Tips for Making Your Website SEO Friendly: Sitemaps

seo-blocksDiscovering New Content on a Website

At Incitrio, we have the opportunity to look through our clients’ sites and discover the wealth of information provided. We absorb as much as we can from each site in order to become experts in the field. Then, we can make educated recommendations on how to improve a website. In order to make a relevant and appropriate recommendation, we must spend a great deal of time on a website to discover the content on each page or blog post. Navigating through the site is generally easy, but takes time. Just like a normal visitor to the site, we must rely on links to find what we are looking for and to discover new content.

Links come in many forms, such as buttons, images, and anchor text. In order to find the content we are looking for, we rely on visual cues such as underlined text. Images relevant to content are often linked as well. So we visually rely on our cursor turning into a small hand to decide if an image is linked and will take us to another page. Needless to say, discovering all of the pages on a website can be time consuming. But there is a simpler, more user friendly way to navigate a website: a sitemap.

Creating HTML Sitemaps

There are two types of sitemaps: an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap. A sitemap is a page on your website that hosts all of the links to each page on your site. A sitemap is a perfect place for a visitor to quickly access all of the content available on your website. Sitemaps help visitors who have difficulty finding specific information through conventional navigation methods. Although not every visitor to your website needs to view your sitemap, it helps those visitors that need additional tools to navigate your site. Often times, that small percentage can mean the difference between attracting the lead and making a sale. Any website owner looking to improve user experience and come up higher in search engine results should consider creating an HTML sitemap. It’s easy to create and makes your site more complete. In the big picture, a website that manages to cater to as many people as possible will be the website that attracts more visitors and keeps them from bouncing off of a site to a competitor’s site.

A Love Affair (Search Engines + Sitemaps)

Search engines love HTML sitemaps because it is a page that provides all of the content on your website, served on a silver platter. Normally, search engine “crawlers” or “bots” (those little pieces of code that scan your website and report their findings back to search engines) scan your website from the top to the bottom. The bots arrive at your site, look through your content, and attempt to discover what the site is about. If a bot comes across a link, it follows the link and then scans that page. By adding an HTML sitemap, you provide all of the links to existing pages on your website, making the work easier for the search bots. The bots still deploy throughout the rest of your website through conventional methods, but you reduce the risk of them failing to index important information before they bounce to another site.

Often times, pages aren’t indexed completely. Bots sometimes abandon a website before scanning the entire site. Bots usually leave a site because inefficient code gets in the way (such as lengthy tables,  too much javascript, or there are too many links pointing to outside sites). In addition to adding an HTML sitemap, you can also keep bots from abandoning your site by adding “no-follow” attributes to links, optimizing your website for table-less designs, and reducing the code in your head tag. You can also create an XML sitemap.

What is an XML Sitemap?

An XML sitmap is a sitemap created specifically for search engines. It is a file that notifies search engines when new content is added to your site. An XML sitemap, unlike an HTML sitemap, ignores all design. An XML sitemap is only a list of code. You won’t find any traces of branding. There are no logos embedded in an XML page. It is simply a page search engines look at before they see the rest of your site. It saves search engines time, greatly increasing the chance that bots will scan and index your entire site. You can directly submit your XML sitemap to various search engines. If the sitemap is dynamic, bots see if there are any new links posted and if a page was recently edited. The bots then continue on to scan the new new and edited content first before moving on to the rest of the site. This method is the most efficient way search engines can index your website’s content.

To get the best results, create both an HTML and XML version of your sitemap. Include your HTML sitemap in your navigation. Many companies include the HTML sitemap in the footer of their site, while some websites with more complicated navigation may include it in the main navigation (towards the top of their site). Either way, make sure visitors can locate the sitemap. You don’t need to link your XML sitemap to your navigation. Adding it to your website and submitting it to search engines is enough for it to make a difference. Of course, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your monthly analytics to see if adding the sitemap(s) increases traffic to your site. If your website has been difficult to index, you may be facing the consequences with reduced online visibility. By adding an XML and/or HTML sitemap, you could potentially help increase traffic to your site. Remember that a sitemap is only one piece of the puzzle. For best results be sure to follow all of the best practices possible when creating your website.

About Us

Incitrio Branding & Marketing Agency is a San Diego based marketing firm specializing in web design, branding, search engine optimization, email marketing, and social media. We work hard for each client to provide visible results. If you own a website and think you may need help in attracting visitors or need help in improving a visitor’s experience on your site, contact us today at 858.523.1822. We appreciate interesting comments and invite you to participate in the conversation.

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