Learning all the different design elements and flourishes that help your SEO push your page into high visibility can be a lengthy process. So, it’s not a surprise if you’ve been tweaking design and grooming text for a while before learning about sitemaps. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they’re essentially an outline of your site with links to all of the pages in plain text, making them accessible to visitors and search engine crawlers alike.

Adding a sitemap to your website can help you optimize the page more efficiently by providing a hierarchy of your site’s parent and child pages that neatly organizes topics and sub-topics. This makes it easier for crawlers to understand what the site as a whole is about.

A good sitemap does more than just help bots with indexing, though. It also represents an accessible option for going directly to a desired page, one that works with screen readers and other alternative I/O devices. That makes it easier for visitors to find what they need, even if your main navigation is in a format like flash or graphics that can be harder for them to parse. For maximum ranking and accessibility, using a map alongside alt text for graphics and flash elements will further optimize your site for an alternative I/O, and completing that metadata helps with the crawler’s indexing methods too. That means it directly helps your ranking while also helping reduce your bounce rate, providing even more reinforcement for your efforts.

Sitemaps can exist in two forms. HTML is the older format, but in 2005 Google also approved XML formatting for official sitemap pages. The advantage to using XML is the ability to make additional sitemap types. In addition to the basic maps with links to pages in plain text, you can also set up maps of the images or videos on the site, as well as a map of the news items. This helps make the sitemap even more useful by allowing people to seek out specific asset types, so they can find what they need even faster.

Remember, you don’t just set up the sitemap document and call it good. You’re going to need to follow through to make sure the crawlers see it. That means adding it to your robots.txt file and making sure to submit all your sitemaps to Google through the webmasters submission link. That will make sure you’ve taken every step possible to make a map that does everything you hoped it would.