Sitemaps are not just for users anymore; search engine spiders use ‘XML protocol’ sitemaps to better understand and more efficiently index websites.

Sitemaps

A sitemap is a way of organising a website, identifying the URLs and the information by section or page. In the past, users summoned the sitemap when they wanted to quickly get to a subdirectory or they were having trouble navigating to specific information. Now, the sitemap is also a search spider optimising tool.

In its simplest form, a sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL:

  • when it was last updated;
  • how often it usually changes;
  • how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site.

The sitemap lets you inform search engines about the pages on your web site.

The Sitemap Protocol

Google’s developed its sitemap protocol in response to the increasing size and complexity of websites. Business websites often contained hundreds of products in their catalogues, blogs are updated very frequently and social websites encouraged more and more interaction. It was difficult for search engines to keep track of all this material, creating an unacceptable level of misses as it crawled through rapidly changing pages.

The XML protocol lets search engines optimise searches by placing all the information in one page, summarising frequency of updates and recording last update.

Google published its ‘.9 Protocol’ under the Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License which allows competitor sites to access the protocol. Yahoo and Microsoft agreed to support the XML protocol and jointly sponsored www.sitemaps.org, a site setup to explain the protocol.

This shared recognition of the XML protocol means that website developers no longer need to create different types of sitemaps for the different search engines. They can create one file for submission, and then update it when they have made changes on the site. This simplifies the whole process of fine-tuning and expanding a website.

The ball is in your court

The sitemap protocol assures that your site will be more comprehensively evaluated by the search engines but it does not guarantee high page ranking. The indexing software will have to like what it sees to earn page rank. You will still have to offer high quality content and links to earn page rank.

Building a sitemap

The best strategy for building a sitemap is to use a builder program. One of the most popular is Google’s free sitemap building tool located at www.xml-sitemaps.com. You just enter your domain name into the building tool and it will construct a sitemap for you. You then store the sitemap on your server as an XML file, enabling search engine spiders to easily find it. By the way, you should also include a sitemap in HTML format for your ‘two legged’ users. Sitemaps are very helpful to viewers who are having trouble finding information on your site. The availability of a sitemap can keep someone clicking rather than turning away from your site.

Bottom line

AN XML sitemap is a must to be sure that your site has the best opportunity to be fully accessed by search engines on a regular basis.

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