How to Create and Optimise Your Sitemap
Does your website have a sitemap? Sitemaps are one of the most important and least discussed aspects of search engine optimisation and accessibility, playing a major role in helping search engines and users navigate your website.
An HTML sitemap is, in simple terms, a roadmap of your website’s contents made up of links to all of its pages. Just like an XML sitemap guides search engines towards all of your website’s content, an HTML sitemap directs users to all of your site’s pages.
An effective sitemap achieves two things: it makes it far easier for users to get to your website’s content without relying only on its navigational menu, and it gives search engines greater access to internal pages and resources.
In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what an sitemap is, what effects it can have on your website’s search engine rankings and share tips to help you create an HTML sitemap that improves your website’s accessibility and search engine optimisation.
What is a sitemap?
How many pages does your website contain? While some small websites might only contain 10 to 20 pages, making them easy to navigate, many websites have several thousand pages dedicated to specific topics, questions and subjects.
A sitemap is a file that lists all of your website’s pages, providing links to each page that makes up your website. Sitemaps can take two forms: XML sitemaps, which are used specifically for SEO; and HTML sitemaps, which are also used for accessibility.
— MySLC (@MySLCedu) April 14, 2015
Google and other search engines can usually discover your website’s content even if it doesn’t have a sitemap, provided all pages are properly linked to. However, adding a sitemap to your website makes it easier for search engines to index its content.
Think of a sitemap as a road map to each of your website’s pages. Since both Google and your website’s users can directly get from one page to another, your website’s overall accessibility is significantly improved.
Would you like to learn more about sitemaps? Google support provides a detailed description of sitemaps and their importance for SEO. Note that sitemaps are not only for HTML content – they can also link to video, image and mobile content.
Adding a sitemap to your website is a quick and easy way to improve accessibility for users and make your website’s inner pages easier for Google’s search crawler to find, sort and rank.
Why should you use a sitemap?
Sitemaps have several major benefits for your website. The first benefit is improved visibility. Since sitemaps list all of your website’s inner pages, they make it easier for Google and other search engines to find and rank its content.
XML sitemaps, which are designed purely for search engines, can deliver important data such as when a page was last modified or how often it’s updated to include new content. This data can affect your website’s search engine visibility.
Sitemaps also make it easier for users to navigate your website. If your website has a large number of archived pages that aren’t accessible using its main navigational menu, a sitemap allows users to reach them directly from its homepage.
— Bec Goodie (@becgoodie28) April 19, 2015
How to create a sitemap
Creating an HTML sitemap is straightforward and simple. If your website only has a small number of pages – for example, less than 100 pages in total – you can create a sitemap manually by listing your pages in an HTML document.
If your website has more than 100 pages, you’ll find it’s far faster to create a sitemap using software. XML Sitemaps has a free sitemap generator that crawls your website and automatically generates a list of pages.
This free tool allows the creation of a sitemap for up to 500 pages. Another free tool, XML Sitemap Generator, lets you automatically create a HTML and XML sitemaps for up to 2,000 pages.
If your website is built using a CMS such as WordPress, you can create a full sitemap using free plugins. HTML Page Sitemap automatically creates an HTML sitemap that lists all of your website’s pages (not blog posts) and updates it as content is added.
If your website has a lot of blog content, you’ll want to use Simple WP Sitemap. This sitemap plugin generates a full sitemap of your website’s pages and posts and even supports the inclusion of pages that aren’t part of your WordPress site.
How to optimise your HTML sitemap
Once you’ve created your HTML sitemap, it’s time to start optimising. By optimising your sitemap, you can improve your website’s accessibility and make it even easier for users and search engines to find the content they’re looking for.
Start by limiting the number of links in your HTML sitemap. Google recommends a maximum of 100 links per sitemap. Focus on the ‘hub’ pages of your website – the large, important pages that visitors can use to navigate to other content.
Make sure your sitemap is linked from your website’s homepage. A popular choice is to put a link to your HTML sitemap in your homepage’s footer. This helps PageRank pass from your homepage to your website’s sitemap and inner pages.
Use descriptive links in your sitemap to direct users to inner pages. Try to include a few of your target keywords in each page’s link without stuffing keywords or using links that are over-optimised.
If your website has several versions of the same content on different pages, ensure your sitemap includes canonical tags. Make sure you only link to one version of each piece of content from your sitemap instead of including duplicate pages.
Finally, make sure you update your sitemap frequently to add new pages and recent content. Most WordPress plugins will do this automatically, but you’ll need to do it yourself if your website uses a static HTML sitemap.
Does your website have an optimised HTML sitemap?
Adding an HTML sitemap to your website is a good way to increase the rankings of your inner pages and improve accessibility for visitors. Does your website have an HTML sitemap? If so, is it optimised for search engine visibility and accessibility?