Six Steps to a Good Site Map?

Just what is a site map, anyway?

old mapAfter reading an SEO tip advising her to “Include a link to your site map on every page of your website,” a client sent me an email asking, “By the way, what exactly is a site map anyway?” Here’s my answer.

The site map being recommended above is simply another HTML page on your website that includes a list of links to every page on your site. Think of site maps as signposts or road signs on the information superhighway to help people find their way. Or perhaps you could think of site maps as tables of contents, like in a book, or even as treasure maps showing visitors where to find all the good stuff your website has to offer.

Why a site map?

There are many reasons to have a site map page and include a link to it on every page of your Web site.

  • Visitors who become confused about where they are in your site, or aren’t sure where they want to go, can review your site map just the way they might review a table of contents in a publication.
    • “I know what I want and I don’t want to waste time finding it.”
    • “I saw something I want. How do I get back to it quickly.”
    • “I want to see all this site has to offer.”
  • Large sites and sometimes even smaller sites are not always indexed completely by Google and other search engines. Their robots may follow a link away from your site and leave many pages not fully indexed. If a page is not indexed by search engines, they will not display in search results. So you want to help the robots all you can to be sure they get as complete a picture of your site as possible.
  • A link on every page to a site map that then lists links to every page can feed the search engines a lot of information. Although this does not guarantee a 100% complete index of your site, it goes a long way toward it.

The 6 steps to a good site map?

You can create a site map page that is helpful all around — one that really helps site visitors find what they seek and at the same time helps search engines more completely understand your Website, leading to better search results for your site.

  1. Create an HTML page for your site map.
  2. Add a link to EVERY page on your site that you want people to know about. There are lots of ways to design a site map page, but simple is better. Often an outline format broken into sections works best.
    • If you have many Web pages, limit links on any page to a maximum of 100. You may need to break your site map into multiple pages, perhaps by product category or type of service.
    • (Note: If you have confidential pages or pages you do not want indexed, simply leaving them off a site map will not stop them from being indexed. You will need to take additional steps to completely block search engine robots, such as password protection or a robots.txt file.)
  3. For every link on your site map, include a brief description of the Web page the link goes to. This definitely helps visitors find the right page.
  4. To also help rank those pages better in search results, use your proven keywords for the target page in the description and in the anchor text. But be sure you don’t abuse this: no keyword stuffing or trickery here — make it relevant.
  5. Now add a link to your site map page on every other page in your Web site. That way no matter where a visitor is, they can always get to every other page by going to your site map. And, search engine robots can also find all of your other pages, no matter which page they enter your site through.
  6. Be sure to update the site map when you add new Web pages. Also, update the description if a Web page changes substantially.

Site maps for large or complex Websites

If you have a huge Web site and the prospect of creating and maintaining a similarly large site map is stopping you, then consider some of the various software and online services that can help automate this process. If you use Adobe® Dreamweaver,® extensions are available to help. If you’re using other development software, there are also online services and standalone products that can help.

I'll try not to confuse you, but:

There are, generally, two types of sitemaps. The first we discussed above: an HTML page listing the pages of your Web site meant to help users find the information they need. Although this type of site map can help both visitors and search engines navigate your site, it's different from an “XML Sitemap” that can be submitted to Google using Webmaster Tools.

XML Sitemaps — usually called Sitemaps, with a capital S — are a way for you to give Google information about your site. This is a somewhat more complex procedure, but Google has oodles of information and tutorials.

Start with a Google Webmaster Tools account.

road signsThe best way to submit and use XML Sitemaps with Google is to have a Google Webmaster Tools account and submit your XML Sitemap through that account. You can get a wealth of information from the feedback they provide. Find bad links, learn about any possible Webmaster Guideline violations and much more. This is the best way to keep Google informed and to update them with changes to your site. XML Sitemaps are also used by Yahoo, Ask and MSN, so what you learn about one will help you with the rest.

Learn about Google Sitemaps from Google Webmaster Tools.
Also check Google’s list of third-party sitemap generators. Some of these also create HTML site maps at the same time.

Summary

Taking the time to create an HTML site map can pay off. Better indexing by search engines and more well-informed site visitors means your website may be seen by more people and those visitors will have an easier time navigating your site, and this builds trust in you and what you have to offer. Adding an XML Sitemap and submitting it to the major search engines is an even more thorough way to tell both people and robots all about your site.

If you still have questions about site maps, visit my blog and leave a comment on the post about this site maps article. I'll respond in another post.

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