Spinning the Web: Sitemaps for Website Builders
By Top 10 Staff
Have you been wondering what a sitemap does for a website, or how to create a sitemap? They are an important part of website optimization, and while not difficult to implement, specific steps are required to create one successfully.
A sitemap's purpose is to allow search engines like Google to crawl a website more effectively. In essence, the sitemap gives search engine indexing mechanisms additional information regarding each URL. For example, it may contain may information regarding its update status and relative importance in comparison to other site URLs. This is especially critical if your website is large or complicated, as the sitemap can serve as a sort of interactive table of contents for search engines and other users. By giving search engines detailed information regarding each URL of your site, you allow them to more accurately account for all the searchable contents on your website, thus helping drive traffic and increase ease of use.
Sitemaps consist of XML files comprising a series of values that define characteristics of the URL in question. For example, this sitemap describes the homepage URL of mywebsite.com:
The values in the above sitemap tell us:
- The URL being described. In this case, the URL is “http://www.mywebsite.com.”
- The date that the URL was last modified. In this case, 2015-08-13 was the last time the URL was modified. Dates must be formatted in the W3C's datetime format.
- How frequently the URL's content changes. This can be more easily thought of as a URL's "freshness." In this case, the homepage at the URL “http://www.mywebsite.com” changes every day, so search engines know to check back for new content at least daily. Valid values for change frequency are: always, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or never.
Using the value of "always" means that the website's contents change every time they are requested, whereas "never" is used with archived URLs.
This lets you know how important each URL is in relation to the others on your website. Values can range from 0.0 to 1.0, with 1.0 being the highest priority. Remember, this value only describes the priority of your website's pages in relation to each other, not with other websites. Many webmasters mistakenly believe that setting all of their URLs to a value of "1.0" will give their websites a higher search ranking. A comprehensive definition and specification of the sitemap protocol–including sample files you can use to craft your own sitemap by hand--is available at sitemap.org.
How to Make a Sitemap
Sitemaps can be built by hand using a text editor such as Notepad or TextEdit, as they are just plain-text XML files. However, a plethora of sitemap generators exist to simplify the creation of sitemap. Often these sitemap builders feature extra bells and whistles that help to simplify webmaster and SEO tasks. For example, DynoMapper is a visual sitemap generator that integrates with Google Analytics for tracking website statistics. It will also check your website for broken links and allow for collaboration capabilities between team members. Slickplan is another option for visually creating sitemaps with a drag-and-drop interface, and can integrate directly with WordPress, a popular content management system (CMS),for automatic sitemap creation. Additionally, many Web hosting providers also offer their own sitemap builders integrated into their cPanel administration consoles.
Sitemap Placement and Submission
Sitemaps should be placed in the root folder of your website. For example, in the case of mywebsite.com, the sitemap file should exist at “http://www.mywebsite.com/sitemap.xml.” Also, the sitemap must exist on the same host as the URLs referenced inside of it. Subsequently, using the example above, the sitemap cannot include URLs from “http://subdomain.mywebsite.com.” This goes for folders as well, so a sitemap located at
“http://www.mywebsite.com/folder/sitemap.xml” cannot include URLs from “http://www.mywebsite.com.”
After placing the sitemap in the appropriate location on your website, you will need to submit it to search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. We'll use Google as an example, as they are the predominant search engine on the market. After signing up for Google Webmaster Tools, you will need to first verify your site with Google. Once Google has successfully verified your website, you will need to then add and test the sitemap using Google's interface.
Sitemaps help you give your website better visibility with search engines by creating a virtual table of contents for your site. Like a physical tour map helps to guide you to specific locations of interest in the real world, a sitemap gives directions and descriptions of the places on your website a search engine crawler should visit. And in addition to being helpful to search indexing spiders, sitemaps are also useful tools for visualizing and organizing your website. Because they are human-readable XML files, they can be opened directly in a browser or normal text editor. Many sitemap builders exist to aid in the creation of sitemaps. Alternatively, many leading website hosting platforms offer sitemap builders with their hosting plans.
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