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Building and submitting HTML and XML sitemaps

From: Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

Video: Building and submitting HTML and XML sitemaps

You've probably heard about sitemaps, but many people don't understand that there are actually two different kinds of sitemaps: HTML and XML. In fact, when somebody talks about the sitemap, it's not always clear what they're referring to. For many years, site owners had created basic HTML sitemaps to help both site users and the search engines find their way through the site. For users, it's another navigation tool. For the search engines, it ensures that every page can be found through plain text links.

Building and submitting HTML and XML sitemaps

You've probably heard about sitemaps, but many people don't understand that there are actually two different kinds of sitemaps: HTML and XML. In fact, when somebody talks about the sitemap, it's not always clear what they're referring to. For many years, site owners had created basic HTML sitemaps to help both site users and the search engines find their way through the site. For users, it's another navigation tool. For the search engines, it ensures that every page can be found through plain text links.

In fact, a sitemap can help resolve the sort of navigation problems that we've discussed in an earlier video. As we've also learned earlier, you need plenty of text links in your site to tell the search engines what reference pages are about. The search engines look at the anchor text in a link to get more clues about the subject of the page, so HTML sitemaps are good thing, and you do well to add one to your site. In 2005 though, Google introduced the XML sitemap, a file that is designed for the search engines, not the site users.

In fact, the users will never see it. An XML sitemap is essentially an index of your site, a list of all the pages on your site that a search engine can read. All the major search engines now support XML sitemaps: Google, Bing, and Ask. Yahoo, of course, gets its results from Bing. It's a good idea to use a sitemap as it can definitely help improve the number of pages in your site that are indexed, at least in some cases. It's particularly important for very large sites, but even small sites might as well have them, as they can be created relatively quickly and easily.

So how do you create an XML sitemap? Well, that depends. Many e-commerce and content management systems already have built-in sitemap functions, or you may be able to add the function. There is several WordPress plug-ins that create sitemaps, for instance. Such built-in and plug-in tools are generally 'set and forget'. You set them up and when you add pages to your site, those pages are added to the sitemap automatically. In the case of large custom dynamic sites, the programmer building the site will need to create a function, or find some kind of sitemap code.

What works depends on what technology you're using, but you can find plenty of options with a quick search. For a smaller site, you might use something like xml-sitemaps.com. In fact, if you Google 'xml sitemaps', you can quickly find a lot of sitemap creators. Using this system, you can create a small sitemap in a few seconds. If you are not sure of the answers, just keep the defaults. Simply enter your URL. Then click start. The system crawls your site, then provides you with a downloadable sitemap.

This particular tool only works for sites under 500 pages, but the company also sells a $20 PHP-based sitemaps generator that you install on your server, or they'll install it for you for ten bucks. There are actually several different kinds of XML sitemaps. There's the basic sitemap that lists web pages, but then there are image sitemaps, videos sitemaps, and news sitemaps. The last of these is used by sites that have been included in Google News. If these are the types of content important to you, you should definitely use these sitemaps.

Some tools, such as the xml-sitemaps.com commercial tool will create all these types of sitemap. I'll show you in a moment how to submit your sitemap to Google and Bing. You don't need to worry about Yahoo. But to make sure all search engines that uses sitemap can find it, you should also reference the sitemap in your robots.txt file like this. Ask.com, for instance, can find you a sitemap this way. Go to the webmaster area at this URL. Then click the Sign in button.

If you don't already have a Google account, start by creating one; otherwise you can log in and will be taken straight to your Google webmaster account. Start by clicking the Add a site button, type your site's domain name, include the www piece. Then click the Continue button. Now, Google wants you to prove that you own this site, and provides several ways for you to do this. You can do this by adding a DNS record to your domain configuration, and Google provides instructions for some hosting companies.

Select one of these options and Google will provide you with instructions. If this is something you don't think you want to mess with, or perhaps you don't have access to the necessary configuration, there other options, as you can see. There are currently three methods. If your site has Google Analytics installed and the Analytics account was set up using the same account you're using for this webmaster console, you can simply click this option button and then the Verify button at the bottom. Another method is to simply put a verification file in the root of your web site, the same directory as your homepage.

Click here to download the file. Then verify that it's there by clicking this link. Then you can click the Verify button to complete the operation. Finally, you can also add this meta tag to the head section of your site's homepage. Once it's there, click the Verify button. So I am going to use the recommended method, the HTML file that needs to be uploaded to the server. You can download from here. We've already done that and put it on the server, so now we can click on the Verify button.

Google will go and read that file to verify that you've placed it in the correct position. So now, once you've done all this, Google knows that the person who set up this webmaster account has administrative access to the web site. The next step is to tell Google about your sitemap. So we are going to click on the Webmaster Tools link. Then we are going to click on the name of the web site we've just added. Then we'll go up here to the Site configuration menu and click on Sitemaps.

Then we click this Submit a Sitemap button, and we type the name and the path of the sitemap file, which is usually sitemap.xml, and we click the Submit Sitemap button on the right, and Google will load that sitemap and often will check it immediately. Google will read your sitemap and use it to help it find its way around your site, but it will also provide all sorts of interesting information about your site. Give it some time to collect information and return to the account at some point to dig around and see what's available, information about searches that return your site in the search results, about who is linking to your site, the key words Google sees in your site, links within your site, and so on.

There is even diagnostic information to tell you if there are problems on your site. One more quick setting. You should go into the Settings area of the Site configuration menu and select the www form of your domain name as the preferred domain name. Now, let's take a quick look at Bing. Go to bing.com/toolbox/webmasters. Create an account and log in. Then click the Add Site button and enter the domain name of your site, including the www piece. Then click the Submit button.

As with Google, you then need to verify your ownership of the site. You can either save a file to the root of your web site or use a meta tag. Click on the web site and click the Crawl tab. Then click the Sitemap link over here on the left. Next, click the Add Sitemap button. Enter the URL. Make sure you include the http:// piece, or you may get an error. Click the Submit button, and Bing should go out and read the sitemap.

You only need to submit your sitemap to Google and Bing, and it doesn't take long, but it can really pay dividends in terms of site indexing.

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Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

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