Imagine you are entering a large shopping centre for the first time, what’s the first thing you do? Tramp slowly around the shops hopelessly searching for what you want, or do you find a visual display map located on every shop floor and figure out exactly where you want to go?
Within a website, a sitemap is essentially the same thing. It works as a visual index to your website showing where your pages are and what they contain. They are created for search engines so they can easily navigate your site if they are looking for specific content.
They are crucial for SEO, because having a good, effective sitemap submitted to the major search engines will greatly increases the chance of your websites content showing up in relevant searches.
A user who clicks on a search engine result might find themselves within a large unfamiliar website that is initially difficult for them to navigate. A large website that provides a sitemap will help users see the table of contents of what the website contains helping them find the content they were searching for.
Google, and other search engines, need websites to have sitemaps so their spiderbots can crawl through the content to pick out the appropriate information for the results of their users. The more links they can crawl through with the correct data, the more likely they will pull the site up for ranking.
A sitemap provides a visual directory quickly available for the user to navigate. Most begin with a top-down approach using page hierarchy. For example, if you are on a home page of a retail shoe store but are looking for particular type of shoe it might display: Home Page -Shoes- Ladies Shoes-Boots-Ankle Boots.
The provided lists are embedded links and will bring the user directly to the chosen page. The most common example of a sitemap would be in large online retail stores. Lots of categories of products and services need to be found easily, and displayed in a way that is simple to navigate and will not deter the user.