Whilst in the process of my training in SEO practices and techniques every website I look at becomes an exciting rabbit warren of pages and information to explore and examine with my increasingly-educated SEO critical eye. In fact, the rabbit warren metaphor can be particularly apt for some websites, especially when they neglect to include a site map. Therefore this blog post is a basic introduction to the benefits of using a site map on your website.A site map is a page containing links to the main areas of a website and will ensure that there is a link to every page on the site within two clicks of the home page – this is key for a page’s importance when a search engine comes to spider the site. However, an effective site map is not only important for SEO but also vital for usability.
In the SEO corner site maps are essential for helping search engines index all the URLs on your website. The importance of site maps in this regard increases when the main site navigation is not easily spiderable by search engines. For example, if the main navigation is in Flash a search engine cannot read it and therefore cannot follow the links to pages deeper within the site.
For an optimised site map links should be text based rather than image based. It is also a good recommendation to include keyword rich links which will increase usability on the visitor’s behalf and should have a positive effect on search engine rankings. Another method of optimising site maps is to stick to approximately 100 links per page. So if within your site map there is over 100 links this may trigger a search engine spam filter and as a result the spider is unlikely to follow all the links. Therefore these URLs will not be indexed and if not well linked from within the site may not feature in the search engine results. The solution is to split up the site map into smaller, categorised site maps and perhaps use a site map index file to list them all. This method also aids usability when visitors are looking for certain areas within a large site.
Another useful function of a site map is that it alerts search engines as to when and how often pages have been updated as well as a page’s relative importance. As site maps should provide links to every page on your site it will improve the number of relevant internal links on the site which aids rankings.
In the usability corner the placement of a site map on a site is very important. The general rule when positioning a site map link on a site is to place it in the footer of every page as this is generally where visitors to a site are expecting to find a site map. Another suggestion would be to actually label the site map as “site map” rather than any alternatives such as “site directory” as its function is then immediately recognisable to visitors. It is also a good idea to have a site map link on every page within a site as this allows easy access.
And one final piece of advice…don’t forget to keep your site map updated, check for broken links and make sure that when you click on a link it takes you to the right page. Hopefully if you can follow these few bits of simple advice you will escape the rabbit warren website effect and keep your visitors and the search engines happy.
Image from www.terrierman.com