A “site map” is a file on a website that helps you find things on that site. There are two kinds of site maps both of which make your website more usable.

The first is a simple page on your website that lists – usually in outline format – the most important pages on your site. Sometimes a user will have difficulty finding what they are looking for with the normal navigation menus on a page so a site map provides an easy way to scan the titles of all the pages on your site. Also, the links on a site map are easily seen by a search engine so it is another way to ensure they check all of the pages on your website.

Here is what CityCenter’s site map page looks like:

A site map provides an easy way to quickly see the pages on a website

A site map provides an easy way to quickly see the pages on a website

The second type of site map is specifically designed for search engines. It is a simple text file, but it is structured in a particular way, named “sitemap.xml” and contains specific information:

  • URL (web address) of the web page
  • the date and time that page was last modified
  • how often it is usually changed, and
  • what you think its relative importance is (compared to other pages on your site)

Here is what one line of a sitemap.xml file looks like:

<url><loc>http://www.citycent.com/about.htm</loc>
<lastmod>2009-06-12T05:37:02+00:00</lastmod>
<changefreq>monthly</changefreq><priority>0.50</priority></url>

It’s somewhat readable, but not something you’d really want to type out yourself. Luckily there are lots of online services (many free) and programs that will create a sitemap.xml file for you:

  • http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/4
  • http://sitemapdoc.com/
  • http://www.addme.com/ror-sitemap-generator.htm
  • http://gsitecrawler.com/

Some of those services also provide an editor so you can make modifications to the site map. Most often you’ll want to edit the “priority” field. The system works on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0 with 1.0 having the highest priority. Setting a page to 1.0 won’t get it a higher ranking with Google, but it will tell the search engine viewing your site that that page is more important than others. But if you set everything to 1.0 then there is no difference and the search engine won’t be able to tell what you think has a higher priority. Usually you would put your home page at 1.0, your primary product or service page as 0.9 and pages that few people will need as a 0.1 or 0.2.

Once your site map is created you need to name it sitemap.xml and upload it to the main directory of your website – the same place your home page is. You’ll want to be sure that the file is structured properly or the search engines won’t be able to read it. Again, there are many free online services that will validate the file for you:

  • http://www.validome.org/google/
  • http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/validate-xml-sitemap.html
  • http://www.webmasterwebtools.com/sitemap-validation/index.php

Google and other search engines will look for your site map and factor that information into their review of your site and the index they create for it.

So both types of site maps – one for humans and one for search engines – will help your website be more useful and visible. If you need help in creating either of these for your website please let us know.