A website sitemap is a map of your website. Usually it is a single page providing information about the structure of your website, a list of pages with their URLs, and metadata about various types of content, like images, video, news, etc. There are two formats for sitemaps – HTML-sitemap and XML-sitemap. And both sitemaps are necessary for a project.
An HTML-sitemap is designed more for users rather than for search engines. This sitemap provides a structure of a website – a hierarchical list of sections and pages so that users see what chapters and what content they can find on this website.
The main purpose of an XML-sitemap is to provide data about your website structure to search engines so that they can crawl your project faster and easier. Common users usually do not even know there is an XML-sitemap available on the website they’re looking at. An XML-sitemap is the opposite of a robots.txt file. A robots.txt lets search engines know what pages they should ignore and exclude from indexing. In a sitemap, you tell search engine crawlers where they should go and what pages they should index.
The importance of sitemaps for SEO is often underestimated. If you have a big content project with a lot of new or recently updated pages every day – sitemaps are a must for you because they inform search engines about updates on your project and help them index large amounts of pages quickly. So if you have broken internal links pointing to new pages, or even if you have orphaned pages on your project, search engines will index them thanks to your sitemap.
Sitemaps are also very important if your website has dynamic content, or if you have doubts whether or not your internal linking is OK.
If you want to generate a sitemap, you can download and install a sitemap creator, or you can use an online sitemap generator. Google will help you find many tools for that. Desktop solutions are usually more complicated, but the output is often more controllable and predictable. For your convenience, you can find a link where you can download the Google sitemap generator here. Another useful tool for that is available at XML-Sitemaps.com. Actually, it doesn’t matter what sitemap builder you use for generating a sitemap. The most important thing is that it should be based on the sitemap protocol that can be found at sitemaps.org. Google, Bing and Yahoo! are members of Sitemaps.org, so if you use this protocol your sitemap will be fully compatible with all major search engines.
For your convenience, here’s a sample of a sitemap (the sample is taken from official Google support page and contains a single entry for a URL containing an image and a video):
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<video:title>Grilling steaks for summer</video:title>
<video:description>Get perfectly done steaks every time</video:description>
Once your sitemap is created, you need to upload it to your website. A sitemap should be saved in the root directory. As soon as you have a sitemap publicly available on your website, it is high time to let search engines know about the existence of this sitemap. It can be easily done by submitting your sitemap to Google within your Webmaster Tools account (if you have no account there – it is time to create it).
There are also several general rules and limitations for a sitemap’s creation. For more information on these rules, please check guidelines for sitemaps in the Guidelines for Sitemaps section at Google.