Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL:
- when it was last updated
- how often it usually changes
- how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site
That information helps search engines to more intelligently crawl your site. The Sitemaps protocol is a standard that makes it easier to create a sitemap that can be parsed by all search engines.
How can the Sitemaps protocol help your website?
Web crawlers usually discover pages from links within the site and from other sites. Sitemaps supplement this data to allow crawlers that support sitemaps to pick up all URLs in the sitemap and learn about those URLs using the associated metadata.
The sitemap allows you to inform search engines about the pages on your website. Depending on how your website is structured, it can be easier for search engines to find all of your web pages if you use a sitemap.
How do search engines find my Sitemaps file? What’s new?
The big four search engines Google, Yahoo, Live/MSN and Ask will now automatically index your Sitemaps file if you add a link to your Sitemaps file in your robots.txt file.
All the major search engines regularly check the robots.txt of a website. Just add the following line to your robots.txt file:
Does a Sitemaps file improve your search engine rankings?
Using the Sitemap protocol does not guarantee that your web pages are included in search engines, but provides hints for web crawlers to do a better job of crawling your site.
A sitemap helps search engines to find your web pages but it does not help you to get higher search engine rankings.
When search engines index your web pages, they must find optimised web page content and good inbound links. Search engines will only give your web pages high rankings if they have both.
The Sitemaps protocol can help you to inform search engines about your web pages. Further information about the new sitemaps standard can be found on the official sitemaps web site.