Sitemaps mean different things to different people, and this article will explore the most popular definitions as well as their importance. The problem is that they all use the word "sitemap" for very different web tools. However when you begin to define what they really are, their purpose, how they are structured, and how to create them; you see they are indeed very different. This article will explore what they are and hopefully give you a better idea of how to use them to make better church websites.
Simply put, this is a page on your website that has links to every major section of your site, similar to a book's table of contents. It is up to you as to how deep and detailed you want it to be, but this is a great way for a visitor to see what is on your site at a glance. These pages are helpful to people who are trying to see everything your church or your website has to offer. It is also a last resort for someone who is not finding what they hope to have. Links to a sitemap are often found in the footer mostly because they are a last-ditch effort to catch people that scrolled to the bottom of a page and are about to exit the site.
A sitemap diagram is a useful tool that shows how the various pages are connected on your website. LIke a sitemap page, they show all the major sections of your site; however this is not a customer-facing tool. This is for your web team to use to document how your site is laid out.The minimum information your sitemap needs to contain is the name of each page or section. However the maximum you can include and references is nearly unlimited. You can choose to add information about the intended audience and market, the content types used on the page, the person or department responsible for maintenance, or any other data points. I hope you can see that this will make a great reference tool for future projects. Note that you can save time by grouping similar pages that use the same template. A great example of this is your staff directory, where there are many pages, but they have nearly the exact same data points.
I am sure that the mere mentioning of the letters "XML" turned some of you off for this part of the article, but please read on. This file typically sits in your root directory and is used by search engines to document your site's content. It is very similar to the previous two types of sitemaps, however they offer more data, and in a specific format that is easy for a search engine can index. Plus while your sitemap page only shows an outline, and your sitemap diagram describes information about your pages and templates, your XML sitemap outlines every page, post, image, document, and audio file. While this may sound like an extremely daunting task, you can use sitemap creation tools, such as GSiteCrawler. This app will create and upload your XML sitemap, plus notify major search engines your new sitemap is ready for parsing. If you use a modern content management system such as WordPress, rest easy as your sitemaps are created automatically.
This article covered a wide array of topics, from web pages, to auditing and documenting tools, and finally to a more technical tool to help your website content get noticed by search engines. I hope that by describing what each kind of sitemap is, it demystifies what they are, and now you can see the value each brings to the table. The action item is a simple one of encouragement that you to further explore how each can be created or enhanced to help your church website.
Image courtesy of Sanja Gjenero