Mar 022010
 

If you are a SEO nut you already know why site maps are important, they give search engines an easy way to tell what content is on your site, where it is and what importance it is. A site map is vital for websites that use flash, JavaScript or any other type of navigation that can not be comprehended by search engines. Unfortunately, it is also harder to create site maps as you will have to do the majority of the leg work manually. That’s one of the downsides, in my opinion, of using flash for navigation. It may look really nice and be flashy and have great curb appeal, but it is very bad in the realms of SEO because to put it simply robots can not render flash objects to navigate through them.

What is a site map?

To put it simply a site map is an XML file that contains a XML node for every page on your website that has four sub-nodes. These sub nodes tell the location of the URL (loc), the date the page was last modified (lastmod), the rate the page changes (changefreq) and finally the priority of the page (priority). The location should be the easiest to understand, it is the fully qualified URL that the page is accessible from on the internet. The last modified date tells spiders the last time the page was modified. The next two fields are important, but probably won’t change much. Change frequency tells how often a page changes while priority tells how important that page is to the website and what priority it should be given when crawling, this number is a 0 to 1 based scale, with one being the highest priority and zero being the lowest.

Okay, so we know site maps are important, but how do we get one?

This is obviously the place to start, you need to get a site map before you can do anything with it. Unfortunately if you rely heavily on JavaScript or Flash you will have to create your own site map either using a text editor, an XML editor or a variation of an Site Map generation tool adding pages manually. If your website uses standard HTML based navigation you are in luck as there are many different ways for you to automatically create a site map. If you have your web site hosting with GoDaddy there is built in functionality to create a site map, however, from my experience it is not as useful as I once thought. I have found that it will freeze constantly when using is a bit clunky at times. So I began a search which lead me very quickly to http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/, which is a quick and easy site map generator, that I’ve yet to have a problem with. It’s quite a bit faster than GoDaddy’s site map generator and excludes pages that are tagged with no index from appearing in the site map. I’m interested to see what people who are more familiar with site maps have to say in regards to this generator, but so far i’m very pleased with the results.

What do we do with it once we have it and How will anyone know it’s there?

The first step after creating an XML site map is of course to get it onto your web server and into the root directory of your website. That’s the easy part, the next part is to get it noticed. A lot of the standard web spiders when they first come across a domain will look for the sitemap.xml file in your root directory, in the same fashion as most web browsers look for the favicon.ico file in your root directory when first coming to a domain. However, assuming that a spider will just assume to check their for your sitemap is more or less leaving it to fate that it’ll find it.

One way that I’ve found suggested to help spiders find your site map is to add it to your robots.txt file. To do this simply modify your robots.txt file adding “Sitemap: http://MichaelMerrell.com/SiteMap.xml” replacing my domain with yours. This may or may not recognized by spiders when they go to index your website, so should not be relied upon as the sole means to getting your site map noticed online.

The most effective way to get your site map noticed by the major search engines is to of course tell them. Yahoo and Google both use Web Master tools which require you to authenticate ownership of the website before you are able to submit a sitemap for it.

  • The URL for Google’s web master tools is http://www.google.com/webmasters/
    • Once you have signed up and authenticated your website below the Site Configuration section is Site Maps
    • In the Site Map section is a button that says Submit a Site Map, simply click it and enter the name of your site map
    • Google Will automatically download your site map and process it giving you a list of indexed URLs
  • The URL for Yahoo’s web master tools is https://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/
    • Once you have signed up and authenticated your website clicking on the website will bring up a menu on the left.
    • Under the left hand menu there is a link called Feeds
    • In feeds you will click on Add Feed and type in the name of your site map.
    • If your website has an RSS feed you can also enter that here to help Yahoo better pull new content from your site
    • Yahoo will also give you a list of the number of indexed pages in their listing.

Bing and Ask.Com both use different methods for submitting a site map. To submit a site map to Bing and ask you simply submit the location of your site map to a URL specified.

  • For Bing that URL is: http://www.bing.com/webmaster/ping.aspx?sitemap=www.YourWebAddress.com/sitemap.xml
  • For Ask.Com the URL is: http://submissions.ask.com/ping?sitemap=www.YourWebAddress.com/sitemap.xml

It should also be noted that Bing has web master tools as well, but it is not required in order to submit a site map.

Hope this post has been informative and helpful, I welcome any comments on improving a site maps visibility.

  One Response to “Site Maps, An Important Part of a Website’s Diet”

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