Four or five years ago if you said to your web guru, "let's make a site map!" You'd probably end up with a quaint-looking single web page that had a list of links and categories indexing your site. You can still find these from time to time. As it turns out, Apple still has one, go figure. As you may recall, this was yet another alternative to a search engine, to help visitors find your content. Not your grandfather's web code, the "site map" of the 21st century, however, is something a bit different but with the same goal of helping visitors find your content, albeit in a bit more "high tech" fashion.
It's XML not HTMLSo we are talking XML sitemaps. These sitemaps are somewhat similar to the old-fashioned kind, they are a list of links and web pages, but in a special structured format, one that Yahoo! and Google know how to scoop right up. It takes search engines time to spider through your regular site menu, and you've just given them an easy shortcut, and they like you for that. Also, these files include time stamps and change frequency, this meta data also tells search bots how frequently they should revisit your site to check for updates. Pardon me while I sample a bit for you:
You are probably thinking, "yikes, does my techie guru have to keep that stuff updated?" The answer is yes, but the good news is really that no one need keep up your entire sitemap manually. There are many tools out there to generate these for you. Really -- don't ever even think about coding it manually!