Sitemaps help visitors – and search engines – find your website’s hidden treasure

World Map

World map created in 1689 using copper engraving method and hand colored. Image by Caveman Chuck Coker. Creative Commons License.

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.

WordPress – Google XML Sitemaps
Joomla! – Xmap
Drupal – XML sitemap

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.

Google – Webmaster Tools
Yahoo! – Site Explorer
Bing – Webmaster 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.

Google site links example

Google site links example for CatholicTechTalk.com

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.

Bottom line

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tags: , , , ,

Author:Craig Berry

Craig Berry is a Catholic web developer and musician.
Connect with him online.
  • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

    Great article, Craig! I just updated my site with the WordPress plugin — thanks for the suggestion!

  • Lisahendey

    Hooray– I guess being a rookie and admitting it can help others too! Thank you for this helpful information. I will be getting to work asap!

  • Fr. Josh McCarty

    Yep, gotta do it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dbettinelli Domenico Bettinelli

    With all the recent talk about how poorly Catholic sites do with SEO, this is just to easy to implement for us not to do it on every site, particularly those that have a plugin-friendly CMS like WordPress.

  • http://twitter.com/tjboudreaux Travis Boudreaux

    It would also be good to point out that video sitemaps are useful as well if they embed videos, or create them as well.  Alot of the data used for embedding videos in organic SERPS comes from video site maps. 

    http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=80472