Sitemaps are an important, but often overlooked, aspect of website design. There is a tendency to consider them unnecessary, and certainly for some sites they are far more useful than for others.
However, there is strong evidence that a sitemap plays an essential part of your Internet marketing strategy.
Why are sitemaps important?
- Google, Bing, Yahoo and the other search engines have agreed to comply with a common sitemap protocol that they all use for the indexing of web pages using the sitemap
- The sitemap provides keyword rich links to every page on your site, thus contributing to your search engine optimisation efforts
- There are a number of human visitors to your site that would use the sitemap to get a flavour of the content on your site
- A sitemap can add real value in terms of accessibility of your website
- And there are advanced techniques that can improve your SEO if you have a database driven or Flash heavy website.
What does a sitemap look like?
The first type of Sitemap you need to consider is the HTML Sitemap. You’ll have seen a link to one of these on many of the websites you visit. It’s usually found in the footer, often just a tiny little link, but it’s there all the same.
What this Sitemap does is give your visitors an overview of the structure of your website, showing how the pages link together. It acts as a guide to your content, and it’s particularly useful if not all your content can be reached quickly through your main navigation (tut tut!).
The second type of Sitemap you should have is an XML Sitemap. If you look at one of these, it’ll either be a list of your pages’ URLs, or a lot of code, but this Sitemap is very important in SEO because it is this which helps search engines crawl and index your content. Which is exactly what you want them to do.
Your web designer can add a style to your XML sitemap which makes it a bit easier to review and interpret:
How to create an XML Sitemap
You can generate an XML Sitemap (for websites with 500 pages or less) quite easily at XML-Sitemaps.com. Simply copy and paste your website’s URL (minus the http://) into the “Starting URL” box, fill out (or don’t) some other, optional fields, and hit “Start”.
The site will generate your XML Sitemap in minutes. Save the files it generates, renaming them as required. One of these should be an XML file that generates as “Sitemap”. You can either upload this to your website yourself, or ask your web developer do it for you.
Once this is done, and if you have it set up, you can upload your XML Sitemap to Google’s Webmaster Tools. This will ensure that Google knows about your content. You’ll need to have verified ownership of your site first. Scroll to the bottom of the page to the section marked “Sitemaps”. Click on the “Submit Sitemap” button, and voila! Your content is now open to Google’s bots. It should be indexed in a few hours.
So, you can see why it is important to have at least an XML Sitemap in place. If you don’t you could miss out on having valuable content indexed by the search engjnes. If it’s not indexed, it can’t rank. And if you’ve gone to the trouble of creating this content, you really want it to rank.