XML Sitemaps?

June 17, 2009

If search engine marketing is important to you, then one thing you will definitely want to make sure you have on your website is an XML Sitemap. So, why are they so important and what are they anyway?

XML feeds are a type of RSS feed. XML documents, at the most basic level, present data about one website for use on another website. In the case of RSS feeds, content from your website is presented and your customers can take that content from the RSS feed and put it on whatever website they wish to use (for instance, Google, Yahoo, an RSS aggregator or etc.). This works great for sharing blog content, calendar data, special offers, etc.

In the case of an XML Sitemap, you share data about the pages on your website specifically with search engines. This in turn helps search engines get a better understanding of your website. Once the search engines have a better understanding of your website, you get better rankings.

What kind of data is shared? Take a look at the XML sitemap for QW Consulting’s website. It looks like a lot of ugly code, but let me walk you through it because it isn’t that bad.

Within the sitemap, you’ll see a lot of statements that look something like this:

<url>
<loc>http://www.qwconsulting.com</loc>
<lastmod>2009-05-29</lastmod>
<changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
<priority>1.0</priority>
</url>

Everything in between the <url> and </url> tags is the information about one particular page on the website. Inside the url tags, you state the link to the page (inside <loc> and </loc>) – in this case, the home page. All the other data within the same url tags relate to that page. You have the date the page was last modified (inside <lastmod> and </lastmod>), a rough guide to how frequently the page changes (inside <changefreq> and </changefreq>) and what priority you give this page. The priority is relative to other pages on your site. In this case, the home page is the most important page on the site and, as a result, it gets a 1.0 priority (the highest priority possible – 0.0 is the lowest priority).

Once the search engines know that information, they have hints that tell their robots how best to crawl the website. The sitemap also helps search engines index pages that may not have links (or at least not a lot of links) on your website. For example, in a site recently developed by QW Consulting, Car Show Central, the links to car clubs, cruise ins and car clubs are only accessible behind a search form. This is fine for people but search engines cannot bypass that form to reach that data so the only way that search engines can access those links is by using the sitemap file.

At QW Consulting, an XML sitemap is included without every website developed. If you want to learn more, or setup an XML sitemap on your website, contact me today.

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