A Site Map is an XML file which contains a listing of all URLs and pages on your website. This file is used to inform and direct search engine crawlers so that web pages can be discovered and indexed quickly. It also helps the visitors to your website. It contains the layout of the whole site which helps them to go wherever they want to and get whatever they require. If one may draw an analogy here, a site map helps a visitor of a website to navigate in the same way as the layout map at the beginning of a large national park helps its visitor to navigate in the parka site map is a plain list of all your URLs and nothing else. Just a simple ordered list that tells them by category just what your site contains. It does not involve anything complicated such as java or fold up menus.
One of the major benefits of having a site map is Visual Representation. It is like a navigation tool for people who visit your site. If they get lost, the site map gives them a quick visual reference to how the website is laid out. Some people doubt the usability of the site maps. But data show that at least 7% of the people visiting a particular site take the help of site maps. That means if 1500 people visit your site then at least 100 of them cannot find their way around your site if it does not have a site map. The probability of them returning to your site is negative.
All sites do not need site maps. It is particularly the large and bulky ones who need them. Site maps are particularly helpful when you get into the main and sub navigation menus. Small sites do not need a site map if all the pages are linked in the main navigation. But even for the small sites also it is a good idea.
For creating site maps for Spiders and Visitors different methods are used. In order to be accessed by the spiders, .xml document should be added to your site’s root directory containing links to all site pages. With the .xml site map file in place you must then make it accessible to search engines and reference the site map in your robots.txt file by adding a line for sitemap. Example: sitemap:http//www.xyz.com/sitemap.xml. The .xml file is updated and uploaded frequently, or at least as often as pages are added or removed from your site. Large sites should implement an automated site map update monthly or even weekly or daily.
Designing of a site map consists of putting navigation links and headings. The site map is created just as any other website page. The link to the site map should be included in the primary navigation or the site’s global footer. Visitors should be able to find this link without too much searching. Site map should also be linked from various pages within the site such as Help pages and your custom 404-redirect page. This helps point visitors to the site map as a quick and easy means to find what they need. An Overview paragraph added at the top of the site map page help those visitors who land on this page directly from a search engine or elsewhere. The layout of the site map should present a clear hierarchal structure of your website. Headings and sub-headings should be used properly. Site map primarily use textual links and page should not be cluttered with image or other distractions. Sometimes, if space is available then an additional short description for each link is provided which allows the visitor to better understand where each link will take them. Lastly, the site map should be updated and uploaded frequently. When the pages are added or removed from the site it is essential to update the site map.
Now let us discuss how site maps help in SEO and web marketing. Site maps help web pages to be indexed. The format required by the engines (most common is .xml) is the same format as used in blogs and RSS feeds with several major changes. The search engine spiders are able to access and determine those web pages better which have site maps. Nowadays the XML site map protocol is subscribed by all the four major search engines, namely, Google, MSN, Yahoo and Ask. This format has codes which search engines can read and access your web site. Site Map provides the spiders all the URLs and pages to be indexed at one place, which makes it easy for the search engines. At one go the spider has it all. The spiders are not the sharpest tools and need things to be taken down to simple level. Site maps are easier for them to understand and catalog. Engine spiders are not like average browsers and cannot read any other format than xml, which gives them the basics like what URLs and how often it changes. Like any other viewer, the spiders do not want to visit a page again which they already have and the pages which will not change. The scanning of pages requires a lot of time and large amount of data transfer, so it is better to have site maps provided for them than letting them index hundreds of pages which might be identical to what has been scanned before. It is also very important to constantly keep updating the site map of any changes whatsoever on your web page. Once the spiders know where your site map is they will hit there first before scanning any other part of your site. Thus the site map is the best tool for getting the pages of your site indexed properly.
The site maps are very easy to generate and you do not need to be programmer to create one. There are three types of site maps, Outline, Table and List. Outline has pages listed along with deeper pages that are linked off that page. Table has a series of site’s primary page and then the pages lined to those pages. Only pages with sub links have tables generated for them. The last one List type site map has a simple list of pages on the site arranged in depth order. The most popular is outline type.
Web Marketing or Internet Marketing is not only the marketing of products and services over the internet but also refers to the placement of media along different stages of customer engagement cycle through SEM, SEO and e-mail marketing. So, it can be inferred that site maps help in web marketing.
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Sangeeta Kumar is the Vice President of Web Marketing for GMR Web Team, a global online marketing, strategy, development and maintenance agency. Sangeeta is a jack-of-all-trades kinda person in the world of Internet marketing, excelling in market research to come up with a strategy based on the latest trends to get a website on page 1. She knows her stuff and enjoys a good discussion on SEO anywhere, anytime.Google +