What is a sitemap?


The most basic definition of a sitemap is a list of pages on your website. There are two different kinds of sitemaps, however. Those for people (a Human Sitemap) and those for search engines (an XML Sitemap). Each has a very different purpose.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at each. Let’s use FedEx to see an example of each sitemap.

Human Sitemap

The Human Sitemap for FedEx can be found here: http://www.fedex.com/us/sitemap.html. The purpose of this page is for navigation around fedex.com for a human visitor (you and me for example).  On the sitemap, you find a list of pages on the site and links in an order that makes sense for that particular website. For FedEx, they have organized their site by the website’s major functions; Ship, Track, Manage, etc.  While Human Sitemaps do not have to have a link to every page on the website, they should link to the pages that you consider to be most important for reaching your website’s goals. The Human Sitemap offers another way for visitors to peruse the website and find the information they may be having trouble finding in other ways.

If your website already has a Human Sitemap, be sure to audit it regularly (I recommend once a month) to make sure it has all the right links. If you don’t have one, please consider adding it to your website and putting a link to it from every page (I recommend in your website footer as FedEx has done).

XML Sitemap

The XML Sitemap is a file written in XML that provides a list of URLs on your website. Here is FedEx’s XML sitemap: http://www.fedex.com/us/us-sitemap.xml . Since this file is in a format that can be read by search engines like Bing and Google, this file is used by those search engines to crawl your website and discover every page within. In addition, the sitemap helps to provide more information to the search engine such as when the page was last updated, how often it changes, and how important it is relative to other pages on the website. All this information helps the search engine more intelligently crawl your website, and as a result, give the best results to users searching for keywords that are on your website. Having an XML Sitemap doesn’t guarantee your website will be higher in search, and not having one doesn’t keep your website out of the search engine, but having an XML Sitemap does increase the likelihood of the search engine doing a proper crawl of your entire site.

If your website is built in a CMS like WordPress, there are many, free plugins that can create an XML sitemap and keep it up-to-date whenever you make a change (including automatically submitting the XML Sitemap to Google, Bing, etc). Here is a popular one. If you use another CMS, just search Google for “[INSERT CMS NAME HERE] XML Sitemap Plugin” to find ones compatible with your website. If your website is not in a CMS, ask your webmaster how you can add an XML Sitemap. If your website already has an XML Sitemap, be sure it’s up-to-date (users of some of these great plugins have nothing to worry about) so that the search engines always have the latest and greatest info about your website.

Is your XML Sitemap all ready to go? Would you like to be given targeted suggestions for making your website even better? Sign up for BoostSuite.com and receive your top 25 suggestions within 60 seconds!

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