A sitemap is a simple one-page XML document containing hyperlinks to every page on your website. You can typically find a link to a website’s sitemap at the bottom of the home page. Sitemaps are easy to generate and benefit your website by helping your content get crawled and indexed by search engines such as Google more quickly. Because generating a sitemap is also one of the fastest ways to get a new website indexed by search engines, creating one should be one of the first things you do after your website goes live.
Unless you add your website to a search engine’s “Webmaster Tools” section, a search engine robot typically finds your website by following a link from another website. The search engine robot then “spiders” your website by following every link on every page until it has added each page to the index. This can be a slow process; a robot rarely visits every page on the first visit and may have to visit your website several times before it finds every page. This process can takes weeks to complete for a large website. In addition, without a sitemap search engines may be unable to find pages on your website that are not linked to from other pages. A sitemap gives a search engine a concise list of links to follow when indexing your website for the first time. On subsequent visits, the sitemap makes it easy for the robot to find the pages that have been added or updated.
A sitemap provides an at-a-glance overview of a website’s navigation hierarchy. Although your website may have a category-based navigation system and a search function, some users may prefer to select from a master list of all of your website’s content. Because a sitemap serves as a jumping-off point for any page on your website, it serves as a simple navigation system for anyone who prefers not to explore your website’s menus.
If your website uses a content management system such as WordPress, you can generate a sitemap automatically by installing a plugin. Use a search term such as “Google sitemap plugin” along with the name of your content management system to locate one. A good plugin should update the sitemap automatically each time you add new content. If your website does not use a content management system, you can generate a sitemap using one of the many free Web-based tools available. The drawback of doing this is that you must generate the sitemap again when you add new content.
Read more: How to Create a Sitemap for WordPress
After generating a sitemap, add your website to the “Webmaster Tools” pages on Google and Bing. Your website will likely receive most of its traffic from Google, while Bing provides search results on several other popular websites including MSN and Yahoo. After you provide the link to your sitemap, both search engines will begin to display statistics allowing you to see how many of your website’s pages have been crawled and added to the index. In addition, you will receive notifications if either search engine encounters errors such as broken links.
Top image courtesy of Wikipedia.