(This article was originally published on the Visual Script blog.)
Sitemaps are a crucial aspect of a successful website. First, let’s make it clear what we mean with a sitemap. There are two types of sitemaps: one meant for visitors of your website, and one for search engine spiders.
Sitemaps for Visitors The first type of sitemap is probably very familiar to you. It’s a webpage that shows an overview of all the content on a website. You can see an example here of our own Visual Script sitemap.
This type of sitemap is very useful as it allows your visitors to quickly find what they’re looking for without having to go through your website’s navigation. Especially for large websites it’s recommended to have a well-structured sitemap that is linked from every page on your site, for example in your website’s footer.
Sitemaps for Search Engines The second type of sitemap is a so-called XML sitemap. This type of sitemap is specifically intended for search engines, and it does roughly the same: allowing search engines to find all the content on your website quickly and easily.
Why bother with an XML sitemap then, if it’s the same as a normal sitemap? Because an XML sitemap allows you to include extra information about the content on your site, such as:
when a webpage was last updated
how often a webpage is usually updated
what the priority of a webpage is relative to other pages on your site
what type of content a webage contains (text, video, etc)
An XML sitemap allows a search engine to quickly and efficiently index all the content on your website, making sure your site is fully spidered and all your content is part of a search engine’s index.
Google recommends every site includes an XML sitemap. You can create an XML sitemap yourself manually, or you could have one generated automatically – ask your site’s web developer about it, or look at Google’s sitemap help pages here.
For larger websites it’s recommended to have a sitemap created automatically, so that whenever you create a new page or update an existing page your sitemap is automatically updated as well.
You can tell Google you have a sitemap by submitting it manually in Google’s Webmaster Tools, or you can include a sitemap reference in your robots.txt file. The second option is always recommended as this way other search engines such as Bing can also find your sitemap.
Need help with sitemaps or other aspects of your website? Get in touch with us at Visual Script, an experienced Northern Ireland Web Design company that can help you with all aspects of your online adventure.