Creating HTML and XML site maps for your website might be the easiest thing you can do to improve your exposure on the web. For those of you who pay close attention to the search engine optimization (SEO) of your site, this could be the one thing that gets you onto the first page of Google's results. For those who don't devote too much time on the SEO of their site - this is a good place to start. By submitting a site map to various search engines, you are telling them that you exist and what pages your site has to offer the World Wide Web.
There are two types of site maps, HTML and XML. An HTML site map provides a useful directory of all the pages that are in your site while XML site maps play an important role in helping search engines “crawl” the various pages of your site. This tutorial discusses the benefit of creating both an HTML sitemap and XML sitemap.
An HTML site map is a single HTML page that contains links to all the pages of your website. Normally, this is accessible via a link in your site footer, where it will be displayed on every page. With large sites, it is easy to get lost and struggle to find the page you are looking for. With a well organized HTML site map, your site visitors will be able to use this to easily find the page they are looking for.
From an SEO perspective, as the search engine's robot (or spider) crawls your site indexing pages, it may find some pages on your site easier using this site map, rather than through the general navigation. Therefore, site maps can benefit your site visitors and even play a role in enhancing your exposure on the web.
Take a look at WebAssist's sitemap to get an idea of what an HTML site map looks like. Notice that each page on the WebAssist website contains a link to this page in the footer.
HTML site maps are designed to benefit your human site visitors; however XML site maps are created specifically for the search engines. All of the most popular search engines including Google, Yahoo and Ask.com utilize XML site maps as part of their process for indexing the pages of a website. A good XML site map will tell the search engine what pages are in your site, how often those pages are updated, and when they were last modified. This way, the search engines know which pages to revisit more regularly and are likely to do a better job of indexing them.
Here's an example of the XML you might include in your XML sitemap:
Notice that for the index.htm page of this website, we have provided details regarding the last modified date (<lastmod>), the frequency that this page is updated (<changefreq>), and the priority of this page in relation to the other pages of our site (<priority>). By providing this information as accurately as possible to the search engine, they will be better equipped to index your site, and give the correct pages the appropriate attention.
Creating HTML sitemaps is as easy as creating a basic HTML page that contains links to all the pages in your site. However, you need to keep in mind that whenever you create new pages in your site, you will want to add those links on the sitemap as well.
Creating XML sitemaps manually can be quite a time consuming process. However, there are many great sitemap generators out there to help you automate this. If you Google “sitemap generator” you will find that there are a number of free and paid sitemap tools that you can use.
How often should I submit my sitemap?
You should be in the habit of submitting a sitemap to search engines a number of times a year. This allows you to update the search engine on any new pages in your site. If you create new pages on a regular basis, you may want to submit your sitemap more frequently.
Both HTML site maps and XML site maps are a good step in the right direction to improve your website’s exposure. You will most likely find your search engine rankings climb after submitting a site map for the first time. However, keep in mind that this is only one part of search engine optimization, and there is a lot more you can do to improve how search engines rank the pages in your site, and your website’s discoverability.
To gain a greater understanding of what more you can do to improve your website’s SEO, take a look at our tutorial on the basics of SEO. This interactive training will guide you through understanding how a search engine works, and how you can create keyword-rich content for your website.
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