A sitemap (site map) in simple terms is a map of your website. By definition, it is a navigational tool that lists webpages of a website and provides an overview of a site’s content at a glance. There are two popular version of a sitemap, an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap. In this article I will touch upon the XML sitemap briefly. Mainly, I will be concentrating on the HTML sitemap and the benefits of having one on your website.
An XML sitemap is an XML file that is typically submitted to Google and other search engines. It is mainly intended for the search engine bots to read. The file lists the URLs and additional meta data about each URL. By providing this information to the search engines, the bots can crawl the site more intelligently. As well, this is a way to keep the search engines updated about the changes that take place on your site. In return, the search engines provide you with an invaluable feedback. You may learn more about XML sitemaps and their benefits at Google Webmaster Tools.
For WordPress users generating an XML site map is very simple. It can be accomplished by using free XML generating plugins. The most commonly used ones are the Google XML Sitemaps or BWP Google XML Sitemaps.
Submitting an XML sitemap to search engines has become the norm in the industry and it is widely believed that a submission will lead to indexing of all webpages by search engines. This is not true! An XML sitemap submission alone does not guarantee that all pages will be indexed.
What Is An HTML Sitemap
An HTML sitemap is a regular page on your website that can be read and understood by both, the search engines and visitors. It provides links to all important pages of your site. It can be thought of and arranged as an index or a table of contents. Each entry in this index is linked to a single page of your website. The site map may be arranged in a simple, vertical fashion that lists all of the pages of your site or, it may be arranged in a more complicated fashion and broken down to categories and subcategories to which specific pages are linked.
A simple sitemap of vertically arranged list of pages is sufficient if your site is relatively small. However, if you have a large site it is recommended to design the site map such that it does not have more than 100 links on one page. Google actually recommends 100 links maximum per page.
There are no specific rules for an HTML sitemap design. It should however, make sense and flow smoothly. Most of the site maps are a categorized list of pages with intact titles as the links. Some SEO experts suggest using an anchor text as a link for your pages. However, you may decide, the choice is yours.
Some examples of sitemaps:
More Complex Sitemap
Benefits Of An HTML Sitemap On Your Site
It is interesting that most site owners submit an XML sitemap to the search engines, yet most site owners neglect to include an HTML sitemap on their website.
Benefits of having an HTML sitemap on your site are numerous and as follows:
- An HTML site map adds to the benefits of an XML sitemap and improves the chances that all your pages are visible and crawled by search engines and that all your web pages get indexed and ranked. The structure of an HTML sitemap on your website ensures that search engines bots have an easy access to and an understanding of your entire site. In other words, when a search engine bot comes across your HTML sitemap, it will have an easy access to every single page you want them to see.
- It allows both, the search engines and human visitors, a quick “glance” what your website is all about.
- It is an easy navigational tool to improve site usability for visitors and significantly reduce your bounce rate. A sitemap acts like a table of contents. A visitor can easily orient himself and decide where he wants to go next.
- It is a bonus for returning visitors who want to find and return to a page they have been previously interested in. Returning, loyal visitors means that your readers deem your site trustworthy and that may lead to sales and eventually boost to your residual income.
- By including a link to an HTML sitemap on every page (for example, in the navigation bar or a footer), the number of clicks to get to any page will be reduced. It is generally believed that if it takes more than 3 clicks to get to any page, it signals to Google and other search engines that the page is not important. In turn, Google may lower its ranking.
I have viewed a couple of videos by Google’s Matt Cutts on the topic of HTML and XML sitemaps. Although the video that I am including is older, I prefer this version to the newer ones he released since. This is still relevant and to the point.
In summary, an HTML sitemap helps both, the visitors and search engines easily navigate your site. As well, a combination of an XML and HTML sitemaps is the most effective way to ensure that all your pages are indexed and thus can be ranked. Make sure to have a link to your sitemap on every page (include it in the footer or navigation bar).
Update your sitemap regularly. The best is to update it as soon as you publish a post or a page. Although a creation an the maintenance of a regularly updated HTML sitemap is easy, there are various software or online services available. These can automate the process. WordPress users have an option of several plugins.
Update: I have researched through some SEO and other types of websites looking to find an HTML sitemap tool that is simple to set up and that is user (visitor) and search engine friendly. I have come across a free WordPress plugin called Simple Sitemap . This plugin, in an intuitive way, allows you to display your website content by simply adding a single shortcode to a page. (Name the page “Sitemap”)
I am now using this plugin on my site and my HTML site map is up and running (including the upload, it took less than 2 minutes to set up). For now I have placed a link to it on my Navigation Bar (later I may change that and include it in the footer of my site)
Let me know what you think… Be sure to click the like button or leave a comment below…