A sitemap is a hierarchical breakdown of website information that allows easy navigation of website content. In general, a sitemap file contains list of web pages with details about the site content, having links to all sections of the website.
Why Websites Need Sitemaps?
Sitemaps are important for every website both large and small because they help search engines during crawling process. Sometimes, search engines may overlook to identify and crawl some of your pages especially if the site has newly added or updated content. Since sitemaps extend the visibility and accessibility of your site content, search engines can find your website pages much faster than normal, thereby reducing the amount of time it takes to crawl and index them. If you have a website with good content then you need not worry about search engines finding your important pages. But a sitemap ensures that all your website pages are represented to search engines for crawling and indexing. It doesn’t mean that having a sitemap is enough to get the webpages indexed by the Google. More importantly, the quality of the content will decide whether the page listed in sitemap will be added to the index.
Sitemaps are broadly divided into two types : HTML sitemap (written in Hypertext Markup Language) and XML sitemap (written in Extensible Markup Language).
A HTML sitemap is more intended for user navigation to help them explore or find the pages on the website. It is nothing but a separate HTML page showing the structure of the website by means of links. It is important for a website to keep the sitemap updated always, because this is the page where users usually go to get help for searching the required page. In case if there is any addition or removal of pages, then the changes have to be reflected in the sitemap, otherwise it unnecessarily creates confusion in page or site navigation. Since every page on the site is directly linked to sitemap, it enhances the internal linking of the pages. Besides easy user navigation, HTML sitemaps are beneficial for SEO as it helps search engines understand the structure of your website for crawling.
XML sitemaps are pretty much the same as HTML sitemaps, but differ in the code with which they are written. These sitemaps can include additional information in metadata which is important for search engine crawlers to gather information specific to the listed page such as whether there have been any changes to the content or how frequently the page has been changed compared to other urls of the website etc. If a site contains lot of pages that are not necessarily all linked to from the homepage, then having an XML sitemap representing the internal resources of the website is very helpful in finding out the content. For SEO, an XML sitemap is very important because it helps search engines to easily crawl through the pages.