The Importance of the Humble Sitemap

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that the internet is developing at the speed of light. If it’s not a Google innovation, a different type of web search or a hot new SEO technique, it’s a new theory, a new social media site, a tool, a technique or a tip that promises to revolutionize the way that we search and rank information online.

Amidst this race to be the first to discover the next ‘next big thing’, we’re often guilty of forgetting the old tried and tested routes. Often this is to our detriment as old-school ways have been tried and tested by thousands before us. The humble sitemap is one such SEO tool that is often left to gather dust, despite having proven its usefulness time and time again.

An underused sitemap is a real missed opportunity, both site-side and in XML form. In XML format, a sitemap is the search engine’s blue print for your site. It tells the search crawlers which pages exist and where they can be found. The sitemap protocol is both scalable and open to personalization, meaning it can be applied to the smallest and largest of sites and developed by more advanced users.

In its most basic guise, an XML sitemap is simply a list of all of the pages on your site along with their links. If you’ve already submitted this information to the search engines, step it up by adding additional data. Google accepts a raft of extra info to enable its crawlers to work more intuitively through your site. Try the following:

date last modified
frequency of modification ie hourly, daily, monthly
And 0.5

While these changes won’t have a direct impact on your search ranking, they will contribute to better search visibility by telling the search engines exactly how your site is organized and updated. This allows the web bots to build a more complete picture and guides them through all pages of the site, not just pages found via internal or external links.

It’s important that the XML sitemap is updated to reflect new additions to the site. After all, there’s no point in creating a new page of optimized content if the search engines can’t find it.

Within the site itself, there is more scope to be creative with your sitemap. Often, web designers will leave a sitemap in its most basic form – as a list of links to pages within the site. Making your sitemap more visitor friendly by dressing it up with text, organizing according to theme or adding short descriptions will turn a run of the mill page into a useful SEO tool.

Rather than a standard link to your sitemap from every page of the site, use a followed link from the homepage and then add a ‘nofollow’ tag from every other page on the site. This will deliver PageRank to the site map from the homepage. For links from the site map to other areas of the site, use a standard followed link coupled with optimized anchor text. Optimized text links must feature a primary keyword from the destination page. You can top this up with a small description, allowing the reader to asses whether or not that is the page they are looking for.

An additional one or two lines of information per link can change a run of the mill sitemap into a useful index or content page. Some pages will need no running commentary – think of a magazine index, where the most important features are accompanied by a blurb and self explanatory pages are left to stand alone. This same approach can be adopted when designing your on page sitemap.

Google does not like to see pages with more than 100 or so links. If you’re creating a sitemap for a big site, this could become an issue. Fortunately, there are no rules about the number of sitemaps per website so take Google at their word and break the sitemap into separate pages. To make sure your end user isn’t left confused or frustrated, organize your sitemap according to product or topic so it remains easy to navigate to the desired site area.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Rebecca, It’s funny to think people are so obsessed with the latest trends that they forget about SEO basics. It’s similar to the get rich quick schemes, where everyone is trying to achieve wealth instantly with no work invested. My experience over the last 9 years has led me in the opposite direction. While I pay attention to the trends, it can be counter productive to be on the bleeding edge. The fundamental SEO techniques that we used 3-5 years ago still work. New tactics have been added and others have been updated, but the core remains unchanged. What does change however is the Flavor of the Month “Tricks” This is a losing game that will have people chasing their tails for years. Your points on sitemaps are spot on, and I only have one thing to add. Well, more like one thought to finish . . . You mention linking to an HTML sitemap with a followed link from the homepage, then using nofollow on the rest of the pages. This will not only pass PageRank, but it also helps flatten your sites profile, or link depth. We used to say that no page should be more than three clicks from the entry point. That’s Home/ Category/ Products/ Details. With bigger sites the depth can be an issue, as some studies have shown the Google-bot doesn’t deep index. One of the first reasons for using xml sitemaps! Having your HTML sitemap, or sitemaps linked off your homepage, makes every page two clicks deep. I worked with an auto parts retailer and implemented this strategy with great results!

  2. Good reminders. Always enjoy your articles. Can you make any recommendations about the priority weighting in the sitemap? Thanks, Rob

  3. A site-map can be referred to as a graphical representation of the whole structure of a website. You can find two different types of sitemaps. The first type is utilized to help visitors to navigate the website and the other is carried out in XML. XML sitemaps are known as sitemap with a capital ‘S’. These are widely utilized by google to gather a lot of information about the site.