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 HTML
So 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!
If you are using blog software like Typepad or Wordpress, it's typically a built-in feature or an easy plug-in. Many hosted services like Hubspot provide this automatically, but if not, there is software that will generate the XML tags for you. After which, just upload the "sitemap.xml" to the root of your site. That's right, search engines are looking for "sitemap.xml" in the root of your web site. So when you are done, you should see: www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml which will yield a file that looks somewhat like the paste-in above. Google has a fabulous listing of sitemap resources, something I've returned to again and again. If you do have access to a web guru, he or she may want to look at programmatically automating using any of those items list in the "Server side programs" grouping. However, most running a small static site, without the benefit of automatic generation of sitemap.xml, may find any of the "Downloadable Tools" or "Online Generators" useful. In the past, I've had pretty good luck with GsiteCrawler, but don't take my word for it, try others and see what works for you. Also don't forget: if you are managing a static site, you'll want to submit your sitemap to Google via "Web Master Tools," a service that is a MUST for marketing and web professionals alike.
Sitemaps and SEO