HTML sitemaps might seem like a relic from the old days of web development, but you’d be wrong to think they are no longer needed for SEO.
A sitemap guides your website’s users to where they want to be on your site, regardless if that user is a crawler or human. The sitemap is the default to turn to if the user cannot find the rages on your site they are trying to find.
There are two main types of sitemap that are both important for SEO; XML sitemaps and HTML sitemaps.
What are XML sitemaps?
XML Sitemaps are an essential part of SEO and provide a core tool for search engines to crawl and discover the many different pages on your site.
As long as it is properly configured and optimised for SEO, an XML sitemap provides a full list of all the pages on the website, which provides an easy to navigate ‘map’ for spiders and bots to navigate the website.
An XML sitemap can also contain useful information for search engines, like providing a ‘priority’ which helps Google to better allocate crawl budget and ‘frequency’ which indicates how often the content of the page is updated, which is another helpful indication to GoogleBot to better distribute crawl budget.
An XML sitemap is typically only accessible via adding /sitemap.xml to the end of a website’s domain. To ensure Google can find and crawl your XML sitemap, submit the XML sitemap URL to Google Search Console.
What are HTML sitemaps?
Unlike XML sitemaps, HTML sitemaps seemingly only serve website visitors. The HTML sitemap will contain all the pages on the website.
Essentially, all a HTML sitemap is a list of clickable URLs that link to the pages on the website. A well-optimised HTML sitemap should be ordered and organised, making it easy to navigate for both the user and crawlers.
Why you should still have a HTML sitemap
Although some argue HTML sitemaps are no longer necessary, I have put together some tips on why you should consider still having one on your website:
Sitemaps highlight your website’s purpose
A HTML sitemap is a content-based page and helps to concrete the definition of the websites specific purpose.
This ‘purpose highlight’ helps the search engine optimisation of your site by increasing the amount and variety of keyword-based link anchor text to all the pages on your site.
Anchor text is an important factor for the overall keyword targeting of a given page. Pages with lots of ‘horizontal’ or ‘cross’ links from other pages internally on your site will provide benefit to the targeted keyword rankings.
Using generic anchor text such as ‘click here’ is not descriptive and provides very little or no benefit, whereas descriptive anchor text such as; book a free consultation, helps give a small benefit to the keyword rankings of the receiving page, along with making it easier for search engines to navigate your site.
As a HTML sitemap naturally has lots of internal links to all the pages on your site, this is a great opportunity to add in some descriptive anchor text links to every page on your website.
Increases a website’s crawlability
Further to the previous point, a HTML sitemap provides another source for crawl bots such as Google to quickly and easily navigate around your website.
The more assistance and ease of crawlability you provide to Google, the higher up the crawl queue your website will move, as it takes fewer of Google’s resources to regularly crawl and index your site.
A properly optimised HTML sitemap can emphasise information to the specific content of your choice by putting a highlight on those particular pages.
Ensures you have no orphaned pages
Nearly every website has pages that do not contain links from header or footer menus and rely solely on referring internal links from other pages on the site.
However, especially with large e-commerce sites, pages can slip through the cracks and become ‘orphaned pages.
An up-to-date HTML sitemap ensures that every page on your site contains at least one link from another live webpage.
What is an orphaned page?
Simply put, an orphaned page is a webpage on your site that does not have a single link from any other section of your website. These pages are usually not indexed as they cannot be found by search engine crawlers.
Some instances of orphaned pages are ok, for example, a CMS login page, but these are ok as you do not want them to be reachable by the user or indexed in Google.
However, if you are finding product or information pages that are orphaned, you need to spend some time increasing the amount and variety of internal links on your site.
Orphaned pages can be found using software such as Sitebulb.
Organises large websites
Large websites can lead to confusion for users, resulting in poor bounce rates and on-page times, as the users of your website struggle to navigate and find the pages they are looking for.
Large e-commerce sites are particularly susceptible to this, even though good main navigation should fix this issue mostly, some users still prefer a sitemap.
A HTML sitemap is the internet equivalent to a map in a large shopping centre, they allow the customer to quickly identify where they are, and how to get to the pages or products they want.
Although it might not be a popular page on your site this directory provides a last resort for users to find the pages they are after, and might just capture a few users who were about to give up and leave your website.
In a nutshell, a HTML sitemap should still be a part of your website. They are quick and easy to make using a tool such as XML-Sitemaps and only require a small non-intrusive link in the footer of your site.
They provide a surprising amount of benefits and will certainly increase the overall search engine optimisation of your site.
Discover more about what SEO can do for your business & we can provide your website with a perfectly optimised HTML sitemap, alongside a tailored SEO campaign, created to exactly suit your needs.