification process requires that you have administrative access to the site, either personally or through a webmaster.

There are three methods of verification available to you. I generally choose the either the first or the second method, because they’re both very easy to do. In both cases, however, you will need to upload or modify pages within your site. If this worries you, phone your webmaster and ask for help. It is possible to damage your site and without a recent backup, you risk creating a lot of unnecessary work for lots of colleagues.

Meta tag. You or your webmaster should copy and paste the text provided into the head section of the source code of your home page.

Upload an HTML file. Click the link provided to download the HTML verification file and upload it to your site. If you do not personally have access, email this file to your webmaster and ask that [s]he post it to the root directory of your site.

Figure 4 In order to add your site, you must verify that you have administrative access.

Once the source code has been modified or the page uploaded, click the verify button to have Google check for the file and verify that you have administrative access that enabled you to either modify the source code or upload a file. If you were successful, Google will display the dashboard with your site listed.

3. Benchmark your current positioning.

In order to appreciate the improvements, you have to know where you are now. The best way I’ve found to monitor traffic is to use the Google Analytics tool. You created a Google account in step two, so you can just add this new option to that account.

Log in to Google Analytics using the account settings that you created for your webmaster account and then click the button sign up for Google analytics.

Figure 5 A Google Analytics account will provide you a graphical respresenation of your visitors’ behavior.

Complete the forms within the next two dialogue boxes and click to accept the terms of agreement (after reading and concurring, of course).

After you have accepted the terms, you will receive your unique Google Analytics code. Copy and paste this code into the source before the </head> command of every page that you wish to track. If you are not familiar with HTML code, I strongly recommend that you send this code to your webmaster and instruct that person to place the code before the </head> code of each page you wish to track or, better yet, of the template for your site.

 

Figure 6 The code that Google provides you is unique to just one site. Do not put the code in more than one site or it will skew your data.

Click save and finish when you are done. If you’re not ready to do this right at this moment, don’t worry. You can get the code whenever you need it.

From the radio buttons, choose the type of site. Typically you will have a single domain, but in some cases (such as with Convert-a-Book’s site shown on the next page), you will have subdomains and a domain. (Convert-a-Book uses a subdomain for their shopping cart. They chose domain and subdomains because they need to monitor the traffic of their store as well.)

Click the finish button to add your site to the dashboard. Notice the warning icon in the status column that indicates Google has not yet verified this site. This may take a couple of days, so be patient.

 

Figure 7 With the site added you will need to wait until Google has added your site. When it’s ready, the status warning symbol will be removed.

When your site is finally recognized by Google, analytics will tell you a lot about who is visiting, from where they are coming, where they are going within your site, how long they spend on each page, and much, much more. The help files here are a really great resource. I use them often to stay on top of changes and learn how to get even more benefit from this information.

4. Submit your site map.

In most cases, I do not to actually submit my site map until I have one week’s worth of data showing in my analytics account. That way I can see whether or not the site map has an impact on my site. I have never seen a case where a site map was not helpful in promoting a site, so you should expect to see some positive growth soon after you have completed the submission process.

Return to your webmaster account and click submit a site map in the lower-right corner of the dialogue box, click the button submit a site, and type in the URL of your site map. In my case it would be:

https://www.cshaffstall.com/c-shaffstall-sitemap.txt.

When you have successfully uploaded and navigated to your site map, the dashboard will list the site map.

 

Figure 8 Return to your webmaster account and upload your site map.

5. Monitor your growth.

It’s important to keep a close eye on your site’s growth and to work to improve its performance. There are a number of ways to do this, but one very important effort is the continual and consistent posting of content that links to current content. I recommend blogs to all of my clients because the very nature of a blog is to enable easy access and control of your site — without trying to connect with your webmaster each time you need a change.

Whether you have a blog or an HTML site, monitor your Google Analytics account very regularly. Once a day is not too often, however, if I have sent a direct-mail campaign with links to targeted landing pages, I might check my progress many times throughout the day. Doing so will alert me early if a problem exists, such as a broken link.

6. Create a user-friendly site-map page.

Site maps are great behind the scenes but they’re just an effective when they take center stage. Here are two examples of site maps for the Winning at Web Marketing site. The first, a graphical representation that makes finding the page within the site interesting and engaging.

 

Below is the actual text site map of the same site. This site is a blog site, so I used a free WordPress plugin, Table of Contents Creator, to automatically generate this site map.

 

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