A sitemap will tell Google and other search engines about your website pages. It's a list of all the pages in the site and it can be helpful for prompting Google about new pages - and for getting feedback from Google. I'm talking about a sitemap XML file here and not a sitemap page that you see on some sites.
- Sitemap.xml file - a list of your website pages that is formatted in a particular way for search engines to read. It also contains other information, for example how often pages are updated.
- Sitemap page - a list of your website pages that visitors and search engines can read; normally this is easily visible on the site, for example linked from the footer are of the site.
So, for this article, let's concentrate on the sitemap XML file, how it can be created and what it does.
Creating the sitemap XML file
There are several ways of creating a sitemap file and you may need help from your web developer on this. It's not too complicated though because a service like XML Sitemaps will create the file for you. They also provide a hosted service where they store the file on their servers and a script that your web developer can install; this will enable you to create the sitemap whenever you want and tell Google and other search engines about it.
If your website uses WordPress as a content management system (CMS), there are several plug-ins that will create a sitemap. The one we have used is XML Sitemap Generator and, after installation, it will automatically create a sitemap.xml file when the site content changes.
More: Google provides a list of sitemap generator tools.
What it does
However you create it, the sitemap.xml file is normally stored on your server, alongside your webpages, and Google and search engines will look for it, read it, and act on the information it contains. Whilst Google will usually find and index all your website pages after it knows about your site, it will do this using its own schedule which may be monthly, weekly - or rarely if the site is not updated much. What the sitemap file does is prompt Google about pages on your site and, in our experience, leads to quicker indexing of the pages by Google. This is particularly important for larger sites and for ecommerce sites where products are added and changed frequently.
If your web developer adds the sitemap file and your site to their Google Webmaster Tools account, Google will provide feedback on the site, for example broken links and problematic webpage code, so the sitemap.xml file is important for this as well.
A sitemap.xml file is standard practice for most sites these days. If the site is a very small website, it may not be too critical if you don't have one. Otherwise though, it's a relatively simple job to create one and keep it updated. That way, you make sure that Google knows about your new pages as soon as you create them.
Need help with your sitemap.xml file? Contact us.