There are three primary kinds of site map:
Sitemaps may be addressed to users or to software. Many sites have user-visible sitemaps which present a systematic view, typically hierarchical, of the site. These are intended to help visitors find specific pages, and can also be used by crawlers. Alphabetically organized site maps, sometimes called site indexes, are a different approach.
They also act as a navigation aid  by providing an overview of a site's content at a single glance.
Google introduced the Sitemaps protocol so web developers can publish lists of links from across their sites. The basic premise is that some sites have a large number of dynamic pages that are only available through the use of forms and user entries. The Sitemap files contains URLs to these pages so that web crawlers can find them. Bing, Google, Yahoo and Ask now jointly support the Sitemaps protocol.
Since the major search engines use the same protocol, having a Sitemap lets them have the updated page information. Sitemaps do not guarantee all links will be crawled, and being crawled does not guarantee indexing. Google Webmaster Tools allow a website owner to upload a sitemap that Google will crawl, or they can accomplish the same thing with the robots.txt file.
XML Sitemaps have replaced the older method of "submitting to search engines" by filling out a form on the search engine's submission page. Now web developers submit a Sitemap directly, or wait for search engines to find it. Regularly submitting an updated sitemap when new pages are published may allow search engines to find and index those pages more quickly than it would by finding the pages on its own.
Below is an example of a validated XML sitemap for a simple three page web site. Sitemaps are a useful tool for making sites built in Flash and other non-html languages searchable. If a website's navigation is built with Flash, an automated search program would probably only find the initial homepage; subsequent pages are unlikely to be found without an XML sitemap.
XML sitemap example:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"> <url> <loc>http://www.example.net/?id=who</loc> <lastmod>2009-09-22</lastmod> <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> <priority>0.8</priority> </url> <url> <loc>http://www.example.net/?id=what</loc> <lastmod>2009-09-22</lastmod> <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> <priority>0.5</priority> </url> <url> <loc>http://www.example.net/?id=how</loc> <lastmod>2009-09-22</lastmod> <changefreq>monthly</changefreq> <priority>0.5</priority> </url> </urlset>
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