A site map is a clear list of links that outlines the navigation of your website.
A clear outline of your websites navigation is vital if you want to try to ensure search engines are able to properly search your website content. Sitemaps can improve the chances of your websites content being checked by search engines even if the structure of your website is poor. Without a site map a search engine could miss a page of your site and it wouldn’t even have a chance of appearing in search results. The code used to assess your website will decide if the navigation on the site, without the use of the sitemap, is acceptable. The code will then determine if the content is hidden from visitors or if it believes the content is too hard to find, if this is the case the code may decide not to display the content in search results.
Site maps can be submitted to search engines directly and most website developers will upload the site maps they create to the major search engines so that they are sure the sitemap is being read by the search engine crawlers. Search engine crawler or search engine spider are terms given to the code which search engines use to search your website content. This code is very intelligent and is constantly being refined, however the code does sometimes find it tricky to find site maps so it is good practice to manually upload the sitemap to the major search engines.
Sitemaps are also useful because they allow you to clearly see how your visitors should be accessing your website content, this can be helpful for determining why visitors aren’t visiting a particular portion of your website or the reasons behind a large number of visits on one page versus a lower number of visits on another. However the use of a sitemap for visitor navigation research is only a secondary goal, the main goal is to make sure all the content you have on your website is seen by search engine crawlers.
Usually website developers will create a HTML sitemap, which is used to display the navigation of the website to the people who visit the website and an XML sitemap which is used by search engines to determine the importance of pages on your website and the navigation of the website. Site maps can be created manually but tools do exist that can automatically create them for you, if you are not sure if you have a sitemap or not then look for a link in the footer of your website or contact your website developer.