Sitemaps-What are they? Why use them?


A sitemap is a map of a web site showing the web pages and how web pages are linked/related. Sitemaps are provided so that site visitors can easily navigate your site.

The sitemap doesn’t need to include all of your web pages but should include all of the site structure and should fit on a single page (see Google guidelines at bottom of the page).

Sitemaps are also used by search engines to index your website. Indeed the lack of a sitemap may be the reason why your site hasn’t been completely indexed. This is especially true if you are using dynamic pages, as some search engines have difficulty indexing them.

A static sitemap of all the web pages greatly enhances the chance that they will get indexed. The sitemap page is also the ideal candidate to submit to the search engines.

Creating a Site Map

You can create a sitemap by hand coding HTML or by using sitemap tools called sitemap generators.

Manually

A sitemap is simply a listing of web pages (usually by title) and the links on them. Although a sitemap cam just be a simple list of page the structure  is usually like an index in a book e.g.

Theme
—->Category-name
———->Article-name

It is easy to create a sitemap manually by using a nested list as shown below:

<ul>
<li>Main Theme
<ul>
<li>Subtheme
<ul>
<li><a href=”page1.htm”>Page 1 title</a>
<li><a href=”page2.htm”>Page 2 title</a>
<li><a href=”page2.htm”>Page 2 title</a>
</ul>

</ul>

</ul>

Here is what the above code would look like:

  • Main Theme
    • Subtheme
      • Page 1 title
      • Page 2 title
      • Page 2 title

Sitemaps, especially manually created ones, can be hard to maintain as they require to be updated each time the web site content changes.

Sitemap Generators

Sitemap generators are used to create sitemaps. There are many sitemap generators available, both free and paid, offline and online use, and automatic or manual. Using a site map generator makes creating a sitemap easier than manually created ones.

Using Xenu Link Sleuth as a Sitemap generator

Xenu’s Link Sleuth is a free tool used for checking for broken links on a web site. It will produce a report showing not only the broken links but also a sitemap of the site which you can simply copy and paste onto a web page. The sitemap on this site was generated using link Sleuth.

Other sitemap generators

Sitemap generators come in two forms:

  • Online generators
  • Offline generators

Online generators

These tools tend to be much simpler to use than the offline generators and should be ok for most websites. All you need to do is supply the url of your own page and your site will be scanned and a map produced.

You tend however to have very little choice on the look and feel, but you can always manually edit the map afterwards.

The tool I use is http://www.blocklayer.com/googlesitemap/ which I use mainly for creating Google Sitemaps but it will create a standard HTML sitemap as well.

Offline generators

The first place to check is your web editing software . If your editing software doesn’t support sitemaps then you can purchase third party solutions or use free tools like Xenu’s Link Sleuth.

Commercial sitemap generation software gives you far more control over the  look and feel of the sitemap, but if your primary intention is for the search engines then that isn’t so important.

In addition most commercial web page editing tools like DreamWeaver and FrontPage will create a sitemap for you.

Site Maps and Google

Here are the Google guidelines for site maps:

“Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map is larger than 100 or so links, you may want to break the site map into separate pages”.

Google Sitemaps

Google have recently introduced Google Sitemaps which should not be confused with standard sitemaps. The Google sitemaps are intended to be submitted to Google to help the Google spider index your site.

Having a Google site map doesn’t mean that you don’t need a standard sitemap.

Yahoo Sitemaps

Not to be outdone by Google yahoo have also introduced Yahoo Sitemaps. Again you should not confuse these with standard sitemaps as they are intended to be submitted to Yahoo to help the Yahoo spider index your site.

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