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Search Engine Optimization – XML Site Maps

In the never ending battle of increasing traffic to web sites, one of the more crucial elements needed to ensure success is the site map.  Exactly what is an XML site map?  How does one create an XML site map?  Answering these questions will enable us to create an XLM site map that search engines will be able to index properly.

What is a site map?

A site map is the listing of all the pages held within a web site.  It is created with the intent of easily informing search engines about pages that are on a web site and available for crawling or indexing.  The listing starts at the home or base page and then branches out accordingly.  This listing can be done in several different formats – XML, text file or a syndication feed (RSS).  One or all formats can be chosen but in order to be effective, the site map(s) created must be in a format that allows search engine spiders to properly index all the listed pages.  As XML is a standard by  most search engines, XML is the best formatting choice.

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A bit about protocol

To be truly effective, an XML site map should follow the standard site map protocol.  It must begin with the opening tag <urlset> and end with the closing tag </urlset>.  Within the <urlset> tag the proper namespace should be declared – in most cases this would be “http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9”.  The numbering at the end of this url indicates the latest site map schema version as indicated by the sitemaps.org site (the official site for site map protocols and more).  Within the <urlset> beginning and closing tags, each page within the web site is listed.  This listing begins with the <url> tag and ends with the </url> closing tag.  The <url> set then contains all the vital information regarding the specific page.  This includes the actual url, the last date the page was modified, how often the page changes and a priority numbering.  At a minimum, each <url> set must contain the url of the page or <loc>.  The remaining information is optional.  More information on protocols and the proper creation of a site map can be viewed at http://www.sitemaps.org.

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How to create one

The creation of a site map is quite easy.  If your web site is only a few pages, you can create an XML site map manually.  However, if your web site is rather extended, the best option would be to use one of many different programs available on the web.

There are many programs you can download and use on your computer to create your site map.  Alternatively you can use an online site map creator.  One such online option is available at XML-Sitemaps.  This site offers a straightforward four step operation – you type in your base url, select how often your site is changed, indicate the last modification date, select the priority number and click start.  Once your site maps is created, you simply download it to your main site folder.  This site creates XML site maps that work perfectly with Google and will enable you to use the Google webmaster tools to enhance your SEO efforts further.  One thing to keep in mind with XML-Sitemaps is the online version will only index up to 500 pages.  If your site is much larger than this, you would be better off downloading a piece of software that will index larger sites.

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Conclusion

Creating an XML site map for your site is just one step in the SEO process.  It is simple to do either manually or with some online help.  A properly created XML site map will ensure your site is thoroughly indexed by search engines and will contribute to your SEO efforts.

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