What is a sitemap?
For just a moment forget about websites and think about how we use reference books. The beginning of the book might list the chapters, their titles and page numbers of where they start. In the back of the book was usually an index that contained the important terms covered by that book.
Most websites duplicate the front part of those books on their homepage with links to the major sections of the website. But, once a website gets longer than a few pages, even the most well-thought out menu system can not provide a clear path to all of the information on the site. Just like the index of a book identifies the key topics and ideas, a sitemap lists the different pages of a website.
A sitemap is simply a list of all the pages contained within a website.
Why do we need sitemaps?
Sitemaps provide human visitors to your site with a better way to see all of your website in one glance - think of it as a cross between an index and a table of contents.
Beyond convenience, sitemaps are a powerful tool for search engine optimization (SEO).
Sitemaps & SEO
Sitemaps are an effective search engine optimization tool for every website. A sitemap contains links to every other page on your website.
Think for a moment what that means. A search engine spider (the computers that visit websites to determine what pages should appear in what order when you search on Yahoo!, Google, MSN, or any of the many other search engines) that finds your sitemap can quickly "spider" your entire site. This is a good thing - the faster your site is spidered and indexed (listed in the search engines), the sooner people will start coming to your site.
There isn't a particular right or wrong way to craft a sitemap. Among the SEO'ers I know, opinions somewhat vary as to how they should be set up. Most people call the file site_map.html and most will put very little content other than the links themselves.
The sitemap for this site, has a heading to indicate that it is a sitemap, only 1 of the 2 main navigation menus and a list of all the pages of the site. To make the page more usable for human visitors, I have grouped the topics together under their parent categories. Depending on your site's structure you could do something similar or come up with another layout.
Make Full Use of Your Sitemap for SEO
Remember, your website is one of the few places you have total control. Every link and the text it contains should be well-thought out and part of your search engine strategy. On your sitemap be sure to use the titles and keywords of your articles to help get them indexed under the topics you intended. This won't totally ensure that the search engines place you highly for those keywords, but it does give them a nudge in that direction.
How to Program/Code a Sitemap
There are many ways to set up a site map, but I have found that using a definition list is a great way to use as little code as possible along with taking advantage of the categorization it creates naturally.
Be sure to check out Help For Web Beginners other HTML & CSS Tutorials.
HelpForWebBeginners.com is a website dedicated to providing free, easy to understand, online How To's for true web beginners. While the materials are not free or available for reprints, they are offered freely for individual use. Please use the contact page to let Michele know if this tutorial has been helpful or if there are any other beginner web programming related tutorials you would like to see.