Dec 12, 2013 • Jessica Jones
Remember in the nineties when just about every website had a page titled “Sitemap”? This page would be a literal map of the entire site, sometimes in flow-chart format, with links to all of the available pages. Sometimes, with large, sprawling sites, using the sitemap page was the only way to find the content you were looking for.
Now it’s uncommon to find a site with a sitemap page. As web design has evolved, more emphasis is placed on building sites that are more intuitive to navigate, making it unnecessary for your website to come with its own map.
The concept of the sitemap, however, is still an important one, though its functionality has morphed significantly. If a sitemap is being discussed now, it’s unlikely that the sitemap in question is a page meant to help visitors find their way. A modern sitemap - which may also be referred to as an XML sitemap, referring to the format it is written in - wouldn’t look like much at all to a visitor, because it’s not intended for visitors, it’s intended for search engines.
At its core, a sitemap is a list of every individual page on a website. This list is then submitted to search engines to make certain that the search engines are aware of all of those pages. Your site may have fifteen individual pages, and while Google’s crawlers are efficient, why wait and trust that they’ll get all fifteen of those pages properly indexed when you can instead send them a list of exactly what you want them to look for?
While Google does not guarantee that submitting a sitemap will result in every single one of those pages being crawled, it is a practice that they recommend. Even if they do not crawl every individual page the sitemap still gives them concrete information about your site’s structure and content, and that alone can benefit your SEO.
If your site is new or relatively obscure you stand to benefit even more - Google gets its information by following links from site to site and if your site does not yet have many links leading to it from other websites it may take Google some time to discover it. Simply put, submitting a sitemap makes sure that Google knows that you exist.
So once you’ve decided that a sitemap is a good idea, how do you create and submit one? Like many things web related you can get as in-depth with a sitemap as you want. A sitemap can contain a great deal of detail, providing data on every image or video on your site, how often the content is likely to change, which of your pages you think deserves the most priority, etc.
That much detail, though, isn’t necessary for you to benefit from a sitemap, and there are many options - such as xml-sitemaps.com - available to help you generate a basic sitemap for free. If you have a WordPress site you can use the plugin Google XML Sitemaps, which - despite the title - will generate a sitemap that you can submit to any search engine that accepts them, not just Google.
Once your sitemap has been generated you’ll want to submit it, most importantly to the two largest search engines, both of which have free toolkits for webmasters: Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. Once you’ve submitted your sitemap to these toolkits those search engines will not only be aware of your site but will track useful statistics for you as well, providing you with information about site traffic, traffic you gain from searches, possible errors on your site and much more.
There’s no downside to creating and submitting a sitemap, and the SEO benefits will make it worth your time! The resources linked here are only the tip of the iceberg as far as free tools and how-to pages about sitemaps. There’s abundant help out there for you, no matter what platform your website is built on.
Of course, if you are a Slamdot customer and you’re not a big fan of the DIY aspect of DIY SEO you can always email us to get a quote for setting up and submitting a sitemap for you - or, even better, check out our search package which includes sitemap generation and submission as well as many other tweaks and tuneups to help boost your SEO!