Sitemap - The Why and How
Although a sitemap is a structural element calling for being associated with building a website, we add this topic to digital marketing because of its importance in promoting web pages and websites.
Why a Website needs a Sitemap?
There are two main reasons. First, it is a convenient way to keep track of all pages forming a website. It can be used as checklist when monitoring progress of changes covering all web pages. Second, it is the recommended format to communicate a website's inventory to search engines like Google or Bing.
Sitemap XML Format
A sitemap file is using xml format. Xml is a markup language like html although strict. Errors in syntax will make the data unreadable.
An url element in a sitemap has one mandatory tag named "loc" and a few optional tags like "lastmod", "priority" and "frequency". Of the optional tags, we use only lastmod. We consider priority and frequency as artificial values. Search engines ignore all optional tags.
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"> <url> <loc>https://www.simaec.net/digital-marketing/sitemap/</loc> <lastmod>2022-03-22</lastmod> </url> ... </urlset>
How to build a Sitemap
There are different ways to build the sitemap. Small websites may use a manual approach, while larger websites are better served with a tool that creates the sitemap automatically.
Small websites with less than 10 pages, the sitemap.xml file can be maintained manually with a text editor. Make sure though that the xml syntax is valid using an online xml format checker.
Local Directory Crawler
For websites like simaec.net, we use a script which walks through the files and folders of the local drive. It is a simple python script.
Another approach we use frequently is crawling the public website and retrieve urls of all internally linked webpages. We use this script not only for building a sitemap but also to monitor on page SEO elements like correct canonical links, existence of title tag and content and meta description.
For database driven websites, we use a script which combines a local drive crawler with data pulled from the DB. This is possible because our DB driven websites usually have a table containing records of all webpages with title and description.
There are online tools and programs available that perform a crawl of your public website and save the result as sitemap. We prefer a do-it-yourself approach.
We test frequently if the xml format of the sitemap is correct. The availability of a sitemap is a point on the SEO checklist.