What is a sitemap and why do you need it?

A sitemap displays the structure of your site, its sections, and links between them. It helps users navigate your site easily plus it’s necessary for better SEO rankings. Sitemaps improve SEO of a site by making sure that all the pages can be found – this is particularly important if a site uses Adobe Flash or JavaScript menus that do not include HTML links.

Moreover, whenever your site gets updated, your sitemap notifies search engines about it. There are two types of audiences a sitemap is useful too – site visitors and web spiders, and there are also two types of sitemaps: HTML and XML sitemaps.

HTML sitemap is for visitors – it helps find information on the page, and it’s usually located in the website’s footer.
XML sitemap is for web crawlers – it tells them which parts of the site should be indexed as well as the hierarchy and priority of the site content. The instructions to the sitemap are provided in robots.txt file.

Creating a sitemap and submitting it to Google

Getting a sitemap for your site is simple. You can do it in three steps: generate a sitemap, upload it to your site and notify Google about it. There are two ways to generate a sitemap – either download and install a sitemap generator or use an online sitemap generation tool. There are a lot of options available here.
Some of them are free, but they often have a crawl cap on site URLs, so it’s up to you to decide which one to use.

When choosing an XML sitemap generator, pick one that allows reviewing the crawls of URLs and deleting any duplicated URLs, excluded URLs, etc. – you only want to include the pages on the site that you want a search engine to index.

Once you created a sitemap, you need to upload it to your site document root (http://example.com/sitemap.xml) and let Google know about it – this means that you need to add the site to your Google Sitemaps account.

NOTE: In order to be able to add the sitemap to your account, you need to be the legitimate owner of the site.

Sitemaps: tips and tricks

  • When creating a sitemap, go back and make sure all of your links are correct.
  • All the pages on your sitemap should contain a link back to the sitemap.
  • Most SEO experts say your sitemap should contain 25 to 40 links. Besides, it makes your site more user-friendly and readable.
  • Your sitemap should be linked from your homepage. If linked from other pages, the web crawler might find a dead end and leave.
  • The anchor text (words that are clickable) of each link should contain a keyword whenever possible and should link to the appropriate page.
  • Small sites can place every page on their sitemap, but this is not a good idea for larger sites. You just don’t want search engines to see an endless list of links and assume you are a link farm.

As you see, we’ve provided you with instructions only for the Google search engine. Well, we chose it because it’s the most important one.

There is also Bing, and the procedure is similar to it. At the moment, Yahoo! and MSN does not support sitemaps, or at least not in the XML format used by Google. Yahoo! allows submitting ‘a text file with a list of URLs, and MSN does not offer even that.

That’s it!

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