Getting your pages indexed. It is your most important SEO goal and perhaps the one most vital in determining the success of your SEO campaign. However, many search engines have trouble finding links buried deep within the structure of your site. So how do you make sure your pages are easy for the search engines to find? With a sitemap. Creating a sitemap provides the search engines with a one-stop-shop for all of the pages on your site. And if designed correctly, your sitemap can also be a valuable resource to lost visitors looking to understand your site structure.
What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap displays the inner framework and organization of your site's content to the search engines. Your sitemap should reflect the way visitors would intuitively work through your site. Years ago sitemaps existed only as a boring series of links in list form. Today, they are thought of as an extension of your site. You should use your sitemap as a tool to provide your visitor and the search engines with more content. Create details for each section and sub-section through descriptive text placed under the sitemap link. This will help your visitors understand and navigate through your site, and will also give you more food for the search engines. You can even go crazy and add Flash to your sitemap like we did with the interactive Bruce Clay sitemap! Of course, if you do include a Flash sitemap for your visitor, you will also need to include a text map so that the robots can read it.
A good site map will:
Why They Are Important?
Sitemaps are very important for two main reasons. First, your sitemap provides food for the search engine spiders that crawl your site. The sitemap will give the spider links to all the major pages of your site, allowing every page included on your sitemap to be indexed by the spider. This is a very good thing! Having all of your major pages included in the search engine database will make your site more likely to come up in the search engine results when a user performs a query. Your sitemap pushes the search engine toward the individual pages of your site instead of making them hunt around for links. A well planned site map can ensure your Web site is fully indexed by search engines. Sitemaps are also very valuable for you human visitors. They help them to understand your site structure and layout, while giving them quick access to your entire site. It is also helpful for lost users in need of a lifeline. Often if a visitor finds themselves lost or stuck inside your page, he will begin to look for a way out of his hole. Having a detailed sitemap will show him how to get back on track and find what he was looking for. Without it, your visitor would have just closed the browser or headed back over to the search engines. Conversion lost.
Tips for Creating a Sitemap
Your sitemap should be linked from your homepage. Linking it this way will force search engines to find it that way and then follow it all the way through the site. If it's linked from other pages it is likely the spider will find a dead end along the way and just quit. Small sites can place every page on their sitemap, but larger sites should not. You do not want the search engines to see a never-ending list of links and assume you are a link farm. Most SEO experts believe you should have no more than 25 to 40 links on your sitemap. This will also make it easier to read for your human visitors. Remember, your sitemap is there to assist your visitors, not confuse them. The title of each link should contain a keyword whenever possible and should link to the original page. We recommend writing a short description (10-25) words under each link to help visitors learn what the page is about. Having short descriptions will also contribute to your depth of content with the search engines. Once created, go back and make sure that all of your links are correct. If you have 15 pages on your sitemap, then all 15 pages need to link to every other sitemap page. Otherwise both visitors and search engine spiders will find broken links and lose interest.
Remember to Update!
Just like you can't leave your website to fend for itself, the same applies to your sitemap. When your site changes, make sure your sitemap is updated to reflect that. What good are directions to a place that's been torn down? Keeping your sitemap current will make you an instant visitor and search engine favorite.
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