This week’s quick fire SEO tips session covers how to link your website internally to make sure your high page rank pages let the page rank flow through to your deep pages through the use of sitemaps. That’s right people; sitemaps is a plural which means more than one! You wouldn’t believe the number of new websites that are out there without both an XML and HTML sitemap. If you pick 10 websites at random you are almost guaranteed to find at least 50% of these sites have only one version of the sitemap (believe me I have done this).
Why are Sitemaps Important?
For those who need reminding or educating here is why sitemaps are important. When a new website is launched there will be a point in time when a search engine will visit your website for the very first time. Wherever the search engine spider lands is irrelevant, (homepage, contact page, it doesn’t matter) the spider will move on throughout your site via the HTML links that are available on that page.
Here is where the problem lies. If you look at your website files as a directory structure, your homepage and other main pages will be the top level folders which are all accessible via the main navigation of the website. Most websites will have a sub navigation of pages which are only accessible through links on a main page, e.g. subcategories list on a category page. There is also a scenario where there maybe another level of pages (sub sub) that are again only accessible from links found on its respective father page.
This means if a spider lands on one of the main category pages it can take a very long time for a spider to eventually work its way down to the lowest level of pages, by caching the page at hand, leaving, revisiting the cached page and moving onto one of the links found on the cached page.
In real terms this means that some pages are never found by search engine spiders and never cached to be available in the search engine results. This could be for many number reasons; the anchor text for the page is very vague and therefore is never followed, the page is buried so deep in a website etc. This is why the sitemap is so important – it contains all links to your pages in one place for the search engine spiders to find.
Now you may ask “what happens if the spider never finds my sitemap?” well this is why it has become almost a web and web user standard for the sitemap to be present on the footer of every page. This means that every page your website visits it has the ability to follow your sitemap link. It can also be speculated that search engine spiders will purposefully follow any sitemap link they find as they know that they will find a rich index of the website.
There is also a XML sitemap to talk about. XML sitemaps are made so that they can be submitted to search engines such as Google directly, thus cutting out the middle man, the search spider. This is a very useful tool and should always be checked frequently to make sure that it is up to date and no errors exist (a common problem as most XML sitemaps are auto generated).
To submit your sitemap to Google all you need to do is log into your webmaster tools account and go to the sitemap link, following the instructions on the screen.