Back2Basics: Sitemaps

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Sitemaps are often talked about in the online world, but are something many people don’t really know much about. Basically, a sitemap is exactly what it sounds like — a map of a website helping readers navigate through the web pages. What you may not realize is that a sitemap can be extremely beneficial to your company or business in that it also helps search engine crawlers find all the content on your site that they may have otherwise missed, thereby boosting your SEO efforts.

Back2BasicsBy implementing a sitemap into your website, you are alerting search engines — Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Bing all support Sitemaps — about URLs available for crawling, enabling them to crawl the website much more intelligently. Helping the search engine discover your web pages speeds up the indexing process; more importantly, expanding the amount of content you have indexed greatly increases your website’s chances of showing up in more search queries.

So what does a sitemap look like?

From sitemaps.org, here is a sample sitemap in XML format for a site with a single URL:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">

  <url>

    <loc>http://www.example.com/</loc>

    <lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod> <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> <priority>0.8</priority>

 </url>

</urlset>

Why Sitemaps Are Important

When it comes to easy-to-use and effective web design, sitemaps are incredibly important. If planned and laid out properly, they will successfully assist search engines in the discovery of your web content without hassle. Then the bot, or crawler, can easily recognize and retain all the URLs found and immediately save them to be indexed. Now, that doesn’t mean the search engine will index your content right away, but it will speed up the process.

Getting indexed faster is crucial, especially for new websites or recent mass updates. Since bots crawl the web by following links from one page to another, a website that is lacking in links is extremely hard to find. By directly submitting a sitemap to a search engine, you don’t need to rely on external links to bring the search engine to you.

A sitemap can also provide a search engine, like Google, with metadata about the types of content you are displaying on your site. If, for example, you have video, the sitemap can show the running time, subject matter, and category of each video. Whether your content includes video, news, or images, your sitemap can provide indispensable information like licensing rights, and how often your website is updated.

Tools To Help Create Sitemaps

Depending on your technologically-savvy level, there are two ways to build a sitemap — with sitemap generator software or manually. If you’re not a coder, and let’s face it, most of us aren’t, it’s probably best to stick with a generation program or online tool. There are a vast amount of downloadable generators, sitemap plugins, and free online tools to get you started or completely do the work for you. If you used WordPress to develop your site, a great plugin to look at for generating a sitemap for Google is Google XML Sitemaps.

Some tools will also generate a text sitemap for placement on your site itself. Technically, it is a simple page (usually just one page, unless you have an enormous amount of content) that can be in HTML, XML or other parsable text that contains all the URLs of a website. Visually, it is a web page that chronologically lists and provides hyperlinks to every page on your site.

Once you have created your sitemap and uploaded it to your website, you need to notify the search engine about its existence.

Tips And Dangers To Watch Out For

If you’re using Google, notifying them means you first need to have a Google Sitemaps account. So, if you don’t have one, you’ll need to open one and add your website to it; you’ll also be required to verify that you are the legitimate owner of the website.

Sitemaps can inadvertently help with the cleanup of messy internal links. If, for any reason, your website contains broken links or orphaned pages that can’t be reached through a simple click or search, a sitemap will provide the correct URL and path.

The URLs in your Sitemap need to be double checked and verified to reach the intended web page. If you have problems submitting your sitemap, make sure the URLs in it contain your website URL exactly as it appears in your Webmaster Tools account.

Sitemaps are full of enticing information for web crawlers. With the right keywords and hyperlinks, your website can effectively attract the crawlers and increase your business’s relevancy in search results.

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