The site map is a key component of effective search engine optimization. Ideally, this page is planned before site creation and goes live with the rest of the site. Once internal and external linking strategy has been implemented, we count on the site map as an insurance policy of sorts. The search engine spiders may or may not crawl and index all site pages via the main navigation and whatever internal linking we have put in place.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of sites out there have no site map. Then there’s another group that will place a link to the site map on only one page of the Web site. Even if your one and only link to the site map is located on your home page, do not automatically assume that users or search engines will find it and use it. The truth is your visitors (human or otherwise) will not necessarily enter your site via the home page.
A Sitemap Helps Users and Spiders
Links from other Web sites and existing search engine rankings will send visitors to various internal pages. The obvious solution to this problem is to include a site map link within the footer of every page. This allows easy access for all to find everything your site has to offer.
That is, of course, assuming that your site map actually does provide easy access to all pages. It’s easy for errors of omission to go unnoticed for the life of a Web site if you don’t have a professional search marketer on your side. Prior to site launch, review all pages on your Information Architecture and ensure that each of these is represented on your site map.
Also, task yourself with a monthly reminder to reevaluate your site map. Keep track of every page you have added to your site that month, and revise your site map to include links to each of these new pages. One of the easiest mistakes to make is to forget to update the site map after adding new content.
Site Map Considerations
Categorized Site Map: Depending on the number of pages your site contains, you might consider breaking it up into multiple pages. Our team has one client that is essentially an online directory for local business search. Its one thousand plus unique pages called for a slightly different approach.
This approach is based on experience and tips from the Google experts who told us that beyond 100-150 links, a search engine spider won’t likely follow more. This means a site map of 2,000 links could be largely useless except to any user willing to scroll through endless lines of links. In this instance, we recommended a category breakdown, essentially asking the client to turn the primary site map page into a dmoz home page, with links to main page categories only.
A great example of a categorized site map is the one used by TripAdvisor. I referenced this at Search Engine Strategies Travel Edition in Seattle recently. This site has done a wonderful job of getting many, many pages indexed (approximately 1.8 Million, according to Yahoo!), and you’ll notice that many of its internal pages rank well.
Some experts out there may disagree and insist on always providing all links to all pages on one site map page regardless of site size, and that’s okay. This is one of those gray areas where you have to test your theories and stick with what works for you.
Keyword-Rich Anchor Text: As for the actual appearance and structure of the site map, each page is represented in a list as a keyword-rich link. By that, I mean, don’t simply copy your URL structure as the text for readers and search engine spiders to read.
Hopefully, your site was built upon the foundational principles of SEO, and each page in main and sub navigation is keyword-rich. This is obviously not always practical or possible depending on your unique circumstances. But whenever possible, select popular, descriptive keywords for your nav headings and repeat this on your site map.
While using keyword-rich anchor text in your site map won’t solve your search engine ranking woes, it only makes sense to implement sound practices wherever and whenever you can. Every little bit helps along the way. The best plan is a complete plan with no holes.Checking Sitemap Links: As silly as it may sound, follow all of your links at least once to make sure each functions properly. QA can be tedious, especially for larger sites, but is absolutely essential for success. Perform the checks necessary up front, and you can rest easy knowing that you won’t leave mistakes on your site for years to come.
In the end, most users won’t ever look at your site map, and it will seem like a worthless page at times. But take my word for it, you want to give all your visitors, both human and search engine, an extra opportunity to find and/or index all the important content your site has to offer. Here’s the bottom line: If it isn’t indexed, it won’t rank at all in the search engines. And if it isn’t ranking, it’s wasted potential.
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