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Website Builders - What is a sitemap?

by Emma Watkins
You've no doubt scrolled to the bottom of a website and see a link for "sitemap" or heard website designers talking about them. But what are sitemaps and why do websites have them? In internet terms a sitemap can be used to describe two different things, and this is where many get confused.

Sitemap links The sitemap you often seen displayed as a link on a website simply shows you a 'map' of the site in a hierarchical format. The site user can then see how the site is laid out, which pages link to each other and obtain a better idea how to navigate the site. This can be useful, but as it isn't a feature on all websites most internet users don't know they exist.

Coded Sitemap However there is another form of site map that's more important to site owners. This type of sitemap is written in computer code and is designed to be read by the search engines. Much like the sitemap just described it provides the search engine with information on the structure of the website. It tells them how the pages are linked and shows the priority of the pages in relation to each other. It can also contain important information such as how often the page is updated and should be searched. This is an example of part of a sitemap.

<url> <loc>www.allotmentlife.net</loc> <lastmod>2009-10-14</lastmod> <priority>1</priority> <changefreq>weekly</changefreq> </url>

It may be difficult to understand and is certainly nothing to look at but having a sitemap will help the search engines crawl your website. Search engines don't understand websites, they only see webpages. So without a sitemap in makes it harder for them to crawl all of the links on your site and understand its layout. The result could be your site is crawled less and links to pages could be missed.

How are sitemaps written? A site map is written in a code format called XML, it is recognised by all the main search engines and is the preferred format for all site maps. Before XML sitemaps were first developed you would have to manually submit your site to the search engines by filling out a form. But with a sitemap this is no longer necessary as it is automatically attached to the code of your website making it easily found. However the term "Submitting your site" is still used as you can still submit the site to be crawled more often.

When website designers create a website they generally create a sitemap at the same time and attach it to the site. You can also get sitemap creators that will build the sitemap for you. Some website builders such as that provided by http://www.reason8.com have an automatic sitemap builder imbedded into their system. That way every time you create or delete a page the sitemap is automatically updated.

Are sitemaps essential? For some types of website if you don't have a sitemap then the search engines will only be able to list your home page and not the rest of your site. If your website is built in a format called Flash, then the search engines will not be able to read the content of your pages. This is because at the moment search engines cannot see anything created in Flash. Therefore any links and pages created in this format would not be found by the search engines.

You may wonder in which case why Flash is used at all? Flash is responsible for most of the clever graphics, animation and games that are now common place on websites. Many website builders create websites in Flash because they are easy to use and visually pleasing. However the downside is that are difficult to list in search engine results and almost impossible without a sitemap.

Ensuring your site has a sitemap If you are commissioning a website designer or trying out a website builder it's important that you establish whether or not a sitemap is included. Those that are automatically generated and updated are preferable as it ensures the one attached to your site is always kept up to date.

About the Author

Reason8 is a company motivated by helping small businesses achieve great things through the Internet. Our core business is run by a handful of professional, dynamic, hard working young(ish) people who have a passion for helping people. We believe that the Internet does not have to be a faceless email-only environment. So we bring together the best of the real world and the virtual world providing world class Internet technology and friendly customer service. Who I'd like to meet:

Tuesday, Nov 24th, 2009