When it comes to SEO, everyone hates technical stuff. This is why the mere mention of website sitemaps may seem daunting to you. Trust me; I was in the same boat when starting.
But just because it is a technical part of SEO, it doesn’t mean you can get away by ignoring it and relying on experts to take care of it for you. After all, whether you are an SEO expert or a brand looking to optimize your online presence, you need to know each element of SEO, and sitemaps are one of the most essential elements! Contrary to your assumption, sitemaps are actually pretty straightforward and easy to understand once you begin learning about them.
Understanding Website Sitemaps
Let’s begin with addressing the elephant in the room: What is a sitemap?
A sitemap is a blueprint of the consumer journey on a website. It organizes and represents all the content available on your website to facilitate both users and search engines.
This outline helps users in navigating through the website and reaching their desired destination and action. It also helps search engine bots in effectively crawling the given site and hence benefiting it for ranking. These search engine bots are the primary audience of website sitemaps.
Importance of Sitemaps
Here is why every website needs a sitemap.
Improved user experience for new websites
A sitemap architecture can provide the much-needed direction to a new website. Think of it this way; no building can be constructed without a blueprint. Just like this, you need a clear and organized mapping of your website to ensure that it works cohesively to provide the best experience to users.
By keeping your users’ experience in mind from the get-go, you are likely to get in the good books of search engines, too, that prioritize user-friendly websites!
Enhanced Organic Ranking
Did you know? According to Ahrefs, over 90 percent of websites don’t get organic traffic from Google? To succeed in the digital world, this is one odd you must beat.
One way to rank organically is to modify and update your content to keep it valuable and fresh for visitors. A sitemap helps in notifying search engines every time you alter your content, thereby increasing the chances that people and bots see your updated content.
Reduced Broken Links
A whitepaper published by Gomez revealed that a whopping 88 percent of users don’t return to a website after a poor user experience, and broken links indeed translate to an unpleasant website experience as it deters navigation.
With sitemaps in place, you can use crawl reports to identify any broken or missing link on your website and fix it before it becomes a recurring problem on your site.
Creation of quality conversion funnels
A conversion funnel refers to the number of people who stick by your website and complete a given action, whether it be purchase, signing up to newsletters, or sharing your content online.
Here is an example of an ecommerce conversion funnel:
The goal of any website is to convert its website visitors into customers or subscribers. The more complex the navigation of a site is, the more difficult it is to ensure high conversion.
Sitemaps can help you in identifying additional procedures or steps. See what you can do without and refine your funnel to improve your conversion rates.
Types of Sitemaps
Sounds important, right? Are you ready to create a sitemap? Well, you are not quite prepared to do so. You must first learn about three types of sitemaps that exist. This is where things might get tricky for a beginner.
XML sitemaps are the most popular type. XML language makes information readable for machines and provides a comprehensive list of URLs to search engines.
This kind of sitemap is pretty straightforward. It just include text files with marked-up tags identifying different types of data.
You will notice that URL for sitemap is mentioned at the root of the domain. For instance, a brand name abc may have a sitemap URL of www.abc.com/sitemap.xml. A bot can access such a URL.
Here is a sitemap example of Tiffany & Co:
When a bot visits a website, it will first access the robots.txt file, which will help identify which URL to crawl and which to ignore. This file references the XML sitemap for this purpose. Since this type of sitemap follows a given set of markup rules, once created, it can be generated automatically. All you have to do is check it regularly for errors and duplication.
Limitation of such website sitemaps include:
- No guarantee about indexation of pages since XML sitemaps merely recommend what URLs search engine bots should crawl.
- No link authority can be passed in XML. Hence search engines cannot rank a given URL if it is only present in sitemap.
HTML sitemaps tend to have formatted links present at the bottom of a given webpage which helps direct readers about the content and flow of the website.
Here is an HTML sitemap of Target Careers:
One of the most significant drawbacks and limitations of HTML sitemaps is that it has limited SEO value. This is because HTML sitemaps merely replicate links present on the footer or header of the website rather than offering bots with shortcut links to web pages for ranking.
Not all is dark in the world of HTML sitemaps. You can still use it for optimization in the following cases:
- Your primary site navigation doesn’t link to all web pages within your website.
- Navigation to a given section of a website is inaccessible to search engines without links.
- It helps detect essential pages that might have been overlooked, for example, due to a website’s navigational structure, including support pages and FAQs.
When creating sitemaps, one can choose to have an HTML sitemap. While it is helpful for effective internal linking, care must be taken not to place too much importance on HTML sitemaps for SEO.
When learning about making a sitemap, visual sitemaps are surely going to be the easiest to understand and create. This is because they refer to 2D drawings of a site’s content hierarchy. Usually, rendering begins with the homepage and illustrates how all different web pages are linked.
For instance, here is an example of Apple’s sitemap.
One of the best things about this type of sitemap is that it demonstrates to users with various ways that they can use to navigate through a website, hence facilitating an exceptional user experience. It also acts as an excellent blueprint for designers to think ahead and create a highly usable website.
While it may not directly help with search engine browsing, it can help in improving your internal linking strategy. The visual map can identify various pages’ performance and keyword ranking to give you a clearer picture.
Sitemap Best Practices to Implement
Are you worried about your ability to create the perfect sitemap?
Here are some of the ways to do so.
Give importance to right web pages
The sitemap protocol of Google allows website owners to rank their web pages in terms of priority. You have to give each page a score between 0.1 and 1 by assigning higher scores to dynamic pages like blogs, product pages and lower scores to static pages like “Contact us” that are not frequently updated.
Categorize like a pro
I am sure by this point you are well-informed about the purpose of sitemaps that they help in giving structure to your site that you can then relay to search engines. Hence, it should go without saying that you must categorize your content wisely and create a cohesive link between different web pages!
Use a tool
The perfect way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the technical aspect of sitemap is by avoiding this step altogether. Thankfully, we live in a time where one can use a sitemap generator to develop sitemaps. There go all your worries!
There are various tools to choose from. In case you have a WordPress website, Yoast plugins are pretty effective for creating sitemaps. If you have any other type of website, you might want to use Google XML sitemaps.
You’ve Got This!
Website sitemaps are incredibly crucial, both from an SEO and user perspective. So, there is no possible way you can avoid this factor altogether.
I tried my best to demystify it all for you. It isn’t as bad as it sounds at first.
Now that you know the basics of sitemaps, I hope you are more comfortable with including one on your website. If you want your website to rank high in the digital world, you don’t have a choice. So take a deep breath, use the right tools and experts, and dive in!