Sitemap – the facts about Sitemaps
A sitemap is just that, a map of the accessible pages on your website, to help with navigation. In itself, it a page with a list of other pages, but it is also used to show your site structure to search crawling robots in XML format or to visitors in an HTML format. It shows the connections between the various pages to robots, although the html version does not have to show every single page. Conversely some pages may be in flash or a format that the robots cannot see, so including them on the sitemap ensures that they get listed.
XML Sitemap – this is used to submit to search engines to help ensure that their robots see all pages in a map made just for these robots rather than humans. Also, once they are are available on your website, search engines will find them. They make sense to robots and developers, but not so much to visitors. XML is short for Extensible Markup Language, a markup language defining a set of rules for encoding documents in a specific format that is readable by machines and humans. For more, see here.
HTML Sitemap – this is used as a page to help people navigate your website, see which page links to which and acts as a sort of summary of your entire website. This is a good place to look to see if your navigation structure makes sense. It should be obvious to a visitor. HTML Hyper Text Markup Language, is the standard markup language used to create web pages. For more see here
SEO and sitemaps – Google likes to see a sitemap and potentilly gives points for having one. Google will find your pages in a small site, but recommends having a sitemap to help it see all the pages in a very large site or see pages that are not all linked or for sites with very few external links.
Planning a sitemap – this should be done during the wireframe stage when planning your website, its navigation and its pages. Add the list as a page on the site in plain html for visitors and in XML for the robots.
Creating a Sitemap – Google the two words ‘Sitemap generator’ and get a free tool to create your sitemap. For example: https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/
Submitting a sitemap – this is done through Google Webmaster Tools and should be kept up to date, so check it every so often.