A site map is a textual file that manages site structure information, the list of pages that exist on the website, various preferences relating to the need to partition the search engine crawl budget, and more. A site map is a tool that helps us explain to the search engines how, in our opinion, they should invest in their crawling activity, and also shorten the way for them to find new pages that were added to the website.
Why do we need a sitemap?
The answer is that there is no need.
The search engine can get along well without a site map. It will be able to discover new pages, understand the website's hierarchy, and prioritize it's crawl budget.
Though, if we want to help the search engine make shortcuts, get the optimal result from a given crawl budget, and also allow indexing and displaying of images, videos and news on the website in the appropriate search engine buffers, then a website map will be a great tool for us.
How to build a website map?
A site map can be built in two main ways: manual and automatic.
To build a site map manually, you can use any simple text editor, tracing the structure of the site map, and update the file in XML or HTML format. It's important to understand that in this case, you will have to manually update the map with any future changes: pages removed from the website or new pages added to the website.
If your website is managed through a content management system, there are various extensions that will allow you to automatically build and manage your website map. WordPress-based systems can use the popular Yoast plugin to dynamically build, launch, and update a website map. On WIX-based content management system, it is done by itself without the intervention of the website manager.
What is the role of a sitemap?
A site map helps us show information in the search engine on several levels:
- Specify which pages exist on the website – A website map should display an updated state of all the existing pages on the website.
- Provide information about the page hierarchy – The page structure will be displayed using the URL structure on the map.
- Specify the priority for scanning these pages – 1 for high priority, 0.9 for reduced priority, 0.8 for lower priority and so on.
- Specify how often the search engine should reach these pages – should the search engine crawl the page daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
- Indicate when the page was recently updated – a kind of indication of the website's viability index.
- Allow images on the website to appear in search results of images in the search engine results (Google Images).
- Allow videos on the website to appear in the search results of videos in the search engine results (Google Images).
- Allow news on the websites to appear in the search results of the news in the search engine (Google News).
- Allow the search engine to index the page created for phones that are not smartphones.
Site map – additional topics
In order for a site map to represent properly the true state of the website, it will be important to check that the most recent URLs are listed on the site map, while non-updated addresses are removed from the map. Instances of this issue are, for example, redirects of http pages to https pages (then should appear on the map https pages, while http pages will not appear), and references to avoid 404 pages (then the redirected pages should be removed – otherwise it will indexed again and again by the search engines, particularly Google).
A site map is a not essential though indispensable component of a website that can be embedded using various extensions or updated manually. A site map helps the search engines understand the structure of the website and the prioritization provided by the website's search engine for crawling and indexing the various pages.
Different site maps will help you succeed and also rank in the various dividers of the Google search engine: videos, images and news.