You're probably aware by now that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) takes a great deal of intentionality. You plan, strategize and refine your website to be the best site possible. And the goal is to have search engines understand, index your site and direct traffic to you.
A great way to assist this process? Make sure your site has an XML sitemap.
You may be thinking, "We've already got a site map and users are able to easily access it." That's great! But this is a different kind of map. What most people generally refer to as a site map is the web page that allows visitors to easily navigate through your site, understanding the sections, themes, and pages.
An XML sitemap is specifically designed for Search Engine spiders to allow them to easily find all your pages. When spiders crawl your site, they may not be able to find all the pages you'd like indexed by following links--providing a XML sitemap right in the root directory enhances your ability to provide spider with all the links you'd like indexed (of course, there's no guarantee...but it's worth the effort).
If you're wondering where these sitemaps came from, they go back to sites that originally could not be crawled by search engines (dynamic content, Flash and Ajax). These maps were created in XML (Extensible Markup Language) to allow spiders to easily find the pages within those sites. Now, XML sitemaps are a great tool for any website!
You'll want to make sure that you regularly update this file because of new pages you've generated (promotions, blogs, etc.) But don't worry--it's not too time consuming. In fact, there's a number of XML site map generators available for use for free online--a great one is GsiteCrawler. You just need to provide some basic information and it spiders your site, creates an XML site map and saves the file for you. In fact, it will even upload directly to your FTP site if you'd like. If you'd like some other recommended options for generating, just let me know. I'd be happy to recommend some!
If you're wondering how to make sure you've created a good XML site map for Google, the answer is easy. Make sure you have a Google Webmaster Tools account, upload the sitemap into this tool and it will automatically tell you whether Google has been able to read your sitemap or if there are any issues with it. If a problem does arise, it can help you pin point the exact problem you'll need to resolve.
This may all sound a little too "tech" oriented to worry about--and I understand that. When I first learned about the XML site map I wondered if it was really worth the time, especially with all the other areas of SEO to focus on. And I can tell, it absolutely is! The goal is to help spiders crawl your site...and that's precisely what you'll see happen!
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