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The SEO Basics - Sitemaps

A sitemap allows all of the pages on your website to be easily found by search engines. To better grasp the significance, meaning, and best use of sitemaps, read on.

What is a Sitemap?

Below you can see what a sitemap looks like in HTML code.

 

A Sitemap is a blueprint of the layout of your website that allows search engines to crawl and index the webpages of your website more easily. A Sitemap can be used to give a general overview of your website to provide search engines with a picture of how your site is structured, where each webpage is located, and where certain content can be found. Sitemaps also exist to cater to specific types of content which search engines find harder to read.

There are various kinds of Sitemaps which are designated specifically for types of content that search engines find difficult to crawl or index, or that require special attention from search engine crawlers. A few examples of the different types of Sitemaps that exist are – general Sitemaps, news Sitemaps and video Sitemaps. A few of the types of files that are not easily readable or crawlable to search engines are image or video files, or other elements that are not written in html code.

An additional reason for having a Sitemap is when you wish for your site to be indexed frequently due to the fact that you are constantly updating material on your website, for that purpose news Sitemaps exist.

Why is a Sitemap Important For SEO?
 
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Although it is the search engine’s job to find the various pages of your site, there are certain issues which may prevent this from happening. Seeing as search engines mostly operate through reading text and navigating through text links, if either the text is obscured or the link is difficult for them to view, for any number of reasons, it is possible that the content you wish to be indexed will not end up being indexed. If search engines cannot understand what you have on a webpage, or they cannot navigate to a different part of your website, then you may need a Sitemap.

Considering that search engines have difficulty understanding images, if you have many images on your website, a way to help search engines index them online is if you provide image tags identifying those images on the Sitemap. If access to certain pages on your website is only possible through javascript forms, then sending a general Sitemap to search engines to indicate where all of your pages are can help specify to the search engine which pages still need to be indexed. If your site’s purpose is generating news content, then a news Sitemap will indicate to search engines that your site should be indexed more frequently. Finally, as video is becoming an increasingly important medium, using a video Sitemap is useful as it allows search engines to understand the location and content of videos, so that they can index them for services such as video search.

How Can I use a Sitemap?
 
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There are two schools of thought regarding the use of Sitemaps. There are those who say that you should not use them, and those that say you should. Those that say you should not, say so because they suggest that if search engines are not indexing certain parts of your website, then there must be a reason for this occurrence. For instance, if your webpage is not being indexed due to the fact that search engines believe that you have duplicate content, then you should know about it so as to improve your content. If your images are not crawlable you should know about it so you can create alt tags for them to explain what the pictures mean. Ultimately, the search engine can indicate which sections of your website need to be improved, and submitting a Sitemap negates this principle, as it tells search engines what to index.

However, those who say that Sitemaps should be used say that it is important to submit a Sitemap to search engines because the traffic and exposure that is afforded by having imperfect pages indexed far outweighs the negatives that are inherent in a flawed website, or a website which needs improvement.

A few guidelines for Sitemaps are as follows:

1. A Sitemap file should have a maximum of 50,000 URLs and must be at most 50MB when uncompressed.

2. If you have more than one Sitemap, you can list them in a Sitemap index file and then submit the Sitemap index file.

3. The Sitemap URL needs to be UTF8-encoded, and encoded for readability by the webserver on which it is located.

4. A Sitemap file is independent of the language of the content. To make sure that each language version can be crawled and indexed, it is recommended that you use unique URLs. These URLs can all be included in your Sitemap files.



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