Navigational sitemaps & SEO

A site map is effectively the ‘contents’ section of a website, it’s designed to help visitors navigate through your site by providing a clear hierarchy of links to each page. By definition a sitemap needs to be simple and easy to follow.

Site maps can also be of real value to a search engine optimisation campaign. If linked from your homepage a site map provides a direct path for spiders to access all your pages; no matter how deeply they may be buried in your site structure. Choose the anchor text of each link carefully and watch the PageRank flow. Of course the more pages you link to from your sitemap; the more diluted the value of each link becomes.

As a word of warning don’t rely on your site map to overcome the problems of a poorly structured site. A site map will help, but there’s only so much it can do.

TOP TIP: Site maps are particularly useful for websites which use JavaScript or frames, both of which make it difficult for spiders to follow links.

Google xml sitemaps & SEO

Google has developed a set of webmaster tools which are free to use and designed to make your site more Google-friendly, diagnose problems and track performance. One of these tools is ‘Google Sitemaps’ and it isn’t to be confused with those described above. One is not a substitute for the other and you should use both.

Rather than waiting for Google to crawl all your pages link-by-link, a Google Sitemap lets you tell the search engine exactly where your pages are. This doesn’t guarantee that all you pages will be indexed, but Google will be aware that they exist.

A Google Sitemap is an xml document which lists all your pages with a series of attributes for each, such as the importance of the page and how frequently it is updated. You can create a Google Sitemap manually or use a sitemap generator, but be careful to check any auto-generated files before submitting them.

Google sitemap attributes:

<loc>: the location or URL of the page

<lastmod>: when the page was last modified

<changefreq> how often the page is updated

<priority> the importance you attach to each page of your site

Google Sitemaps are particularly useful for getting new websites and new pages indexed. Just remember that if you do add fresh content you’ll need to update and resubmit your Google Sitemap.

To create and submit a Google Sitemap sign-in to your Google Webmaster Tools account and follow the instructions.

The other major search engines, including Yahoo! and BING, also offer a sitemap facility to help index sites.

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