Sitemaps are one of the most underrated aspects of website design and development. The first thing people tend to think about is designing an attractive homepage, color scheme, and theme. These are important, but you shouldn’t let them distract you from thinking about your sitemap.
Ensuring a good sitemap for your website is crucial. Your sitemap plays a large role in how well your website ranks on different search engines. Therefore, regardless of how attractive your design is, a sitemap can make or break the effectiveness of your website.
Paying attention to your sitemap and website navigation will help you create a website that feels good to the end-user and will help your SEO rankings. Keep reading for more information on sitemaps as well as some tips for designing a sitemap that’ll lead your website to success.
What Is A Sitemap?
A website is made of various pages and elements. You’ve got the homepage and other pages, images, content, links, videos, and other files. These are all put together in a specific structure for users to navigate your website.
A sitemap is a file that’s attached to your website. People see your site by visiting it, but search engines see your site by accessing its sitemap. As the name implies, it’s a ‘map’ of your website’s structure. Search engines like Google use this map to understand more about your site, its navigation, and all of the content on it.
There are two main formats to consider when creating a sitemap: HTML or XML. The main difference between the two formats is that HTML sitemaps are easier for readers to understand while XML sitemaps are written for search engines to learn about your site. In other words, HTML sitemaps are predominantly for people, and XML sitemaps are predominantly for search engines. As such, most sitemaps typically take the form of an XML document.
Why You Should Have A Sitemap
Including a sitemap will never hurt the chances of your website succeeding, but it always has the potential to benefit your SEO and increase your chance of success. This fact alone is quite a compelling argument for creating a sitemap, but let’s take a deeper look at how a sitemap can be beneficial.
You may be wondering why you’d want to enable search engines to crawl every aspect of your website. When someone searches for something on the internet, the search engine will instantly display results that it views as most relevant to the user’s search prompt. So, if you’re creating a website for a business that sells bicycles, you’d want search engines to show your website as a search result when someone searches something like ‘where to buy bicycles.’
This is where your sitemap comes into effect. As you already know, search engines crawl sitemaps to understand more about different websites on the internet. Allowing search engines to understand your website with an XML sitemap helps it determine whether you have any content that’s related to any search query. In the end, this has the potential to improve your SEO ranking and get your business seen.
Tips To Help You Create A Great Sitemap
Take note of these tips and keep them in mind as you develop your sitemap.
1. Start Planning Early
You probably want to avoid finishing your website design and then having to struggle with creating a sitemap. Pay attention to site navigation from early on in your design process. Not only will this help when it’s time to make the sitemap, but being attentive might even lead to implementing a more fluid site navigation.
If you’re creating a relatively large web page, you may benefit from taking notes about your site navigation as you work.
2. Have A Good Understanding Of Your Website Structure
This will probably be much easier if you follow the previous tip. Before you can start creating your sitemap, you’ll need to review the entire website to form a good grasp of its structure. At the same time, you should be planning the hierarchy of your soon-to-be map.
Identify your primary pages. Your product page, contact page, about page, and blog page are examples of what you might consider a primary page. If you had to visualize your sitemap, it should look like a tree hierarchy with your homepage at the top, followed by primary pages and all subsequent pages that branch from them.
3. Put Quality Pages Higher In The Hierarchy
Your sitemap doesn’t have to include a link to every single page on your site. Pages that don’t have much valuable information and smaller pages don’t necessarily have to appear, especially when you’re busy with a large website.
On the other hand, pages that you consider more significant should be placed further up in the hierarchy. For example, if you’re branching from a primary blog page, put links to popular posts above the rest. This makes them more likely to be seen and suggested by search engines.
4. Start Your Sitemap On The Homepage
The homepage is like the starting point of your site. Search engines most often start examining your site from the homepage. Putting your sitemap here is a good way to be sure search engines travel down the hierarchy without missing the essential links.
5. Maintain Consistent Design
Both XML and HTML can look messy if you aren’t paying attention to structure. Keep the design and structure of your sitemap neat and consistent with your website’s design. This will help you while you’re first creating it and if you ever need to update it in the future.
6. Regularly Check For Errors
Make sure that your document has no formatting errors, syntax errors, or link errors. There are few things on the internet that are more inconvenient than clicking on a broken link.
HTML and XML are both markup languages. This means web browsers and search engines read them line-by-line. When looking at a document, a person would simply skip over the error and read what comes next. But by default, browsers can’t do this.
If there’s an error in your sitemap document, there’s a significant chance that the search engine will stop crawling at the error. This can lead to the search engine missing some important pages and will lessen the effectiveness of your sitemap.
7. Consider Using A Sitemap Generating Software
Fortunately, creating a sitemap doesn’t have to be a difficult task. If you don’t want to go through the process of writing a sitemap yourself, there are tools out there that’ll do it for you. Using a sitemap generator is undoubtedly much easier than manually writing it out, especially on larger sites. It’s also a viable solution if you don’t want to learn HTML or XML.
8. Test Before Making Anything Public
Do a final check on everything before you make your sitemap public. Check for errors and ensure that everything you want to include is included. You don’t have to do this by reading the entire document. There are tools that can ease this process.
Every website needs a sitemap. Adding one to your site will allow search engines to understand your content, which can ultimately boost your SEO scores. But not all are made equal. The best sitemaps are well-planned, consistent, have no errors, and are constructed with hierarchy in mind. The tips in this article will help you develop a sitemap that’ll lead your website to success.