Sitemaps 101 - Back To SEO School

Sitemaps 101 - Back To SEO School
 by: Niall Roche

Sitemaps are without doubt one of the most often ignored and undervalued aspects of search engine optimization. You've probably spent a huge amount of time working on pages of original content, keyword density and getting incoming links but never once spared a thought for a sitemap for your new creation.

What is a sitemap?

Put simply it's a page or pages that contain a list of and link to all the other documents on your site. This is useful on two levels:

1. Your visitor can quickly reference all the documents on your site to find exactly what they're looking for.

2. Search engine spiders can also quickly find and index every single page of your site in the least amount of time. The SEO benefits of using a sitemap far considerable and should not be ignored.

This is a win-win situation for you, your website visitors and the search engines. Put simply you're nuts if you've not included a sitemap as part of your overall website promotion strategy.

The good news is that it's never too late to start. You can create a sitemap page today but there are some rules to creating an effective sitemap that you need to follow:

Your sitemap must only be linked to from your homepage and no other page. Why? You want the search engine spiders to find this link directly from your homepage and follow it from there. Your sitemap MUST NOT be linked to from every other page of your site. Also from a Google Pagerank point of view only linking to your sitemap from your homepage can also "funnel" PR quickly to pages all over your site.

If you have a large website of 50 pages or more limit the number of pages listed on your sitemap to a maximum of 30. This is to prevent your sitemap from being misinterpreted as a link farm by the search engines. It also makes the sitemap a lot easier for real human visitors to read through. Limiting the number of pages listed on each sitemap to 30 might mean splitting your sitemap over 5, 10 or 20 pages. This has to be done and the long term benefits are worth it. Bear in mind that if you do create a 20 page sitemap you've just created an extra 20 pages of content for your website!

Make absolutely sure that each of your sitemap pages links to the next. If you have 10 sitemap pages in total then each of those needs to link to every other sitemap page. Otherwise both visitors and search engine spiders will find a broken link, lose interest and go away.

Test your sitemap thoroughly. Make sure all the links works. Make sure it's easy to read and navigate through. Your sitemap is there to assist your visitor and not confuse them.

How should you structure your sitemap? The following tips must be adhered to in order for your site to gain the maximum possible benefit from having a sitemap.

1. The title of each sitemap link should be keyword rich and link directly back to the original page.

2. Include 10 - 20 words of text from the original page of content underneath the relevant sitemap link. This creates more content for search engine spiders and human visitors can see exactly what each page is about in advance of clicking.

uman visitor benefit is that they can see what the pages is about in advance.

3. Ensure that the look and feel of your sitemap page is consistent with the rest of your site. Use the same basic HTML template you used for every other page of your site.

So now you understand the importance of building a sitemap for your website. There is work involved but the long term benefits for your websites far outweigh any effort you have to make right now.

This article was posted on March 28, 2005

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