Understanding Sitemaps: What are the two most important things you need to know about Sitemaps? As a teacher I often need to provide answers to questions like these. Many people today still do now know what a sitemap is or how you can read one. This will teach you the basics you NEED TO KNOW about Sitemaps and why you need one.
A search engine is so called because it searches the Internet. It starts off with a list of domain names. Names like aLanTait.Net or AngBarato.Com. It goes to these domains and fetches the “Landing Page!” From there is crawls or spiders to other places by following the links. So you need to have a link to any page that is not the landing page for your domain. Search Engines like Google and Bing cannot find stuff without a link. No link, No Index! A Sitemap helps Google and Bing Find your stuff!
No Link, No Index
The first thing you need to know is that a Search Engine may not see all the pages on your website. If they cannot link to it, it does not exist. Currently I am rebuilding the AngBarato.Com website. If you go there, you will see just a few example pages that are not very meaningful. I was using them to teach a student a programing technique. But of you went on to the Directory/Folder /ABC/ you might be amazed at what was there! But Google cannot find it because there is no link to it!
If you view the page source, you will see the raw site map…
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <?xml-stylesheet type="text/xsl" href="http://alantait.net/wp-content/plugins/bwp-google-xml-sitemaps/xsl/bwp-sitemap.xsl"?> <urlset xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd" xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"> <url> <loc>http://alantait.net/</loc> <lastmod>2013-12-13T04:06:01+00:00</lastmod> <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> <priority>1.0</priority> </url> </urlset> <!-- This sitemap was originally generated in 0.005 second(s) (Memory usage: 4.58 MB) - 1 queries - 1 URL(s) listed -->
Reading the Map
The map is easy to read. Here is the map legend.
The line that begins “<?xml version” just tells what XML version it is coded with…
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<?xml-stylesheet just tells where the xml stylesheet it to make the map more HUMAN readable. Google and Bing do not need this and it may be omitted.
<?xml-stylesheet type="text/xsl" href="http://alantait.net/wp-content/plugins/bwp-google-xml-sitemaps/xsl/bwp-sitemap.xsl"?>
<urlset is the wrapper for the set of records that make up one sitemap. Usually there are just one… This also defines the coding schemas, but it is Always the Same! (Don’t worry about it!)
<urlset xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd" xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
This tag, <url> and its closing tag </url> make up the wrapper for all the records for One Page. You will usually have more than one of these.
The tag <loc> is where you put the URL for your page.
<lastmod> comes into play in the second reason you make a sitemap (see below).
<changefreq> is your guess of suggestion of how often you think you will be changing this Page! It is not too important actually.
<priority> is the relative priority you think this page has to other pages ON YOUR SITE! Choose anything you like from any of these:
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0
Honestly, this does not make a lot of difference. This is just a suggestion to the Search Engines. If ALL your pages were 1.0 it would be the same as ALL your pages being 0.1 because this is a relative scale to the other pages on your site. So make your main pages 1.0, most pages 0.5 and unimportant pages 0.1! Just remember that you are only competing with your own site here!
From <url> to </url> is ONE PAGE! In making a sitemap by hand you can just copy this section and change the URL! Make as many of these sections as you need.
</urlset> is basically the end of your sitemap.
<!– and –>
Anything between <!– and –> is just a note or comment someone wanted to put there, usually to remind them of something! Sometimes when a sitemap is made dynamically, the programmer will put a little information there for humans. It it NOT acted on and not needed.
<!-- This sitemap was originally generated in 0.005 second(s) (Memory usage: 4.58 MB) - 1 queries - 1 URL(s) listed -->
The first tip about a sitemap was that it makes sure a Search Engine has a link to each of your webpages within your website. The Second Tip is that some Search Engines like Google and Bing will download your website less often if you have a sitemap. Since, in one way or another, you pay for bytes downloaded (even with “unlimited” hosting), this is an advantage to you.
What happens is the Search Engine grabs your sitemap and only downloads the pages that have changed in the <lastmod> tag since the last time they downloaded that page. Slow sites due to search engine traffic are basically eliminated.
Tip Three would be that you can also notify a Search Engine that you have a new sitemap. This “Ping” will speed up the discovery of your new and newly changed pages.
The above sitemap was generated using the WordPress plugin Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps.