Creating and Using Sitemaps: The Basics

If you want your website to show up in search engines and your visitors to be more responsive, you should seriously consider adding a simple feature known as a sitemap to your site.  Sitemaps are very easy to set up and can help optimize your site for search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, as well as assist your human visitors who want to find their way around your site and see everything you have to offer at once.


What is a Sitemap?

A sitemap is a file that lists all of the URLs available on your website; in other words, it’s a page on your site that links to every other page.  There are two types of sitemaps: HTML sitemaps and XML or Google sitemaps.  An HTML sitemap allows your human website visitors to see all of your site’s contents at a glance, and an XML or Google sitemap shows search engines the entire structure of your site.  HTML sitemaps should be visible and accessible to anyone who visits your site and are usually linked to on the bottom of every page, whereas only search engines can see and understand XML sitemaps.

Both kinds of sitemaps will help your site get indexed or “added” to listings of search results.  In addition, XML sitemaps help search engines access the deepest pages of your site—that is, pages that they may not have found or would have found much later—as soon as possible, which is a major benefit for brand new sites that will be updated regularly.  In this way, sitemaps can indirectly increase the chance that people will find you when they type relevant keywords into Google and other popular search sites.


Creating Sitemaps

Fortunately, creating sitemaps is a fairly simple process.  HTML sitemaps can theoretically be created by hand, but it would be difficult for you to go through your site just creating links to every single page, wasting time that would be better spent adding value or generating traffic to your site.  The best solution is to find a free program to automatically scan your site and generate a sitemap for you.  Simply use Google or another search engine and type in the words “create an HTML sitemap.”

XML websites are also easy to create.  There are many free browser-based and downloadable programs that can automatically generate XML sitemaps for you.  In this case, simply search the words “create an XML sitemap.”

Alternatively, if you’re using WordPress to build your site, there are many plugins available that can generate both HTML and XML sitemaps for you.  These plugins can be found through simple searches on the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Once you create your sitemaps, upload them to the root folder of your website.  It’s also wise to link to your HTML sitemap on most, if not all, pages of your websites to allow easy access.  If you’re using a WordPress plugin, one or both of these steps may be taken care of for you.

Webmaster Tools

As soon as you create your XML sitemap, you should submit it to search engines.  A good way for you to start is to use a resource called Google Webmaster Tools.  From here you can immediately alert Google about your XML sitemap and get Google’s “spiders” to crawl your site.  Bing has a similar set of webmaster tools that you can use to submit your XML sitemaps.

Normally, it’s only necessary to submit your XML sitemap once; you can often count on the search engine to keep returning and looking for fresh content.  Search engines will pick up on the regular changes and updates you make.  If you make major changes to the structure of your site, however, it may be prudent to create brand new sitemaps and revisit webmaster tools to make a new submission.

All in all, sitemaps are easy to generate, easy to submit to search engines, and can definitely improve your site’s performance.  Considering the benefits, it’s a no-brainer—create and submit your sitemaps today!