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Good Sitemaps will help you along the road to success

Good Sitemaps will help you

There is often confusion between a “sitemap.html” file, which is used by site visitors as a navigation aid, and “sitemap.xml” file, which is used by search engines as a navigation aid. I should point out here that the robots.txt file is also a sitemap, but essentially backwards, since it tells the search engines where not to look. There are many other kinds of Sitemaps too, and for different purposes, as I will explain below.


Sitemap.html file

The first type, “sitemap.html” is essentially a web page that displays all the pages of the site in a hierarchical format as text links, or sometimes graphically. This may be useful for several reasons. First, if you use Flash or JavaScript for your menu system, visitors with browsers that don’t support those standards will still have a way to navigate your site. Second, if your site is particularly large with many nested pages it can facilitate finding a particular page quickly and easily. Third, it may help you as a webmaster to keep your site organized, particularly if you’re not using a content management system or modern web development software. Finally, as a backup to the sitemap.xml file which will be discussed next, search engines will attempt to use this file to crawl the site when they cannot find “sitemap.xml.”
Once you’ve created your sitemap.html file place a link to it on your site; ideally you should put it in the footer links at the bottom of your home page.


Sitemap.xml file

Much more important for SEO is the “sitemap.xml” file. Search engines don’t have any ability to navigate a site by JavaScript or Flash menu systems. Search engines will also only index limited number of links from any page on your site before moving on. So then, it’s important to create and maintain a “sitemap.xml” file so that the search engines can crawl your entire site. Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask all now support the xml standard for sitemaps, although the standard was originally developed by and called “Google Sitemaps.” (link)


ror.xml Sitemap

ROR, or (Resources of a Resource) is an independent xml sitemap format (link) that competes with the format adopted by the big four.
The official ROR website can be found here.  While more comprehensive than the sitemap.xml standard it hasn’t been widely adopted as of yet. Still, creating another file called “ror.xml” is a relatively easy task and may help search results for second tier search engines.

The bottom line is you have nothing to lose but a few precious minutes in creating and maintaining it.



urllist.txt Sitemap

This Sitemap type is viewable by Google and Yahoo, but both have now also adopted the sitemap.xml standard so you needant bother with this format.



Creating and maintaining any one sitemap file manually could take significant time and effort for even a relatively small site. Imagine creating and maintaining 3 different files on a site with say 1,000 pages; not fun! Fortunately there are a multitude of free tools available for creating all three types of site maps.
The best free sitemap generator tool I’ve used, generates all four sitemap formats at once and has a nifty AJAX based interface that’s a snap to use. Simply input your url and the tool goes to work crawling the entire site. Once complete just click on the links provided for each desired format. There is a 500 page limit for the free tool, but you can purchase an installable script for larger sites that will even update your sitemap files automatically for just $20.


Uploading the files

All sitemap files should appear in the root directory of your site in order for the search engines to find them, e.g. 'www.your-site.com/sitemap.xml.' Depending on your ISP the root may be called www or something else. If you’re having trouble finding the root simply locate your homepage file called index.html; it will be in the root directory.


Submitting the files

If your site is new it may take a while for the bots to start crawling your site. To expedite the process submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo Site Explorer.  You can submit your site to Search Live (MSN) and Ask.com respectively by pasting these links into your browser (don't forget to change the url to your own site first):


Maintaining the files

Whenever you make significant changes to your site which affect the structure, such as adding a page, you should create new sitemaps. Using the tool I’ve provided this shouldn’t be too much trouble.
If you’ve ever wondered why certain parts of your website aren’t visible to the search engines, the answer is likely that you don’t have sitemaps properly configured. Having current sitemaps facilitates good spidering of your content by big and small search engines alike.
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