It’s great to have a stellar and attractive website, one that was professionally designed to utilize the most current design trends with state-of-the-art plugins and all the accompanying bells and whistles. And yet far too many sites fall short in attracting the wide audience a website owner or administrator desires due to the lack of a proper site map.
What is a sitemap? In layman’s terms it’s an XML (Extensible Markup Language) file designed to store and transport data that lists the URLs (Universal Resource Locators) for a particular site and allows webmasters to include additional information about each URL, such as when it was last updated, how often in changes and its relationship to other URLs within the site.
Why is this important? Because that sitemap helps Google and other major search engines more thoroughly and effectively understand your website while examining it and finding all of your pages that need to be indexed. And in the end this means that your site will appear much more favorably in search engine results when someone is seeking a topic for which your site is relevant.
All search engines—Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com etc.—use what are known as a “crawler,” also referred to as a web spider or web robot. These are programs or automated scripts that self-browse the World Wide Web in a methodical manner searching for the most up-to-date information for the search engine’s indexing and ranking protocols. So in the end, if an XML sitemap is kept up to date, the crawlers will have an easier time understanding what information your site contains and make the process of indexing much easier and more complete.
In addition, a sitemap can provide a search engine with data about specific elements and types of content on your site, such as video, images and whether or not it’s mobile-user friendly. This is particular handy if your site is particularly large: the crawlers can sometimes overlook certain new or updated pages on big sites with many pages. And if your site has a great deal of indexed data—which crawlers might also miss—having a solid sitemap can help considerably.
Lastly, if your website is relatively new and hasn’t been linked from other sites yet, the crawlers—which work by following one link to another—might get only a brief glimpse at your site or skip by your pages completely as they’re undetectable.
In the end, an XML sitemap is a critical component to having a well-indexed and therefore highly visible site via the giant search engines that help dictate so much of the information we seek and find online.