There are many ways that we can optimise websites in order to maintain a high search engine ranking, but one which is often undervalued is sitemaps. As the name suggests, sitemaps are simply a map of your website – one single page that shows the structure of your site, it’s directories and pages and the links between them. Sitemaps can help to make navigating your website easier and having an updated sitemap is beneficial for your visitors and for search engines. An up to date sitemap is a way of communicating the content of your website with search engines.
Sitemaps are not a gimmick, in fact they have always been used as a good website design practice, and are now being used by search engines, so they are an important feature of any website. For Google and other search engines, we use a special XML sitemap and for “human” visitors a HTML sitemap which can be viewed along with all the other pages on your website. The XML sitemap is for spiders (Googlebot) and Google states that using duplicate sitemaps will not cause your site to be penalised, which is not the case with other duplicate content.
Why Use a Sitemap?
As well as the obvious navigation and visibility advantages of having a sitemap, sitemaps are valuable if your site is new or when you add new pages to your website as they will inform search engines immediately of the additions and can be vital to your success. Although you can still have a website without a sitemap, it is likely that sitemaps, in the future, may become the standard way of submitting a website to search engines. Though it is certain that spiders will continue to index websites and sitemaps will not make the standard crawling procedures obsolete, it is logical to say that the importance of sitemaps will continue to increase.
Sitemaps also help in classifying your site content, though search engines are by no means obliged to classify a page as belonging to a particular category or as matching a particular keyword only because you have told them so, but as long as your metatags and page content match keywords, they can certainly assist.
Here’s what Google has to say about sitemaps ...
“Creating and submitting a Sitemap helps make sure that Google knows about all the pages on your site, including URLs that may not be discoverable by Google's normal crawling process.
Sitemaps are particularly helpful if:
||Your site has dynamic content.
||Your site has pages that aren't easily discovered by Googlebot during the crawl process—for example, pages featuring rich AJAX or images.
||Your site is new and has few links to it. (Googlebot crawls the web by following links from one page to another, so if your site isn't well linked, it may be hard for us to discover it.)
||Your site has a large archive of content pages that are not well linked to each other, or are not linked at all.
Google doesn't guarantee that we'll crawl or index all of your URLs. However, we use the data in your Sitemap to learn about your site's structure, which will allow us to improve our crawler schedule and do a better job crawling your site in the future. In most cases, webmasters will benefit from Sitemap submission, and in no case will you be penalized for it.”
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