Sitemaps Explained

Ever been to a new place and realized that you are lost just because you do not have a map? That’s exactly what happens when you land up at a very big site searching for something very small (for them). How often you would have wondered that it would have been a great idea if they could just give you a place which provided a list of all the pages that they had on the site! This is the Site Map for you.

What Is a Sitemap After All?

Technically, sitemap is a map of the site which can provide the visitor a clear cut layout of the pages as they exist on the site. Traditionally, the layout is linked to the relevant pages and the visitor can click a link to be taken to that page of the site. In this sense, you can say that it acts like a guide for a new visitor by providing the links to the different sections to the website. It will help the visitor in identifying a page that he or she is looking for and can reach to that page simply by clicking the link on the sitemap.

If you are looking for a definition of the sitemap, here is a definition from wikipedia -

A site map (or sitemap) is a list of pages of a web site accessible to crawlers or users. It can be either a document in any form used as a planning tool for web design, or a web page that lists the pages on a web site, typically organized in hierarchical fashion. This helps visitors and search engine bots find pages on the site.

Types of Sitemaps

As is clear from the definition of the Sitemap, as provided by wikipedia, there are two different categories of visitors to any site. The First Category is the Search Engine Bots. And the other category is the set of people who have come to your website looking for something of use to them. You have to satisfy both of these visitors if you want your website to be a success. Because there are two different types of visitors to your website, there are two different types of sitemaps one for each of the category of the visitors.

1. The HTML Sitemap
This is the sitemap for the visitors who are in the second category - the people who are on your site looking for something. Generally, it is a normal HTML page where the pages are listed in a hierarchical fashion and all the pages are linked to the respective page URLs. This helps in page navigation. 
You can also employ CSS to make this page good looking. If you are good at JavaScript, you can also add some creativity and effects. Note that the better you convey the messages on this page, the better it gets for people visiting your site.

2. The XML SitemapThis is the sitemap that is meant specifically for the Machines and Programs (known as Bots, spiders) that are sent by a search engine to index your website. Google introduced Google Sitemaps to allow the webmasters publish lists of links from across their sites. The basic premise is that some sites have a large number of dynamic pages that are only available through the use of forms and user entries. The Sitemap files can then be used to indicate to a web crawler how such pages can be found.

Now you would be wondering - if that is the case, do I need different Sitemaps for all the search engines or, are the other formats and specs that I have to follow while creating a sitemap for Google different for those created for Other Search Engines? The good news is that Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask now jointly support the Sitemaps protocol. This means that if you have successfully submitted your XML sitemap to any of these search engines, it means that the other major players will accept the same one too and you need not bother about creating a separate XML sitemap for the major players.

Advantages of a Sitemap

1. Satisfied Visitors
A site map's main benefit is to give users an overview of the site's areas in a single glance. You will not have any visitor who would say that the site is not providing great facilities and searching for some information on the site is easy. This means that the people visiting your site would be more than satisfied. They will be able to reach the pages they would have otherwise hunted for quite easily.

2. Flash Websites
Initially, the websites that were completely based on flash and other non-html content were mostly ignored by the Search Engines as they could not understand anything non-html. Now the search engine bots can identify the different pages on the flash website in case you have placed a correct XML Sitemap for them.

Important Tips for HTML Sitemaps

1. Start from the topmost level
Say for instance, you have Services page and from there you have a page on Application Development and Website Design. Arrange the hierarchy and display it as
        -Application Development
        -Website Design

2. Make the Sitemap Eye-pleasing
    You have a wide range of colors and fonts to select from. Use your creativity and imagination to create a page that is eye-pleasing and soothing for the Visitor. Keep in mind that this to make the navigation easy. If the visitor can locate the page (s)he is interested in, you will not lose 
a visitor.

3. Ensure No Broken Links on the Sitemap
Make sure that your site map will provide also the links to the important pages in your web site. Remember the main use of the sitemap that you are creating is to help visitors navigate. So cross-check that you have put all the links correctly and none of the links is missing.

4. Link It Up
Display a link to the sitemap on each and very page of your website (if possible). If that is not possible, at least ensure that the home page does have a link on it. You can keep two links for the sitemap on the homepage - one at the top and the other at the bottom.

How to Create XML Sitemaps
To create XML sitemaps there are different places on the web. You can do a google search for them. However, I, prefer using the XML-sitemaps to create my XML Sitemaps. They are really easy to use. All you have to do is follow the following Four Steps and you are ready with the XML sitemap for your site -

1. Enter the URL and fill out  some optional parameters that they need. For most cases, the default ones are fine. Use the Home Page URL for best results.

2. Click 'Start' button and wait until the site is completely crawled. This takes a few seconds (depends on how large the site is).
3. It generates a page reporting the missing or broken links, number of pages that were used and some information. If there were no errors, you would be taken to the fourth page.

4. Downlaod the XML File

Once you have downloaded the xml file for the sitemap, all you have to do is to upload it. You will need to upload it to the root folder of your website's folder. Then, as a last step, you would need to submit this xml file to the Search Engine.

Submitting XML Sitemap to Google
To submit your sitemap to Google, log in to your Google's Webmaster Account and upload the sitemap. You are done.


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