A site map (or sitemap) is a list of pages of a web site accessible to crawlers or users. It can be either a document in any form used as a planning tool for Web design, or a Web page that lists the pages on a Web site, typically organized in hierarchical fashion. There are two popular versions of a site map. An XML Sitemap is a structured format that a user doesn't need to see, but it tells the search engine about the pages in your site, their relative importance to each other, and how often they are updated. HTML sitemaps are designed for the user to help them find content on the page, and don't need to include each and every subpage. This helps visitors and search engine bots find pages on the site.
Since Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and Google use the same protocol, having a Sitemap lets the four biggest search engines have the updated page information. Sitemaps do not guarantee all links will be crawled, and being crawled does not guarantee indexing. However, a Sitemap is still the best insurance for getting a search engine to learn about your entire site.
Sitemaps are particularly beneficial on websites where:
- some areas of the website are not available through the browsable interface, or
- webmasters use rich Ajax, Silverlight, or Flash content that is not normally processed by search engines.
The Sitemap Protocol format consists of XML tags. The file itself must be UTF-8 encoded. Sitemaps can also be just a plain text list of URLs. They can also be compressed in .gz format.
A sample Sitemap that contains just one URL and uses all optional tags is shown below.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>