Do I need a site map ?
You may have heard people talking about site maps and be wondering if your website needs such a thing. This article discusses sitemaps and their uses.
What is a sitemap ?
As a designer, I am asked this question by some clients. A site map is not a map of your office location (as one of my clients thought) but is a page (or sometimes more than one page) that contains links to all of the pages on your website. For example our sitemap contains links to all the major pages on our site (it does not include all the pages in the directory for reasons of space).
Do I need a site map ?
This question is easy to answer, if you only have a small number of pages that are all linked from your home page or main navigation section then the answer is no.
All other websites should really have a sitemap, preferably linked to from their home page or, if you have a site like ours from the navigation menu (on the left of all our pages).
What use is a site map?
There are three main reasons for having a site map, the first and most important is the famed "3 click rule" that says that a good website design will allow a visitor to get from any page to any other page in 3 clicks or less. Think about it, you are on any page of your website, click on the site map (click 1) and then on the page you want to get to (click 2).
The third reason that it helps the search engines find all the pages on your website much quicker - especially the page that is buried away with a link from a single page somewhere on your site.
How do I build a site map?
Depending on the size of your site it can be as easy as making a note of all the pages on the site and then creating a page with links to all of these pages on (preferably sorted into logical groups, for example all articles are put together in one section of the site map and all news items are in a seperate section.
Of course, if your website is getting large you might want to automate the building of the page, there are many tools available on the internet to allow you to build a site map and it's just a matter of trying some until you find one that you like. A search on any of the major search engines will bring up plenty of choice.
Are there any drawbacks?
Yes, the main one is that you need to keep your sitemap up to date, each time you add a new page you must remember to add a link to it from the sitemap. After a while though, this becomes second nature and is done automatically.
A second drawback is if you have 100s or even 1,000s of pages. In this situation the sitemap itself can become very large and unwieldy and it is best to have a sitemap index that points to other sitemap pages.
What about the Google Sitemap scheme that I've read about ?
The sitemap project is an easy way for you to help improve your coverage in the indexes of Google and other search engines. The idea is that you create one or more special files (in XML format) that the search engine spiders read and a way of keeping them informed of all your web pages, and when you make changes to these pages. A typical xml sitemap can be seen at https://www.forestsoftware.co.uk/sitemap.xml, this is our own main xml sitemap, although we actually have more than one as we rebuild ours automatically whenever changes are made or more pages are added to our site and we find it easier to split the xml sitemap into sections.
Google claim that by using Google Sitemaps you get a better crawl coverage to help people find more of your web pages with fresher search results, but they do not claim that having an xml sitemap will improve the rankings of pages that are already in their index.
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This article is ©2005 : John K Mitchell, more of John's articles can be found at https://www.forestsoftware.co.uk