Sitemaps for Dummies
Use a Site Map for Better SEO Results
The purpose of a site map is to spell out your Websites central content themes and to show both
search engine spiders and your visitors where to find information on your site. Traditional site maps are static HTML files that outline the first and second level structure of a Web site. The original purpose of a site map was to enable users to easily find items on the Web site. Over time, they also became useful as a shortcut method to help search engines find and index all the parts of a site.
Today, you should have an XML site map, which effectively provides an easy-to-read link dump for the spiders to index. Although certain Web browsers can display an XML site map for users to read as well, you should offer both kinds of site maps (HTML and XML) if you want to be sure to cover both the search engines and your users.
A site map displays the inner framework and organization of your site’s content to the search engines. Your site map reflects the way visitors intuitively work through your site. Years ago, site maps existed only as a boring series of links in list form. Today, they are thought of as an extension of your site. You should use your site map as a tool to lead your visitor and the search engines to more content. Create details for each section and subsection through descriptive text placed under the site map link. This helps your visitors understand and navigate through your site and also gives you more food for the search engines.
A good site map does the following:
- Shows a quick, easy-to-follow overview of your site
- Provides a pathway for the search engine robots to follow
- Provides text links to every page of your site
- Quickly shows visitors how to get where they need to go
- Utilizes important keyword phrases
Site maps are very important for two main reasons. First, your site map provides food for the search engine spiders that crawl your site. The site map gives the spider links to all the major pages of your site, allowing every page included on your site map to be indexed by the spider. This is a very good thing! Having all of your major pages included in the search engine database makes your site more likely to come up in the search engine results when a user performs a query. Your site map pushes the search engine toward the individual pages of your site instead of making them hunt around for links. A well-planned site map can ensure your Web site is fully indexed by search engines.
Here are some site map dos and don’ts
- Your site map should be linked from your home page. Linking it this way gives the search engines an easy way to find it and then follow it all the way through the site. If it’s linked from other pages, the spider might find a dead end along the way and just quit
- Small sites can place every page on their site map, but larger sites should not. You do not want the search engines to see a never-ending list of links and assume you are a link farm. (More than 99 links on a page looks suspicious to a search engine.)
- Most SEO experts believe you should have no more than 25 to 40 links on your site map. This also makes it easier to read for your human visitors. Remember, your site map is there to assist your visitors, not confuse them
- The anchor text (words that can be clicked) of each link should contain a keyword whenever possible and should link to the appropriate page
- When you create a site map, go back and make sure that all of your links are correct
- All the pages shown on your site map should also contain a link back to the site map
Just as you can’t leave your Web site to fend for itself, the same applies to your site map. When your site changes, make sure your site map is updated to reflect that. What good are directions to a place that’s been torn down? Keeping your site map current helps make you a visitor and search engine favorite.
How to Construct an XML Site Map for Better SEO Results
A great way to make your Web site more user friendly to search engine spiders is to add an XML sitemap. Your XML site map should be constructed according to the current Sitemap Protocol format (which is regulated by www.sitemaps.org). Sitemap Protocol allows you to tell search engines about the URLs on your Web sites that should be crawled.
An XML site map is a document that uses the Sitemap Protocol and contains a list of the URLs for a site. The Protocol was written by the major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, and Live Search) to be highly scalable so that it can accommodate sites of any size. It also enables Webmasters to include additional information about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it changes, and how important it is in relation to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site. Note that even though its name is similar to the traditional HTML site map, an XML site map is a totally different kind of document, and the two are not interchangeable. You shouldn’t rely on an XML site map alone for your site.
XML site maps define for the spider the importance and priority of the site, better enabling the search engine to index the entire site and to quickly re-index any site changes, site expansions, or site reductions. This XML format offers excellent site indexing and spider access. Additionally, many site-mapping tools can diagnose your XML site map, informing you of duplicate content, broken links, and areas that the spider can’t access. Sitemaps.org has a tool that constructs an XML file for you, and is a great place to start. Google adheres to Sitemap Protocol 0.9 as dictated by Sitemaps.org. Site maps created for Google using Sitemap Protocol 0.9 are therefore compatible with other search engines that adopt the standards of Sitemaps.org.
A normal version of the XML code looks something like this:
The below table shows both the required and optional tags in XML site maps.
Site Map Tags in XML
Tag Required or Optional Explanation
The XML site map also must
- Begin with an opening urlset tag and end with a closing urlset tag
- Include a url entry for each URL as a parent XML tag
- Include a loc child entry for each url parent tag