There is a new "buzzword" when it comes to increasing a website's visitors and having all relevant pages crawled through by search engine bots. The magic word is "sitemaps".
In a nutshell, a sitemap is an XML file that catalogs URLs for your website along with extra metadata about every single URL. The metadata covers things such as how important the URL is, how often it's changed or updated, when it was last updated, and what is its role on the grand scheme of your site, among many other functions. Even though sitemaps won't necessarily improve your SERP rankings, what it can do is help search engines have an easier time crawling through your site and establishing its relevance to a given set of search terms.
History of Sitemaps
Hence, sitemaps can be considered an important part of your website's SEO scheme. It was Google that first introduced the sitemap feature in order to assist web developers in assisting them to better index web content. The reasoning behind this stems from the fact that certain pages can only be accessed by user or visitor action (entries, requests, web forms, and whatnot), such that search engines have a harder time accessing them through traditional crawling means (that is, by simply going from link to link). Since then, Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask are now using these sitemaps to improve their indexing capabilities; they even share the same protocol for sitemap indexing in joint support of the feature.
Why Sitemaps Are Important
By some experts' estimates, a website with a sitemap can increase its daily visitors by about 10% to 15%. Although this seems to be a negligible amount (too negligible, in fact, to be of any use in increasing SERP rankings), the bigger advantage of having a sitemap... having all your pertinent pages indexed, particularly those that are usually inaccessible via crawlers and bots... is far more significant than mere traffic increases. For some web developers, using a web-based sitemap generator or program to automate the process of creating a sitemap is much more convenient, but for those who are more hands-on when it comes to web development, you should keep on reading.
Sitemap Tags and Their Uses
At any rate, in order to begin creating sitemaps for your webpage, you need to know each of the metadata tags required for the job. The most mandatory tags of the bunch are the "loc", "url", and "urlset" tags.
- The "urlset" tag shows the whole set of URLs that exists on the sitemap.
- It's the "url" tag that contains the details of each URL.
- As for "loc", it's supposed to either represent the URL itself or the location of the URL.
- There's also "priority", which represents the importance of a page (you can rank it from 0.1 to 1.0, lowest to highest).
- Meanwhile, the "lastmod" tag reflects the last date that a page has been modified or updated.
- You can outline how often a page is changed using the "changefreq" value (which can be Never, Yearly, Monthly, Weekly, Daily, Hourly, and Always).
As for the above screenshot, it's an example of the most basic sitemap you can do using the established metadata tags. By keeping in mind these tags, you can go forth and make your own sitemaps as you see fit, which is a huge advantage for those who are bothered using other people's software to go about generating their sitemaps, especially in light of the fact that many web developers out there are more than capable of creating (and customizing) their own XML sitemaps by themselves. You can even develop a sitemap that can dynamically update itself using your database records after you've gotten the hang of writing more complex sitemaps.
Once you have your XML sitemap ready (whether it's something you wrote yourself or it's an XML generated by third-party software or web tools), you can upload your sitemap for your site using Google's own Webmaster Tools (as located by the red box shown on the screenshot above). For more information on how to submit your sitemap via Google's Webmaster Tools, here's a helpful guide from Google itself.
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