If you run and manage your own website or blog, chances are you probably already know what a sitemap is. And what it looks like.
But do you know exactly what it’s for?
A sitemap is essentially a list of your website’s pages – often organized in hierarchical order, showing how each of these pages are linked or related. It can be in the form of a document, or an actual web page, with a general top-down view of the overall contents of your website – much like, say, a “table of contents” would list and describe the pages of a book. A sitemap will typically also identify the URLs of each web page, and the data under each section, so that arriving at any one of your website’s pages is just a click away.
Okay, that’s cool and all, but why do you need to create your own sitemap? How will it affect your website content, if it’s nothing more than a hyperlinked list of your website’s contents?
Sitemaps are a navigational tool for human readers. Having your own sitemap will make it easier for your visitors to find the information they’re looking for – without having to navigate through every other page or click every other link. Otherwise, they won’t stick around, and will just close their web browser or move on to another site.
Sitemaps are a navigational tool for robots. Or, as they’re more appropriately called, the search engine spiders. Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and other search engines use sitemaps to index websites and pages – all towards the goal of delivering better, more accurate, more updated searches to users. When you create a sitemap and submit it to search engines, you are then allowing these spiders to find and index your pages faster than if you merely waited for them to locate new or updated pages.
Sitemaps help you push new content to search engines and users. A search engine like Google will have like billions and billions of pages to index, right? Well, make it easier for you to get found by creating a sitemap, so that every new page in your site is returned in search queries. This doesn’t exactly give you a high search listing, but at least you’re actively pushing new content instead of having it pulled or possibly left out by search engines.
Sitemaps help you manage internal links. There will come a time when your website or blog has grown in such a way that you’re unable to keep track of all the internal links that you’ve scattered across the pages. Do you have broken internal links that lead to non-existent pages? Are you aware of orphaned pages that cannot be reached except by entering the URL directly at the web browser’s address bar? With a sitemap, you’ll be better equipped to find – and manage – these site navigation problems.
Sitemaps are a great way to organize your website. And isn’t organization a good thing? Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver would think so.
Generating your own HTML or XML sitemap is easier than ever, thanks to a number of free online tools / site map generators that you’ll find on the Web. (An XML sitemap is basically a sitemap based on a specific protocol or coding language that enables search engine crawlers find, analyze, and index your site more easily. They’re also great for making searchable sites out of those built in Flash or some other non-HTML language.) Whichever generator you use, make sure you keep some of these best practices in mind:
- Keep your links clean and use plain text.
- Add a link to your sitemap on your home page. (Just like we did!)
- Use the exact titles of your web pages as the anchor text of the links listed in your sitemap.
- Use categories, list levels, or traditional bulleting to organize the links in your sitemap and make your website easier to navigate.
To submit your sitemaps to the Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, just follow these steps:
- Visit Google Webmaster Tools, sign in using your Google account, add your website, and add your sitemap.
- Go to Yahoo! Site Explorer, add your website, and submit the full URL of your sitemap.
- To submit your sitemap to Bing, just copy and paste the URL below as a single URL into your browser’s address bar: http://www.bing.com/webmaster/ping.aspx?sitemap=www.YourWebAddress.com/sitemap.xml. Make sure you change “www.YourWebAddress.com” to your domain name before pressing Enter.