SEO best practices – Sitemaps

In this article we will look at the importance of HTML Sitemaps. We also look at the different sitemaps you can create, and how to make use of them.

What is a sitemap?

This is simply a web page that links all the pages in your website together and accessible to search engine crawlers and visitors. The layout in a page is typically hierarchical.

The two most popular formats of sitemaps are XML and HTML.

The importance of a sitemap

They are important for the following reasons

  1. Navigating your website becomes easier for web users because the routes and directions are clear and precise.
  2. Keeping an up to date sitemap on your website is good both for your visitors and for search engines. Every time you make a change to your website, generate and publish the new one.
  3. They are an important way of communication with the search engines.
    A robots.txt you tell search engines which parts of your site to exclude from indexing, but your map will also tell search engines where you want them to go.
  4. In addition to XML and HTML formats there are also other formats that you can use to maximise the use of sitemaps

Types of sitemaps

  1. XML
    XML is a structured document that a user doesn't need to see but they can type in the full URL of the XML document if they wish. These tell the search engines about the pages in your website, their relative importance to each other, and how often they are updated.

    The XML format has replaced the old method of "submitting your website to search engines" via filling out a form on the search engine's submission page. Now you can submit your website directly.  

  2. HTML
    Using a typical web page you can help web users and crawlers find content in your website. This does not need to include each and every subpage.

  3. Images
    This is another XML document and tells search engines all about the images in your website and display them in the images search results. They provide the search engine with additional information regarding the images on your website and help Google discover images it may not find through regular crawling.

    Images are an important element of many websites and search engines can equally benefit from knowing which images you consider important.

  4. Video
    This is another XML document similar to the images format and tells search engines all about the videos embedded in your website and display them in the video search results.

    Using these you can inform Google of the category, title, description, running time, and the intended audience for each video contained in your website. This will help Google know about all the rich video content you have published and so improve the listing of your website on video search results.

    Videos are becoming more common place now more than ever because of the traffic potential they can create when published. Once again search engines can benefit from knowing what videos are important.

  5. News
    This is another XML document that tell search engines about the articles and news that you have in your website and display these in the news results.

    They identify the title and publication date of every article by using genres and access tags. They also specify the type of content contained in the article.

    They are recommended for website that are new, include dynamic content, or have a path that requires clicking several links to reach a news article

  6. Mobile
    This is another XML document. With more web surfing done on mobile it is strongly recommended to use these and to submit them to search engines. These tell search engines about the content accessible on a mobile device.

  7. Text
    In years past a text-format was used to submit your pages to the search engines. However with the support of XML this format is not used for submission anymore. It is still supported.

How to use sitemaps

In order to make use of all these formats you can create them yourself using a web design program such as if you wish to create a HTML sitemap. You should add the HTML version to the footer of all your web pages. When creating XML documents using these programs the process can be very tedious however.

You should first check your website over for broken links. Brokenlinkcheck.com is a highly recommended website that performs accurate checks that is free to use.

For XML sitemaps it is recommended to use a generator program so that the XML formatting is correct and valid and because these are very in depth. There are many online XML generators that will do this. XML-Sitemaps.com is another highly recommended website that is free to use, but limited to 500 pages. You can purchase the tool and index unlimited pages.

Once you have created your sitemaps you follow these steps

  1. Publish your XML files to the route directory of your website. 
  2. Secondly you submit them all search engines.
  1. Await the search engines to crawl your sitemap and display your content in the relevant search pages.
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