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Don't Ignore Your Sitemap!

Carrie Hill
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Many sites I visit and review have underutilized sitemap pages. It's really a shame because these workhorse pages get so little credit, and so little attention, but they can be so important for SEO and the user experience you offer.

The techniques I'm about to describe may sound a bit advanced, but I know you can do it. Because every SEO does things their own way, there may be variations on this theme that others use, and that's fine.

I suggest trying the tips below. See how they work, then fine-tune, test, and tweak as things come to mind. The only way we make ourselves better as search marketers is to question, theorize, test, and draw conclusions.

Sitemaps can be valuable tools for pointing strong internal links at various pages of your Web site. Internal linking is just one factor in the many that make up the ranking algorithms, but the double-duty sitemap can be beneficial for SEO and users, so giving that page some attention can pay off with better crawling and more internal pages ranking for your long-tail terms.

Use Your Keywords

Have the link to each page use the main keyword phrase you've placed on the page you're linking to. I also like to wrap a bit of descriptive text around that link.

A page with links and text is more powerful than just a list of links, and the text can help the users determine the true content on a page that may be optimized for a general term. A good example of a well-optimized sitemap can be found at the Web site for The Inn at Fox Hollow on Long Island, New York.

Group "Themes" Together

If you have a lot of links on your sitemap, group them together. If you just run a list of links together, can the user easily determine which pages are about your rooms, units, products, or contact info?

You Don't Have to Call it a "Sitemap"

I've used "index" or "table of contents" also to help the user figure out the purpose of the page.

Follow and Nofollow Correctly

Have a followed link to your sitemap only on the home page and nofollow it on the interior pages. You can call this "sculpting" if you like. What we find is that pushing power from your home page to your sitemap and out to the rest of your site using optimized text links helps improve crawling and ranking for those deep internal pages.

Keep it Below 100 Links Per Page

There's no law that says you can only have one sitemap page, so build more than one if you need to. Google doesn't care to see more than 100 links per page. If your site has 175 pages, then your sitemap would contain 174 links -- oops! I suggest breaking things down by theme or category into two or three sitemaps, and having a followed link to each one on your home page. Keep them user friendly by naming each link after your theme. For example:

  • Outer Banks Vacation Rentals
  • Activities in the Outer Banks
  • About Our Outer Banks Rental Agency

Using these three links, I can group my pages about rentals, activities, and company info onto their respective sitemap page. This can help the user find a particular page if they've become lost or confused by your navigation, and it can help the search engines find pages that contain similar (but never duplicate) content.

Sitemaps are valuable real estate on your Web site, so take advantage of them. Consider how you're taking care of that sitemap and please keep your sitemap updated! If you change optimization on a page, or add a page, make sure you update the sitemap, also. I find a lot of sitemaps with 10 links on them, when the site actually contains 30 pages -- and the only reason for not listing the other 20 pages is, "I forgot."

Consider the techniques described above and make sure your sitemap is working to its fullest extent and make updating the sitemap a routine part of adding pages and optimization to your site!


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