This tutorial will help you understand why and how to use sitemaps for your websites. By following it through step by step you will learn how to improve you sites accessibility from search engine spiders and hopefully your rankings too.
So what are sitemaps? Put simply a sitemap is just a list of every page on your site that you want search spiders and visitors to see so that both have an easy way to access what they are trying to find.
There are two types of sitemap that we will be taking a look at. The first is designed specifically for search engine spiders and is generally in xml format. The second is a front end sitemap that will improve accessibility and usability for visitors.
What are Sitemaps?
XML sitemaps are specially coded lists of webpage’s that search robots can access quickly and efficiently. If you have a small site you can just type one up in Dreamweaver or similar web editing software but generally it is quicker to use a generator.
An XML sitemap consists of several components; the first link should always specify the encoding and should be;
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
Next open a urlset for your sitemap and include the current specification.
You then need to list the URL and it’s properties. An example of one URL is below.
The only required data for the URL is location but additional information is always a bonus.
loc is the location tag and is simply the full URL of the page.
lastmod is the last modified date of the page in W3C datetime format YYYY-MM-DD.
changefreq is the change frequency of the page. You have the following option to choose from.
The attributes are only a guide so you may as well be honest with the values, use never for achieve pages and daily for your blog home page.
Priority is the priority of the page in relation to other pages on the site. It is a number between 0.1 and 1.0 that specifies how important a page is. Setting all your pages to 1.0 will have no effect as the system is relative so try and chose the pages you feel are important.
While I have no direct proof I have seen these choices effect sitelinks in Google so make the 1.0 URLs the ones you would like as potential site links, the first link level in your site set to around 0.7, general content set to 0.5 and other things set to 0.3.
Make sure all your tags are closed and move to the next URL, when this process is finished make sure to close your urlset tag.
More information on sitemap protocol is available here
Not all sites are 10 pages long; if your site is bigger coding a sitemap by hand will not be realistic. Fortunately sitemap generators exist to make your life easier. I am going to take a look at some of the better ones here.
There are several choices out there but one of the most reliable is Googles own sitemap generator. While difficult to install it is worth it in the end and you know it will generate compatible sitemaps.
The script uses Python so you will need it installed on you server, if it shared hosting chances are that you can’t use this. Check out Google’s page on setting up the script as well as running it for more information.
The upside is that it’s free and detailed and really easy to use once it set up. It can even be configured to run as a cron job and ping Google to let them know it’s finished.
A great website that offers a free solution is XML Sitemaps. They have a great script which can go through your site and generate a sitemap and it’s free for sites with less than 500 URLs. It’s pretty cheap for the script should you need it anyway so it’s worth investing.
It’s easy to install but need PHP technology installed on the server. Good news is you don’t need to mess around with as much back end stuff as with the Google one so it is more suited for shared hosting and affiliates.
The GSiteCrawler is a windows program that generates a multitude of files that can be used for sitemaps. It’s pretty good especially as it free and it has some cool features such as excluding URLs and sections of a site as well.
You can keep records of the site pages and also generate URL lists for Yahoo or for making the user sitemap.
It is effective and easy to use but still has some bugs that need ironing out.
There are a number of Wordpress plug-ins that generate sitemaps for your blog. This one is easy to install and works well. With these you need to do very little work, just install and configure the plug-in and sit back.
Once you have generated you file through whatever program you like you will need to go through and make sure URL priorities and change freq are right and then link it to Google Webmaster Tools and MSN. Yahoo site Explorer uses normal sitemaps too now so you can also submit it there. The logo's below take you through to each companies webmaster section.
These sitemaps are coded in whatever your site is in (PHP or HTML for example) and are there to help users navigate and understand your site. They are helpful for SEO because they aid in controlling the flow of PR through the site as well as increase the relevancy of some keywords.
Be sure to categorise your user sitemap URLs into easy to understand ground and utilise onsite techniques including header tags and keyword friendly page descriptions.
You don’t have to include every page of your site in this sitemap, just the ones you feel it’s important for users and search engines to have easy access to.
I hope this guide has made the whole area of sitemaps a little clearer. They are a fantastic aid to SEO and accessability on your site so be sure to get one sorted as soon as possible.
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