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Vets Who Code

Sitemaps, Search Engines, and Accessibility - Oh My!

Erin
・3 min read

Do you need a site map?

Yes. Yes you do. Let me explain. The goal of a site map is primarily so that search engines can crawl your site to find appropriate content to display when a user submits a query. Without a site map, the crawlers have to peruse all your content to see what is relevant, taking a bit of time (depending on site size). If you have a site map, the crawlers will use that information to analyze your site's content.

When would you benefit the most from having a sitemap?

  1. if your site has a ton of pages, and by a ton, I mean hundreds.
  2. if your site has a lot of content that may not be logically related.
  3. your content updates frequently.

Where do you start?

Decide if you're going to use a third-party service or write it yourself. The advantage of using a service is that it is quicker and requires less intricate knowledge of your website. These services are most appropriate for sites that are on the smaller side with fewer interconnecting pages. A website with a lot of pages with deeply linked content would also benefit from using a service but would need to have a person review the information to make sure it is complete and accurate. If you are looking to write it yourself, I found an easy-to-follow explanation of XML at sitemaps.org.

When creating your site map, HTML or XML are the two formats recommended for search engine crawlers. HTML site maps are great for content that does not change regularly or you want to display on a website. HTML site maps don't include any update or publishing information. XML site maps have tags that include the initial publication date and how often the content is updated. That is useful for content that changes regularly; it gives the web crawler an idea of when it needs to sweep the site again for new information.

For the VetsWhoCode site, I wanted to use an XML site map because I wanted to indicate the frequency of updates. With the program running several times a year, the site has a constant stream of new and fresh ideas integrated into the web app. I found an easy-to-follow explanation of XML at sitemaps.org. It included all the elements needed to write a complete site map for VWC.

I decided to try the free sitemap generator from Sure Oak SEO. This process was quick, populating 14 pages from the VWC site.

Sure Oak Site Map Generator
I opened the XML file that was available for download, and it included all the URL information and the update frequency. All the URLs did default to daily update, which needs to change based on the actual change frequency of the site. It also did not include any priority tags, which on a 14-page site isn't too time-consuming to add, but it would be tedious on a site with hundreds of pages.

<url>    
        <loc>https://vetswhocode.io/</loc>    
        <changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
        <priority>0.8</priority>
    </url>  
    <url>    
        <loc>https://vetswhocode.io/apply/</loc>    
        <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> 
        <priority>0.8</priority>
    </url>  
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Now that you have a site map, what do you do with it? Could you add it to your back end solely for the web crawlers? Sure, but I would encourage you to create an HTML site map also, add style to it, make it functional and link it in your footer. Having all your information accessible in one space makes it easier for people who 1) aren't as familiar with your site to locate what they are looking for and 2) increases the ease of access for visitors either navigating by keyboard or using a screen reader. It is fewer steps to get from one place to another if all the steps are in one place.

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