HTML sitemaps are a key resource for both users and search engine crawl bots. By listing top site pages, webmasters are able to guide users to top site content or show crawl bots which pages are most important.
Combining the depth of optimization and utility of an HTML sitemap is an important step in determining the benefit given to SEO efforts and the overall usefulness of it.
This blog post aims to answer a few key questions:
What is an HTML sitemap and why do I need one?
At their core, HTML sitemaps are a guide for both users and search engine crawl bots that assist in site navigation. Typically they live in a top-level subfolder off of the domain (e.g., example.com/sitemap) and are linked from the footer of each site page. This provides a distinct benefit as it guarantees the HTML sitemap is always a click away for users that lose their way when navigating through content.
Note: HTML sitemaps serve a similar purpose to XML sitemaps with one distinction – intended use. XML sitemaps are a special type of file (.xml) that search engines can easily crawl to find site content without downloading entire pages or following internal links.
What should be included in an HTML sitemap?
While HTML sitemaps are simple in purpose and execution, there are a few key items necessary to garner the highest benefit:
The most crucial element of HTML sitemaps is the structure and organization of links. By creating an easily understandable hierarchy, users will be able to follow a content path down to individual pages and crawl bots will be able to see the relationship between different pages.
Optimized Anchor Text
It is vital to use relevant, keyword-rich anchor text when creating an HTML sitemap. As a result, it will inherit PageRank from the homepage, which means an increase in authority. Using well-optimized anchor text when linking from the HTML sitemap to relevant pages will improve the link quality score for the pages being linked to.
If a site contains hosted videos, utilizing a video sitemap will inform search engines about video content and updates.
The number of links contained on an HTML sitemap should be less than 100. For larger sites, it is recommended to create multiple theme-based sitemaps.
An HTML sitemap should be a fixed page, rather than an image or flash file. This will ensure search engines can properly read the sitemap.
Should an HTML sitemap be automated?
For e-commerce sites with several brands or frequently changing products, it is beneficial to have an automated HTML sitemap. By automatically updating links, the amount of broken links and manual updates will be reduced. For example, the
Zappos sitemap offers a “view all brands” option.
An automated sitemap allows for an easy way to update the numerous listed brands, which improves the user experience and search engine “crawl-ability.”
Google Sums It Up
A well-optimized HTML sitemap is not only a best practice, but also has a direct, positive impact on organic rankings according to Matt Cutts, now head of head of the US Digital Service (USDS). Do you need any more convincing than that?
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