You may have seen a link to a sitemap at the bottom of a website and wondered what it was. This type of site map is designed for website users. It shows a hierarchical map of the websites layout enabling site visitors to see where each of the pages on the site is located. They can be useful, but as not all websites have them, and those that do aren't well publicised most internet users don't know they exist.
When you hear references to sitemaps in relation to the search engines it is generally the coded type that is being referred to. They are designed to be ready by the search engines and are produced entirely in a form of code know as XML. Much like the sitemap just described, it provides the search engine with information on the structure of the website. It tells them how the pages are linked and shows the priority of the pages in relation to each other. It can also contain important information such as how often the page is updated and should be searched.
Although it is difficult to be read by the human eye it is exactly what the search engines need to see to be able to easily list your website in the search results. The difficulty is search engines don't understand websites, they only see webpages. So without a sitemap the search engines have to try to work out the layout of your website and the order and priority of your pages. By leaving it to chance the result could be your site is crawled less and links to pages could be missed.
How are sitemaps written?
A site map is written in a code format called XML, it is recognised by all the main search engines and is the preferred format for all site maps. Before XML sitemaps were first developed you would have to manually submit your site to the search engines by filling out a form. But with a sitemap this is no longer necessary as it is automatically attached to the code of your website making it easily found. However the term “Submitting your site” is still used as you can still submit the site to be crawled more often.
When website designers create a website they generally create a sitemap at the same time and attach it to the site. You can also get sitemap creators that will build the sitemap for you. Some website builders have an automatic sitemap builder embedded into their system. That way every time you create or delete a page the sitemap is automatically updated.
Are sitemaps essential?
For some types of website if you don't have a sitemap then the search engines will only be able to list your home page and not the rest of the website. If your website is built in a format called Flash, then the search engines will not be able to read the content of your pages. This is because at the moment search engines cannot see anything created in Flash. Therefore any links and pages created in this format would not be found by the search engines.
You may wonder in which case why Flash is used at all? Flash is responsible for most of the clever graphics, animation and games that are now common place on websites. Many website builders create websites in Flash because they are easy to use and visually pleasing. However the downside is that are difficult to list in search engine results and almost impossible without a sitemap.
Ensuring your site has a sitemap
When obtaining quotes to have a website build or updated ensure that the designers are going to include a XML sitemap. Some website designers and many of the website builders use a system that automatically generates sitemaps. These are in some respects preferred as the map will be updated every time your site is altered without it having to be manually amended.