What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is a list of all of the urls that make up your website. It is essentially a breakdown of your entire site from top level pages all the way down. A sitemap includes information about each URL such as the date it was last updated, how frequently it changes, and how important it is. Sitemaps are usually in XML format, but you can also create them or submit them in other formats.
The Importance of a Good Sitemap
A sitemap is often considered redundant in the process of building a website, and that is indeed the fact if you made a sitemap for the sake of having one. By highlighting the importance of having a well constructed sitemap, you will be able to tailor your own sitemap to suit your own needs. There are several benefits to having a well built sitemap. If you harness the power of your sitemap, you can make your site more appealing and easier for your visitors to use and navigate.
1) Using a Sitemap for Navigation purposes
A sitemap literally acts as a map of your site. If your visitors browses your site and gets lost between tons of pages on your site, they can always refer to your sitemap to see where they are, and navigate through your pages with the ease. The truth is, many websites place their sitemap in the footer of their site. This is great practice, if applicable for your site, because if visitors get lost, they can look in the footer and find their way via the sitemap. Some designers tend to bury the sitemap within the site, which is a bad practice. you always want to make it available. If there are pages that you don’t want people to access, leave them off of your site. Avoid sitemap generators and build it yourself, so you can decide what goes in there and what needs to be left off.
2) Sitemap – Conveying Your Site’s Theme
This is a good idea, because there are a lot of what I call “skimmers”. These are the visitors that will hop on your site, take a few seconds to see if they can quickly find the answer to what they’re looking for, and quickly leave. this increases your bounce rate. However, if your sitemap is readily accessible, they can skim it, and they might find something that piques their interest. The whole point of your site is to provide the information that a visitor is looking for, as quickly and easily as possible. Your sitemap can and will cater to people who are impatient and lazy. Attention spans are decreasing at an alarming rate, but having a well organized, easily accessible sitemap can combat this.
3) Sitemaps are Great for Site Optimization
Search engines love sitemaps, because it makes it easier for them to index your site. Submitting one will help you to make sure that every page that you want is indexed by search engines. Sitemaps can be submitted in three different ways.
- Generate an XML sitemap, which can be generated automatically by generators.
- You can submit a text file as your sitemap.
- You can submit an RSS feed as your sitemap.
There are a couple of things that aren’t easily indexed by Google’s robots during their crawl process, such as pages with rich AJAX or images. Even if you place alt tags with your images, a sitemap will still make it easier to get your images indexed. Another reason your site might not be indexed well by Google is because you didn’t interlink your pages together very well. This makes it harder for Google and other search engines to relate each page to the other ones. Your site will appear more relevant if search engines can make the connection between pages easier.
It is important to remember to include a detailed sitemap for each language. If you have a multilingual site, you will need to submit the urls for those as well. Not doing this can lead to parts of your site not being indexed for other languages, costing you visitors and possible revenue.
Specify File Types in Your Sitemaps
Images, video, mobile, and news all have their own namespaces, which you will have to specify in order for every aspect of your site to be indexed properly. This is extremely important for squeezing every ounce of search engine power out of your website. Some people do searches via just Google images. Not including your images in your sitemap could cost you a decent amount of traffic.
Bonus tip: News should be placed in its own sitemap, because it will be indexed much more frequently by Google and other search engines.
4) Sitemap – Organization and relevance
If you have a large site, where you are frequently adding new content, a sitemap will help you keep everything organized. If you have tons of content, you can use your own sitemap to see where to add new content. You get a bird’s eye view of the most relevant place to put your new content so that it closely relates to other pages. Being able to see your entire site in a road map style view helps you to build a site that is super easy to navigate and just makes sense. How many times have you been on a website where you found content and wondered “Why did they put this here? It’d make more sense to be under a different menu.” Anything you can do to make your visitor’s experience easier will only benefit you. This is especially true for an e-commerce website. What if your visitors aren’t looking in the right category for the products they want? You could end up losing a lot of revenue, just because no one can find what they need.
Submitting your sitemap is fairly easy, depending on the method that you choose. Sign up for a Google Webmaster Tools account and there will be a section under sitemaps where you can upload a sitemap. You can also submit an RSS feed as your sitemap. It is wise to upload and text your sitemap, just to make sure there aren’t any errors. This is especially true if you’ve created it yourself. Webmaster Tools is great for this, because you can look at a general report, which tells you some very important information. You’ll see a tally of all of the urls that are indexed via your sitemap, as well as how many images, videos and pages were submitted and indexed. This will tell you how much is indexed, and if anything is missing. This is great because it will allow you to go back and fix missing items or pages that aren’t indexing properly.
There is no limit to how many times you can submit your sitemap, so if you are receiving errors, you’ll have all the time you need to go back and fix any errors. it may take a few days for Google or other search engines to index your sitemap, so be patient and let them do their job.
One of the top sitemap generating websites, Xml-Sitemaps.com will take the url you specify and generate the sitemap automatically for you. Not only is this great for indexing your site, but it can help you find broken links as well. That is especially handy because you don’t want any broken links on your website.
Online XML Sitemap Generator is another generator found online. Able to analyze your site just by submitting your url, they will generate an automatic XML sitemap for your website. They can process a massive amount of pages for free. It recognizes a few other variables as well, such as cookies and redirects.
Sitemaps are a vital part of any website. If you want your pages found and indexed by search engines, you have to have a sitemap. Remember to include the proper formats for different file types. If you don’t want to create your own sitemap by hand, then you can use the sitemap generators that I mentioned above. How often to you update your sitemap? Do you have any tips for creating a quality sitemap? If you want even more in-depth information, visit Google or www.sitemaps.org. The more you know, the better, because every little thing that you can do to improve how your site is indexed could make it that much easier for search engines to index your site.