What Are Sitemaps?

Assume you have a book containing over 500 topics. The easiest way to find the location of a particular topic is to look to the index page.

If you apply the same theory to a website, you would want to look at the index of a website. But where is this located? This is what’s called a sitemap. Sitemaps are not just lists of all the URL’s (web pages) hosted on a search engine accessible server, but also provides key information to search engines when they crawl your website. On a website, there are generally two versions of a sitemap. One is a HTML version for users like you or I to view and an XML version for search engines to crawl.

Why Use Sitemaps?

From an SEO point-of-view, sitemaps are an important aspect to ensuring your website is crawled in the way you want it to be. It is simply a guide or “recipe” for search engines to read. As a webmaster you can manipulate your sitemap to display the “recipe” you want search engines to see, resulting in the perfect meal. Whereas HTML sitemaps are a visual representation of the XML sitemap, provided for website visitors. An XML version is targeted solely for search engines.

Sitemaps

In XML sitemaps there are attributes specifying key information:

  • <loc> Location of the page (URL)
  • <lastmod> Date and time stamp of a URL’s latest modification
  • <changefreq> Rate at which changes are made to the URL
  • <priority> Importance of the URL over other URL’s on the same domain

The hard work now is to manage an XML file containing all URL’s to be crawled by the search engines. Adding URL’s manually for 10 to 15 pages is not a lengthy task, but a large website with over 100 URL’s can be time consuming.

To minimise the effort and save time, dynamic sitemaps request information from databases, to then automatically create, index and update changes made to the all URL’s. Sitemaps which are not dynamically created, completely rely on the webmaster to manually add the URL’s these are called static sitemaps .

How to Create Sitemaps

The easiest way of creating a sitemap for a website is by writing the sitemap script in a notepad document and saving it as an XML file and uploading it into the root directory of your web server. Other options include using sitemap generators which are available online such as Google’s sitemap generator .

Also note that text format and RSS feeds can be used as sitemaps. However, it is always recommended to implement dynamic sitemaps. Most of which are written using PHP scripts but any programming language that can adhere to the sitemap.org specification can be used to generate this file.

To further this, it is important to validate and ensure that the sitemap is submitted to search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing via either a HTTP request, their respective webmaster’s tools interface or by listing the complete URL in the robots.txt file. This in turn, will improve the indexing of the website and keep the search engines informed of the latest changes to the website, leading to better understand of your website structure, faster loading time and increasing the overall trust search engines have in your website.

4Ps isn’t just another SEO agency. To discuss how SEO and technology are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction and analytics, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.