Benefits of XML and HTML Sitemaps

What is a Sitemap?

Sitemaps are files that provide a comprehensive listing of every webpage hosted on a website, and often additional information about how often the pages are updated and how they relate to the other pages on the site. There are two distinct types of sitemaps: XML, which help search engines and bots properly understand that structure of a site, and HTML, which provide an easily readable directory for the site’s visitors.

XML Sitemap Example:

HTML Sitemap Example:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google+
  • Evernote

Why Do Websites Need Sitemaps?

Websites need both XML and HTML sitemaps for several reasons. The former is critically important for search engine optimization (SEO) because nearly all search engines rely on these files to generate accurate results, while the latter can make the site easier to use for human visitors.

Virtually all major search engines have adopted the XML Sitemap Protocol, first introduced by Google in 2005, which allows them to scan the site’s XML file and determine how to rank the site’s webpages. If a webmaster neglects to add the XML sitemap, search engines will assume that there is no relevant information beyond the site’s easily scanned HTML files, and important webpages may not be returned for relevant keywords. XML sitemaps are particularly important for documenting a website’s pages that are built using platforms such as Flash or Ajax which aren’t normally processed by search engines, or pages which may not be linked to the rest of the domain and thus typically won’t be recognized by web crawlers.

Unlike their XML counterparts, HTML sitemaps aren’t particularly important for search engine optimization. However, they can be very helpful for human visitors who are navigating the site. HTML sitemaps are typically just directories of links to all of the site’s pages, providing a simple interface where users can jump across the site with ease. This feature is typically not essential on small websites, but it is often invaluable on larger ones with many sections or products.

How Do You Make a Sitemap?

There are many different ways to create an XML sitemap. On a large site that contains many pages, manually programming one would often be impractical since it can require perhaps thousands of lines of code. Fortunately, there are many tools available that can generate sitemaps algorithmically. For webmasters who use a content management system like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, there are a variety of plugins and modules available to create XML sitemaps, and there are also numerous independent programs that can generate them by crawling your website. Searching for an XML sitemap generator will yield thousands of results, though they vary widely in their feature set, reliability, cost, and whether they are actively being maintained.

For more robust and complicated websites, you can utilize code to query the database and generate an XML formatted sitemap.

XML sitemaps are placed on a site’s server and usually identified within its “robots.txt” file, which is typically the first file scanned by search engines’ web crawler algorithms. The “robots.txt” file is largely the opposite of the sitemap since its main role is to tell search engines which files are irrelevant to results, but identifying the sitemap is its most important secondary function. Most search engines also offer the option to directly send them a sitemap (i.e. Google’s Search Console), rather than simply placing it on the site’s server and waiting for the search engine’s web crawler algorithm to find it independently.

HTML sitemaps typically must be manually created but can be generated with code. When creating an HTML sitemap, it’s important to consider the user’s experience and ensure that the page meets its goal of making navigation as simple as possible.

Neon Rain utilizes XML sitemaps on every site we build, ensuring that every customer’s site will be indexed accurately by all modern search engines. Contact Neon Rain today to learn more about all of our web development services or to schedule a consultation.