A sitemap is part of any good SEO strategy. The feature lists all of the pages hosted by a website, helping search engine crawlers identify content worth caching. Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! should be able to discover every page associated with your site, but sometimes they need a little help. Having a sitemap sends a flare out into the ‘net, grabbing the attention of crawlers.

It is essential for webmasters to create an XML sitemap and maintain its accuracy with each upgrade to the site. Whenever a business introduces a new section or category, webmasters must update the map to improve spiderability and ensure that search engines cache all relevant, high-quality pages. Without a sitemap, content risks index-lessness.

An XML sitemap looks different from the standard map brands publish to their web pages. XMLs are designed for search engines – not for people, so they include URLs, meta data and other content meant to attract search engines. They aren’t pretty to look at, unless you love coding. A standard sitemap helps internet users navigate a web presence efficiently, showing users where they need to go to find the content they’re looking for online. One is under the hood, and the other is front and center.

The XML sitemap uses tags to share information, with required ones like <urlset>, <url> and <loc>. The former two format the XML, the latter contains the site’s URL. Meta data alternatives include <lastmod>, <changefreq> and <priority>, which translate to last modified date, how often the page changes and how important the page is, respectively.

This language helps search engines note which pages contain the most important information, how frequently crawlers should visit the pages to index new content and the last time a webmaster revised a given page.

When webmasters use these tags effectively, they help crawlers navigate websites in timely and appropriate manners. Without these tags, a site may lose out on potential opportunities to increase cached pages and improve PageRank in SERPs.