With the Internet becoming such a highly competitive arena, it is vital that you design your website to succeed. While most website designers understand that websites should contain useful content that is well laid out, an often overlooked element is the Sitemap.
The term "Sitemap" can actually refer to two different design elements, both of which are important and should be incorporated on every website. These can include:
1. XML Sitemaps
An XML Sitemap is specifically designed to help web crawlers (also known as spiders or robots) index your website for search engines. Googlebots, for example, will use your Sitemap to discover pages on your site that otherwise may have been missed. XML Sitemaps work best in conjunction with a robots.txt file, which is used to identify the pages to be skipped by web crawlers.
In terms of search engine optimization (SEO), a Sitemap can be vital to your website's success. By helping search engines to properly index your site, you enable potential visitors to discover its content. Working in conjunction with other SEO components, a properly coded Sitemap can help your site achieve a higher ranking in the search engine results.
Once your XML Sitemap is ready, post it on your site and submit its URL to the major search engines. Then keep it up-to-date, as search engines will periodically check the Sitemap for new information regarding your site. There are online tools available that can assist with the creation and updating of your XML Sitemap.
2. HTML Sitemaps
Especially if your website is extensive, it should include an HTML-based Sitemap designed to help visitors navigate the site and locate desired content. Essentially, this is a "table of contents" page that can be used for quick reference. The basic design layout can and should reflect the rest of your site.
While there is no need for the average visitor to access your XML Sitemap, the HTML Sitemap ought to be accessible to everyone. To that end, you should identify prominent locations on your website where you can include a link to its URL. For example, you can link to your HTML Sitemap from your footer, "help" page, 404 error page, and "contact" page. The HTML Sitemap is intended to be used by visitors, so make sure they can find it.
By using your HTML Sitemap to assist visitors with navigation, you may also reap benefits indirectly in terms of SEO. Because improving navigation will increase visitor satisfaction, it will help those visitors find what they are seeking, encourage them to stay on your website longer, and lure them back periodically. All of these can affect your ranking in the SERPs.
Many website designers fail to incorporate Sitemaps into their website. Accordingly, you can take advantage of their oversight by adding Sitemaps to your site. By doing so, you can gain the edge that may propel you ahead of the competition.