HTML Sitemaps Help Increase SEO Rankings5
Sitemaps are an aspect of web design that has been around from the very beginning. The ideology is simple; create an accessible area of the website whereby users can navigate to any one area of your site architecture easily. A lot of web designers see these pages in the same way a builder would see four walls, a floor and a roof – they are part of the infrastructure and should not be ignored. While this is sound advice the reason and benefits for SEO may not be so transparent.
A sitemap can be a very powerful platform for SEO and I mean VERY powerful and yet it is so simple and often overlooked. Matt Cutts recently asked the question, which would he choose, an XML or HTML sitemap? He chose the HTML sitemap because both users and spiders can use the data. See the full video below:
Now the real benefit of having a good sitemap is the ability to make pages throughout a website accessible to the search engines. Most commonly great chunks of valuable content are hidden away in areas of a site which may seem to follow “SEO protocol”, in terms of URL structure and on page optimisation but for a search engine spider the content is hard to find.
An example of this would be on an e-commerce site whereby the structure follows homepage > category > sub category > products > content. In the eyes of search engine spiders they have to crawl 4 levels before they can reach the juicy information/content and although Google are getting better at finding content (i.e. Caffeine) it can still help enormously by reducing the number of “obstacles” in their way. The theory is that by including a sitemap accessible from the homepage then Google will only have 1 “obstacle” to have to deal with before finding direct access to the rankable content.
Now to make a really effective sitemap for SEO it requires a little more methodology and architecture. It’s commonly thought that Google will take notice of at least 150 links on any one page before they start losing interest and move on to another area of a website. So for large websites that have thousands or even tens and thousands of pages it’s just not going to work including all your pages on one sitemap page.
So what’s the solution?
The most effective way to deal with high volume content websites is to create separate sitemaps for each website section. This deals with a few issues, firstly your main sitemap page will not go over the maximum number of links therefore all pages will be crawled and given value. Secondly the search engine spiders will still be able to access your deep content much easier than the normal way i.e. homepage > category etc.
The diagram below illustrates how a sitemap can be structured to ensure content can spidered.
For more information Rand explains well why this is an effective SEO technique:
For those of you thinking – how does this help increase my rankings? Well pages that were not previously indexed will now become listed therefore helping you rank for new terms. Acessibility really is the key here, internally and externally.
The final little treat for those of you that have taken the time to read the entire article; the anchor text used in a sitemap does seem to play an important part in terms of assigning value to those pages. This works on the same method as internal linking, assign keyword relevant descriptions to links in sitemaps and you will see better results than not doing so – tested and proved!
About the author
My name is Matt Ridout, I've been working in digital marketing for 9 years; worked for agencies and currently Head of SEO at fashion startup called Farfetch. Try to test my own theories.