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Marketing Monday #17 – XML Sitemaps: Understanding their Value

Sitemaps help guide people and web crawlers to and through your website.  Before getting into the details of why it’s best to create one lets look at the types of sitemaps.  There are two types, HTML and XML sitemaps. 

HTML

HTML sitemaps can be read by humans and are created for the purpose of navigating through a website.  It is a page on your site that lists every page (including topics) on your site.  Each listing is a link to the page/topic for easy navigation. If someone cannot locate what they’re looking for through your website’s search function, they can check the sitemap to find the page/topic, click on it, and they will be taken directly to the page.

XML

XML sitemaps are for created for search bots and web crawlers.  It is similar to HTML, in that it is a “map” of your website.  Sitemaps ultimately list all of the URLs in your website, along with data such as last update, change frequency and importance level.  However, it is created with XML files and it isn’t located on your site.  It’s created for the purpose of submitting to search engines.  More on this later.

For the purpose of this post, we are referring to XML sitemaps.

Why use a sitemap?

It is beneficial to create and submit a sitemap for your site.  One major reason is so that the search engines have accurate documentation of your sites links.  Another reason is you are providing the search engines with data such as the website’s change frequency, which will trigger a re-crawl of your site according to that timing.  Lastly, it will get your website “out there” faster and may bring awareness to your site faster.

Some additional benefits, specifically from Google, include an error report for websites, allowing you the opportunity to correct those errors.  Additionally, they provide the ability to see how often your websites pages appear in search results.  This will enable you to see which pages are doing well and which aren’t, allowing you to make updates to your site, accordingly.  Another great benefit is that Google’s bot check websites for Malware and will send an email alert if issues are discovered.

How to create an XML sitemap?

While this sounds complicated, there’s good news.  There are many sites that will create a sitemap of your site for free.  You are required to enter your website’s URL and adjust a few settings.  Many of these settings may not mean much to you; overall, you can leave as is.  However, adjust the “change frequency” setting, if applicable.  If you update your site daily (i.e. new blog posts), you want the bots to know that!  After you are done and submit the data, the program will provide you with an XML file, which you will need to save.

How to submit to search engines?

Google, Yahoo and Bing have programs that support webmasters (that’s you!).  Simply go to these sites, upload your sitemap and wait.  A few of them provide you with response data, which simply gives you some information about how their bots viewed your site.

Sitemaps should generally be created at first launch of your site.  However, it’s never too late to create one.  Give it a try; if you need assistance or don’t feel comfortable creating one, contact us.  We are here to help.