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December 8, 2015

What is a Sitemap?

Author: Valerie Baker

If you have ever worked with a digital agency, or been a part of the web design process, you have probably heard the term ‘sitemap’. Similar to a geographical map that helps people find places they are looking for in the real world, a sitemap is both a  a file where you can list the webpages of your site to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site’s content.

The sitemap also acts like a table of contents for visitors so that they are able to differentiate the home page, from the about page, from the blog page and so on. It is the most efficient way to organize the resources that are available on a site for both search engines and users.

How We Use Sitemaps at Atilus

Sitemaps, although seemingly simple are used and compiled for a number of reasons:

  1. Planning – Sitemaps help us plan out all of the pages on your website.
  2. Content – Our content writer uses it to map out all of the preliminary content on the site.
  3. Design – Our designs are based on the sitemap, making sure it includes each page, section and sub-section that is listed on the sitemap.
  4. Priorities – It helps communicate importance – a major service section is generally more important than an administrative staff members’ bio for example.
  5. Marketing – Sitemaps allow us to immediately begin working on the marketing of your website. IE, that service page is titled in a particular way to help you get out in front of your prospective buyers and clients.

The sitemap is really where we start on your project and in some ways, brings to bear all of our digital marketing skills. Often-times it looks like a simple text-outline, however a sitemap has been compiled typically from more than one person (one writer, one market, and one designer) in order to account for everything your site will need.

Sitemaps are compiled from more than one person and allow us to design, write content, and set a framework for marketing your website.

As we move through the steps of a website, think of your sitemap as an outline that communicates what content will go where, the relationship between different pages, and a simple (text/written) representation of the major portions of your business. We then take this sitemap and draft an appropriate wireframe (blueprint) and design from it. Although sitemaps are crucial to the design of your site (as they allow us to account for all of the various pages, sub-content, and prepare our designs for everything they need to encompass) they don’t always follow them exactly. They DO always include links to every page on the sitemap however. Ultimately our design team marries the sitemap and major pages/sections, with your design goals, our own design vision, web design best-practices, and search engine and online marketing to present a final wireframe and design.

Sitemaps – Getting a Little More Technical

So here’s where it gets a little confusing, a sitemap refers both to a file we’re working on while we’re planning websites (the outline or map), but it also very specifically refers to a couple of files and pages that will reside on your website when it’s all done. Let’s explain a little further:

Google uses software known as “web crawlers” to discover publicly available webpages for people conducting searches. The sitemap informs search engines of the individual pages on your site, how new/updated the website is, and if the site is available for “crawling”. Web crawlers like Googlebot can read the sitemap file to more intelligently crawl your site for the most relevant results.

Your sitemap can also provide metadata associated with the pages you are sharing. Metadata is information about a webpage, such as when the page was last updated, how often the page is changed, and the importance of the page relative to other URLs in the site.

Do You Need a Sitemap?


Whether planning out a website, or if you own an existing website and you want to rank higher by implementing an HTML and XML sitemap the answer is you NEED A SITEMAP.

Since the overall purpose of a sitemap is to make things easier for users and crawlers like GoogleBot to understand what’s on the page and how to navigate through the site, it is especially crucial for a large, complex sites. Google can take additional data from sitemaps and metadata into account for searches when and where it is appropriate. Google also uses sitemaps to help users find the most relevant content based on their search.


Note: Google doesn’t guarantee that all of the items in your sitemap will be crawled and indexed, as Google processes rely on complex algorithms to schedule crawling. Nonetheless, your site will benefit from having a sitemap in most cases, and you will never be scrutinized for having one. By having a sitemap and metadata in place, you can be confident that Google will not overlook some of your pages and will instead present the user searching with the relevant information they are looking for.

Whether you need a completely new website with a sitemap, or just looking for a new look, Atilus can help! From idea to design, development and marketing, we achieve results for our clients and can grow business online. For more information about Atilus and the website design process, click here.

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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