One of the smaller and more technical tasks involved in owning a website is the sitemap, but how significant is it – really? What does it do and do you really need one?
Here we’re going to discuss whether your website should include a sitemap – or not. Plus the different types of site maps and how they work.
But first, here’s the quick takeaway answer, then we’ll dive into more details.
Should your website have a sitemap? A sitemap is a simple means for search engines to document and catalog your website. Including a sitemap makes this process easier, more efficient and results in search engines having a more accurate view of your site’s plan. For this reason, it is advisable to ensure you have a sitemap in place.
If you’re not sure exactly what a sitemap is then simply put, a sitemap is a list of all the URLs on your site along with some basic information about them, making it easier for search engines to find and document your website – much like the index of a book.
How Do I Know If I Have a Sitemap?
There are some simple ways to check if your website has a sitemap… 1. By adding “sitemap.xml” after your website’s URL and then check whether that file exists or not.2. You can use an FTP login to your website and check for a file with a “.xml” extension.3. Or, you can look for a link that might exist in the bottom corner of the home page of your website labeled, “Site Map”.
So you checked and you have a site map (or not) but so what? What does it do?
What Does a Site Map Do?
Sitemaps help Search Engines – which in turn helps you.
When it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) there’s a lot more in play than merely keyword enrichment. It also includes giving search engines like Google and Bing easier access to all the data they require in order from your site, to locate and navigate through your website and its content.
For this, creating a sitemap is a highly effective and simple strategy. So even though your website does not necessarily “require” a sitemap to get indexed on search engines, it certainly speeds up the process and helps to potentially generate even more organic traffic to your website.
A Basic Introduction to Sitemaps
Using Google or any other search engine for your queries is a no-brainer. But the effort that’s put in by the search engine (on the back end) to sift through billions of websites is astronomical. For this, search engines like Google use a ‘crawler’ software, known as Googlebot.
Googlebots explore the web constantly, moving from one page to another. And while doing so, it records data about the different links it visits and how each of them are related. It can do this often in a matter of milliseconds per site – and it helps if you give them a map to follow.
Then, Google uses this data to generate search results and decides which of the billions of searches per day are most suitable for a particular type of content. Google produces a crawl stat report about every website it visits.
I wouldn’t say it’s essential reading, but for the curious, or those who know how to interpret it, the crawl stats provide information on how often Googlebots visited your website and what they did, here’s an example of what it looks like…
Given the immense popularity of Google and the vitality of general search engine traffic, you need to do everything possible in order to make it easier for the bots to not only locate your site but also navigate through it. That’s where sitemaps come in handy.
A sitemap, also known as an XML sitemap, isn’t really a file that human visitors can view – or would really want to view.
Instead, it’s marked specifically for the eyes of the search engine and includes a list of each and every page that your website has, along with it’s relationships to other pages and other information. This apparently simple file is an immensely valuable tool.
Finding My Website Site Map?
As with most of the websites, the sitemap file is often called sitemap.xml. It is typically found in the root of the website. You will have to open your website and then add “sitemap.xml” and then check whether that file exists or not.
Alternately, use FTP login to your website in order to view all the files for your website, and check for a file with a “.xml” extension.
Finally, you can also look for a link right at the bottom corner of the home page of your website that says, “Site Map”. This would link to an HTML sitemap page, where you’d be able to see all the pages of your website enlisted. Not every website shows this, in fact, most don’t. But if you see it from time to time as you’re surfing websites – then you now know what it is.
Advantages of Using a Sitemap
Technically speaking, you don’t really need a sitemap. Provided the efficiency of Googlebot, along with some other search engine bots like Firefox and Bing, they’ll eventually find and index your website on their own.
The problem, however, is that this does not guarantee that these search engines would be able to see everything about your website that you actually want them to.
A sitemap addresses that concern, by carrying out two principal tasks:1. It comprises of a list of all the pages that are present on your website so that Googlebot is certain to consider and examine everything.2. A sitemap consists of ‘metadata’ – or putting the data regarding each page in its proper context. This information then serves to instruct the bots about the way these pages are arranged and the way they relate to one other, as well as the date they were last updated on and other relevant information.
Sitemaps are necessary in order to ensure that Googlebot explores all the site content that you have to offer and comprehend how it’s all organized. This is why, designing a sitemap for your site is extremely important, and the good news is that creating one isn’t a particularly tough task.
Why Are Sitemaps Needed?
As a result, the bots end up ignoring your website or at least some pages of it., making it very likely that they may not explore all the links to each and every page on your website. So, in order to make things easier for these bots, sitemaps were created.
Types of Sitemaps
There are two basic types of sitemaps, namely XML and HTML.
HTML site maps
There is a type of sitemap present on your website that human visitors can view after all. It comprises of links to all the pages on your website. This is crucial for two main reasons.
First, for the robots/crawlers that are sent by search engines to gather information about your website as discussed above. The HTML sitemap ensures that they get to know where each page of the website lies.
Secondly, HTML sitemaps guide people to locate a page on your site that they are already aware of.
There are a number of different ways people use websites; some go for the navigation, some make use of the site search, while others explore the site map. Some may even use all three of them.
XML site maps
These sitemaps, contrary to the HTML ones, are XML structured documents that are not seen by the people viewing your website. It is in a programming language preferred by the search engine spiders, as it is easier and much more efficient for them to use the XML site map.
How to Create a Sitemap
There are a number of plugins available that will create a sitemap for you, here’s a popular WordPress plugin for generating a sitemap. But there’s also a way of creating one manually. We won’t go into that detail here, but here’s a way in which you can create a site map.
We hope this has been useful in understanding what a sitemap is, how it functions, how to check you have one and resources on how to create one. If you want to accelerate your Affiliate Marketing Revenue via your blog writing, then be sure to check out my superb affiliate marketing resource.