A sitemap is a file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them. The site map is basically a list of the pages within the website which is stored in a seperate file in a hierarchical format.

A well-structured sitemap will make a website searchable by all search engines, and will provide users with more accurate search results when they are looking for keywords or key terms that are associated with a website. A sitemap acts as a roadmap of your website which leads Google to all your important pages. Sitemaps can be good for SEO, as they allow Google to quickly find your essential website pages, even if your internal linking isn’t perfect.

Sitemaps tell search engines about the content type on the listed pages: for example, audio, video, or image. The information displayed about an image or a video content type may include the video duration, category, age rating, image description, type, and licensing details.

A crawler is a program that automatically searches documents on the Web. Crawlers are primarily programmed for repetitive actions so that browsing is automated. Search engines use crawlers most frequently to browse the internet and build an index. One of the most efficient ways for them to do this is by using a site map.

There is one limitation to site maps of which you should be aware. Site maps are limited to no more than 50,000 URLs and 10 MB per map. And if you’re using multiple maps listed in a site-map index, there can be no more than 1,000 site maps. This is a pretty large allowance, so you may not ever have to worry about the limits, but you should still know what they are.

There is no guarantee that all the items in a sitemap will receive enhanced exposure or be crawled, but providing sitemaps is a good practice because it definitely makes it easier for the search engines.

Types of Sitemap

There are two types of sitemaps:

  • XML sitemap
  • HTML sitemap

The XML format sitemap is specifically created for search engines. So, if you're asking what is the best sitemap for SEO then the answer is an XML sitemap. This type of sitemap is not user friendly or easily readable by human eyes. A search engine spider can quickly and easily extract all the important pieces of information about your site by looking at the XML file. This information includes the relationships between pages, their update history, and the frequency with which they are updated.

A HTML sitemap, on the other hand, is more user friendly and easily readable by humans. As the sitemap is in HTML, the language of web pages, it enables lost human users to find a page on your site that they are looking for. In addition, HTML sitemaps are not supported in the Google Search Console utility.

Difference between HTML and XML Sitemaps

As mentioned earlier, XML sitemaps are developed for search engine spiders and contain the website’s page URLs along with additional information such as update history.

Here is an example of an XML sitemap:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
    <url>
    <loc>http://www.example.com/</loc>
    <lastmod>2005-01-01</lastmod>
    <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
    <priority>0.8</priority>
</url>
</urlset>

An HTML sitemap on the other hand has a list of the website’s content as well as the site’s navigation. Providing a HTML sitemap increases the accessibility of the website from both the user and Google's perspective. For example, it helps users who are browsing a website by providing the list of web pages, which may save time for a user who is looking for a specific page.

Here is an example of an HTML sitemap:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
    <head>
    <title>Sitemap</title>
</head>
<body>
    <a href="http://www.mysite.com/">My Sitemap</a>
    <ul>
            <li><a href="http://www.mysite.com/about.html">About</a></li>
            <li><a href="http://www.mysite.com/solution.html">Solution</a></li>
            <li><a href="http://www.mysite.com/previous-work.html">Previous Work</a></li>
            <li><a href="http://www.mysite.com/partners.html">Partners</a></li>
            <li><a href="http://www.mysite.com/training.html">Training</a></li>
    </ul>
</body>
</html>

As you can see, the HTML sitemap is a standard HTML document that would render as a standard web page in a browser.

Which Type of Sitemap Should I Use?

If you are able to, the best option is to create both XML and HTML sitemaps for your website.

The XML sitemap will provide Google what it is looking for which will enable your site to be indexed quicker. Anything that can be done to speed up the indexing process is a bonus. On the other hand, the HTML sitemap will provide the user with a list of all pages on your site.

If you are using a content management system like Wordpress then any number of plugins will generate a site map for you.

Further Questions

If you have any further questions on sitemaps or need any help and advice on any aspect of search engine optimisation then you can always ask an SEO expert to help. Most provide a free consultation to help with any questions that you may have.