Organic (or non-paid) search results are your site’s bread and butter. Your site (or its pages) won’t come up in search results unless the content has been indexed by the Search Engines. Search Engines find sites by following links, much like we humans do when we surf the net.
In order for all of your website content to show up in search results, the search engines must be able to find it.
One of the easiest ways to help search engines find ALL of your great content is to create a Sitemap.
There are two kinds of sitemaps:
- sitemap with a small “s” helps your human visitor locate things on your website.
- Sitemap with a capital “S” is for the website crawlers, the computer that crawl your site and index it for the search engines.
You’ll actually want to create both for your website.
If you are using WordPress, this is easy with a couple of free plugins.
- Table of Contents Creator will create the sitemap for your human visitors.
- Google XML Sitemap will create the Sitemap for the Search Engines.
Both plugins will automatically update your sitemap every time you post new content. Google XML Sitemaps will also ping Google, Bing, and Ask for you. (Yahoo! and Bing have combined their search tools so getting found by one, gets you listed in both). My search engine traffic has increased dramatically since I started using this plugin.
Setting up the plugins is easy. Simply install them from your WordPress dashboard and activate them. Then, you’ll want to visit the settings page and check to be sure the settings are appropriate for your site. In most cases, the default settings will work so there is no need to change them.
Letting Search Engines Know About Your Sitemaps
In my experience, simply relying on the ping feature in the XML Sitemap isn’t enough to get your site completely indexed. You should manually submit your Sitemap to the major search engines as well. After doing this once, the automatic ping from the XML Sitemap plugin should be enough to entice the search engine crawlers to revisit your site.
Google: Google recommends that you use your free Google Webmaster Tools account to submit your Sitemap as this allows them to provide you with lots of helpful statistics. The account is free and only requires that you prove you have a legitimate interest in your website by installing a small bit of tracking code.
Bing: Bing requires you to have a Bing Webmaster Tools account before they will accept a Sitemap. Just as with Google, you’ll have to install a bit of tracking code to prove you are the owner of the site.
Ask.com: Ask generally wants to find your site by crawling links that point to it, but if you want to manually submit a Sitemap, you can. Use the SiteMap submission form to submit your SiteMap. Type in your browser’s address bar. Make sure the www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml is the actual location of your sitemap.
You can locate your Sitemap in any directory of your website. If you use Google XML Sitemap, it will create a file for you. To locate the name and location of the file, use the Settings page for the plugin (look for XML-Sitemap). The file location will be toward the bottom of the page, under Location of Your Sitemap File.
If you have a tool for getting your site crawled by any of the other search engines, I’d love to hear about it.