Essentially, sitemaps act as the backbone and architecture of your entire website; consisting of a full list of webpage links that are used to guide site crawlers and users in navigating your pages without missing out on anything.
There are 2 main types of sitemaps:
- XML sitemaps
- HTML sitemaps
XML sitemaps are used to help search engines and spiders locate the pages on your website, and isn’t visible to users.
Major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing use XML sitemaps to navigate through a website. By providing search engines with a precise and detailed map of all the pages on your site, they are able to better prioritise on which pages to crawl.
XML sitemaps are able to show data on the frequency of changes being made on one page in comparison with another; i.e.when the webpages were last modified, as well as the priority of a particular page compared to the rest. This information is crucial for search engines because the more information is provided, the more times a website is likely to be crawled and remain visible on the search engine results!
The size of XML sitemap files can go up to 10 MB, or consist up to 50,000 URLs. One additional advantage of XML sitemaps is it can be utilised to provide metadata on the pages added in your sitemap.
On the other hand, HTML sitemaps are viewed and described as content archives; consisting of a list of pages that are clickable. HTML sitemaps are visible to users, and present to assist them in navigating through a website.
These sitemaps are generally presented as a linear composition of the website from top to low level pages. It helps users to read the outline of the content easily, enabling them to reach their desired content effortlessly.
SEO benefits of using a sitemap
- Improved navigation and visibility by search engines
By providing a sitemap to search engines, it makes it easier for them to crawl and examine your site – thus improving your relevancy and visibility in its results. This protocol is not only used by Google, but various other search engines as well, making it critical to have if you want to index your website and improve SEO rankings.
- Improved navigation and visibility by website visitors
A sitemap is beneficial for website visitors, especially if you have a larger site that can be confusing to users. Sitemaps guide users through the content of your website seamlessly, and assists them to reach their desired content. This helps to maintain traffic and deter users from leaving due to frustration.
- Notify search engines instantly when a new page is added
Web crawlers do not necessarily visit your website daily – it is essential that any changes made is registered before the next visit.
As compared to not having a sitemap, the revisions made to your website will be logged into the search engine much quicker if you were to mark the changes made in your sitemap and submit it directly. This function is absolutely beneficial to websites that frequently update their content.
- Minimises the chances of missing out any pages for indexing
The chances of Google crawlers omitting any pages are almost zero, since all of them are now linked to the sitemap!
XML sitemaps or HTML sitemaps?
You might be wondering, is it recommended to have XML sitemaps, HTML sitemaps, or both?
While XML sitemaps only aids Google in discovering some of your webpages, HTML sitemaps are able to let search engines uncover the rest of the webpages – when done well, this leads to your entire website being indexed accurately and gives you a boost to your rankings.
With that being said, both sitemaps are essential to have as part of your digital strategy. However, if you only have resources for one option – a HTML sitemap would be a better option to start with. You can include the XML sitemap afterwards, given that it is much easier to set up.