With meticulous care, you’ve built and organized your website with a logical navigation so visitors can quickly find what they need. That’s great, but don’t forget to add a sitemap. And, it’s not just because you want to make life easier for your visitors – there’s an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) benefit to sitemaps as well.
Sitemaps for visitors
Most people are familiar with public-facing sitemaps. Sometimes, you’ll see a link to them at the top of a page, but more often they’re in the site footer. If it’s a dynamic website, it’s likely that the sitemap will update automatically with links to the new content. On sites with an enormous amount of content and deeply nested categories, they are critically important. Modern website techniques such as site search and drop-down navigation menus have mitigated their necessity, but they are still useful.
Sitemaps for search engines
This is where things get interesting. Search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Ask) love sitemaps. They use them to index your new content when they crawl your website, and it also helps them determine context. The trick is you have to publish a sitemap in an XML format and then submit it to the search engines.
How to build your sitemap for the search engines
First, you need to install a plugin or extension that will create the XML file properly. Here are plugins for the three most-popular Open Source CMS’es.
Then, you need to visit the search engines and use their provided tools to submit your sitemap. NOTE: You will need to submit a full URL to the search engines (e.g. http://CatholicTechTalk.com/sitemap.xml). Here are links to the most common tools.
Another benefit – Site Links
Have you ever wondered how to get search engines to show you results with direct links to important pages like ‘Contact Us’ and ‘About Us’? You guessed it – sitemaps.
It’s worth noting, the sitemap.xml file assists the indexing algorithm to determine context on your site, but there’s no guarantee they’ll create site links. In addition, it takes time for the search engines to begin displaying, so don’t expect results any time soon.
The most important thing to remember is this – build your website logically and think of sitemaps as a ‘helper’ – not just for your website visitors, but also the search engine crawlers. If you keep creating fresh and useful content, the sitemap will be an important piece of your SEO strategy.