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Site Maps; XML vs. HTML

 

A site map is a graphical representation of the pages in a web site.  Usually arranged in a hierarchial fashion, like an organizational chart, a site maps purpose is generally to list all the pages in the site so that search engine robots can find them.

For very large sites with static pages, a site map can be very useful to site visitors (humans) if the visitor is looking for a specific page, or a specific topic.   However, for small sites, the primary purpose of a site map is to provide a pathway for search engines to find all the pages.  This is particulary true when sites have content that can not be read by search engines, such as Flash, JavaScript, or images without alternate text identification. 

Wikipedia has a very complete description of site maps and their use.  Refer to these pages:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Site_map
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitemap_index
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitemaps

There are 2 primary types of sitemaps, or site maps.  The first is an HTML site map; the second is an XML site map.  A third type of site map less frequently used is a text site map.

The HTML site map can be easily integrated into the "look-and-feel" of a site.  It's appearance is usallly in an organization format either vertically or horizonatlly.  An example of an HTML site map is this sites page http://www.nilsem.com/index-sitemap-classic

The XML site map was developed by Google to solve a need for search engines to more easily index sites with dynamic pages, large sites, and sites using interactive forms.  The protocol was developed by Google and has since been accepted by Yahoo!, MSN, and ASK. 

The XML site map is a  file that lists the URLs for a site. It allows webmasters and search marketers to include information about each URL such as when it was last updated, how often it changes, and how important it is in relation to other URLs in the site.  Search engines are then able to crawl the site more intelligently. The XML site map complements the robots.txt protocol.  A robots.txt file is an exclusion protocol which tells search engines what NOT to index, and is a widely accepted practice.  By submitting site maps to search engines, the webmaster informs the search engines about the site, and helps the indexing of site.

It is important to remember that having a site map, either XML or HTML, does not guarantee a web site will be indexed.  And if indexed, the site map in no influences the ranking of the pages.  Ranking is dependent on page content, link backs, and other HTML fundamentals. 

The XML sitemap format is a tagged format using UTF-8 encoding.  An example from Wikipedia is illustrated below:

Site Map Example from Wikipedia

A comprehensive treatment of the XML site map is available at Google Webmaster Tools

Site maps, either XML or HTML are placed in the public directory of a web site.  The public directory is also often called the root directory, or ht docs directory.  The check whether a site may have a site map, type the domain name plus the file extension.  For example, to check for an XML site, in your browser type http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml.  To check for an HTML site map, type http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.html or http;//www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.htm.

There are a number of great site map generator tools on the market that can be used to generate an XML, HTML, or Text site map - or generate all 3 of them.  Search on the phrase 'XML Site Map Generator'.

 

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