There are several SEO tips and tricks which can help you optimize your site, but one of the most underestimated of these is sitemaps. Sitemaps are just like the name implies, a map of your site. On one page you show the structure of your site, its sections, the links between them, etc.
Sitemaps make navigating your site easier and having an updated sitemap makes it easier for users and more effective for search engines to index your site. Sitemaps are an important means of communication with with search engines. While robots.txt tells the search engines which parts of your site to exclude from indexing, a sitemap tells the search engines where you want them to go.
Sitemaps aren’t a new concept, they have always been a part of the best Web design practices. However, with the adoption of sitemaps by search engines, now they have become even more important. It is necessary to note that if you plan to use sitemaps for an SEO strategy, you can’t only go with the conventional format if you want it to be picked up by Google, which uses an XML format.
There are two popular versions of a sitemap. An XML Sitemap is a structured format that is more targeted for the search engines because it tells them about the pages on the site, their relative importance to each other and how often they are updated.
HTML Sitemaps are designed for the site’s user, to help them find content on the page, and they don’t include each and every subpage. This helps visitors and search engine bots find pages on the site.
Google introduced Google Sitemaps so web developers can publish lists of links from across their sites. The basic premise is that some sites have a large number of dynamic pages that are only available through the use of forms and user entries. The Sitemap files contain URLs to these pages so that web crawlers can find them. Bing, Google, Yahoo and Ask now jointly support the Sitemaps protocol.
Since all four of the major search engines use the same protocol, having a Sitemap makes sure they receive the most updated page information. Sitemaps aren’t a guarantee that all your links will be crawled, and being crawled doesn’t guarantee indexing. However, a Sitemap is still the best insurance for getting a search engine to learn about your entire site. Google Webmaster Tools allows a website owner to upload a sitemap that Google will crawl, or he can accomplish the same thing with the robots.txt file.
XML Sitemaps have replaced the older method of “submitting to search engines” by filling out a form on the search engine’s submission page. Now web developers submit a Sitemap directly, or wait for search engines to find it.
XML is also much more precise that HTML coding. Errors are not tolerated, and so syntax must be exact.
For new sites, or sites with a lot of new or recently updated pages, using a Sitemap can be crucial. Even though you can operate your site without a Sitemap, they are becoming the standard in both navigation and more importantly SEO. Having a well organized Sitemap is becoming one of the tools to get your site seen.