Improve Your Rankings with a Sitemap That Works: The HTML

An effective search engine optimization campaign should include designing an effective site map. This page is the pillar of any customer centric web site; in addition to letting visitors almost instantly find any page of your site, it also makes excellent fodder for the autonomous search engine spiders that crawl the web indexing sites.

An SEO friendly sitemap ensures that your whole site can be easily indexed, not just a few of the pages. This is because all of your links are held in one centralized location, and all of your pages are no less than two levels down in your site hierarchy, regardless of their physical location on your web server.

The process of a successful SEO marketing plan will result in an increased flow of traffic, but you have to bear in mind the fact that you want people to stay on your site once a search engine has directed them to it. Users should ideally not need to scroll more than a page length across or down to view the whole sitemap.  While this wont impact on your SEO results, it is a point worth knowing for usability.

A site map need not be a complicated page. In fact, it should not be a complicated page for best results; it should be accessible from every page on your site and it should be as simple as possible. At its most basic, it is simply a list of all directories and pages that make up your site.  But just because a sitemap should be simple, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be visually enhanced to fit the style of the rest of your site without your search engine rankings being damaged, although there are certain things that should be avoided.

One important facet of SEO that the experts keep drumming into us is that you must make your site as content rich as possible.  Whilst this is indeed the case, one by-product of a large site is that it needs a large sitemap to cover all this extra content.  It can be tempting to use an image map, or a series of image links, that graphically depicts the structure of your site to save time and add some stunning visuals to your site.  If you’ve read my review of some of the available sitemap generation software out there, you’ll know that some applications will even do this for you. Unfortunately, this approach may make people with accessibility software, people with images turned off, and search engine spiders hate you.

If your site doesn’t have a site map, this is something you need to address right away, regardless of whether you already achieve a high raking or not; in some cases, it may be a contributing factor in why you don’t have a good ranking.  If you do already have a site map, is it optimized for maximum consumption by spiders?  Or is it filled with pictures, badly chosen page titles or unwieldy scripts?

Do a quick search in any of the more high profile search engines for “site map.”  The top ranking sites in each all share one thing in common; their site maps are all just simple pages full of links.  They may be laid out in tables, un-ordered lists or simply as a long list of links, but the pages themselves are simple and effective. This gives the spiders information they can easily digest.  It is important that you do the same.

Coding a sitemap in this way is extremely easy and has the benefits of being easy to maintain and easy to style.  If done properly, the page will also degrade well when viewed with browsers that don’t support CSS.  The example site map I have put together is for a fictional record store. While neither the site nor store exist in reality, I have done it in the way that I would for any site I was optimizing.

Let’s begin then with the site map. Create a basic HTML page with all of the default tags.  As you’re obviously into SEO, you’d have a decent sized title and keyword flecked meta description included right?

<html>
  <head>
    <title>Site Map for Rouge Records – Providers of the best underground and UK imported vinyl and DJ accessories</title>
    <meta name=”description” content=”Rogue Records, visit our store or buy online! Aimed at both the enthusiast and professional DJ, we sell everything that any turntablist could ever need, from the freshest records to industry standard turntables and mixers.  We specialize in unreleased dance music imported from the UK from the baddest styles, including house, techno, break-beat, drum and bass, hardcore UK garage and hip hop.  We also provide a selection of the hottest new tracks from all over the USA”>
  </head>
  <body>

A short introduction is not necessary but it gives you a chance to blend in a few more keywords and makes it clear that this page links to your entire site:

<div>Welcome to the Rogue Records site map; browse through our vinyl or buy a top quality mixer, whatever you want to do, the page that will let you do it is listed here.  We at Rogue Records think that navigating our site and finding what you want should be a simple task.  The heading in each section corresponds directly with the top-level links of our navigation bar</div>

Now for every directory in your site structure, you want a main heading. Below this you can list the pages that reside in that folder.  A simple un-ordered list will do; theoretically you could use a table with no impact on your ranking, but a table should only be used to display data in a tabular format, and as this is not a list of figures or prices or amounts, it doesn’t strictly fall in to the category of data.  For proper form and accessibility compliance, I’d avoid the use of a table to display links

Using this structure instead of a table can help reduce the amount of unnecessary tags that can dilute your content.  Similarly, staying away from deprecated presentational tags like <font> etc, can also prevent this happening.     

A list is more than adequate for our needs with this page.  Heading text is viewed by some spiders as slightly more important that normal body text so enclosing the link text within a heading may help to improve your ranking slightly:

<h1 title=”Vinyl available in house, techno, drum & bass, hardcore, UK garage, hip hop and more”>Browse the different styles of Dance Music We Sell</h1>
<ul>
  <li><a href=”http://house.htm”><h2>House – The staple of Dance Music</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://techno.htm”><h2>Techno – Hard and Fast Dance Music </h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://drumnbass.htm”><h2>Drum &amp; Bass – The Sound of The Underground</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://hardcore.htm”><h2>Hardcore – A Foundation of the UK Rave Scene</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://ukgarage.htm”><h2>UK Garage – Fashionable Urban Music</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://hiphop.htm”><h2>Hip Hop – The Catalyst of all Dance Music</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://randb.htm”><h2>R &amp; B – Mellow, Soulful Rhythm &amp; Blues</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://randb.htm”><h2>NU School Breaks- An underground blend of House and Drum &amp; Base</h2></a></li>
</ul>

The text used within link elements is also viewed by some search bots as important so placing keywords here can also yield better results.  Additionally, it is often thought that crawlers treat information nearer the top of the page with more importance, and sometimes the end of a page may not even be reached.  For this reason it is best to place your most important directory at the top of the sitemap; as this web site is for a record shop, selling records is going to be its prime function and hence, the directory containing the pages of vinyl is the first section on the sitemap. 

As you should design your web site with consistency in mind, your navigation model should reflect the layout of your site map, and the section that comes first in the site map would be the first link in your navigation bar.  This isn’t strictly an SEO technique, just a practice you should follow for usability reasons.

The heading one tag includes a title attribute that can be used to add some more keywords to the site map.  Keywords would normally be carefully chosen and used within the content of a page, but because a site map contains very little actual content, you have to add them in where you can.  Your links should conform to your page titles as near as can possibly be achieved, and should therefore already have been optimized by you.  The text used for a link is seen as of a greater importance than normal body text by some spiders, so it should also contain some keywords.  The golden rule here is not to over do it however; the merest hint of blatant keyword stuffing or spamming will get you the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

The rest of the example code for the HTML page is as follows.  Having an articles and information section of your website can help your SEO strategy because it is a good way of getting external sites to link to you in a non-reciprocal kind of way.  This is why I have added it as the second section of the site map:

&nbsp;
<h1 title=”Articles and tutorials concerning mixing, producing, scratching and break dancing”>Articles</h1>
<ul>
   <li><a href=”http://articles.htm”><h2>Producing Dance Music</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://learnscratching.htm”><h2>Learn to Scratch Like a DMC champion</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://learnbreakdance.htm”><h2>Learn to Break dance and step like the best</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://software.htm”><h2>Using Professional Dance Music Software</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://tutorials.htm”><h2>General Tutorials on DJing </h2></a></li>
 </ul>
&nbsp;

<h1 title=”The best DJ equipment including record decks/turntables, mixers, &amp; styluses”>Music &amp; DJ Equipment and Accessories</h1>
<ul>
   <li><a href=”http://decks.htm”><h2>Record Decks – Technics, Gemini &amp; Vestax</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://mixers.htm”><h2>Mixers – Behringer, Made2Fade &amp; Numark</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://styluses.htm”><h2>Styluses – Stanton, Pioneer &amp; Ortofon</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://lighting.htm”><h2>Lighting – Strobes, &amp; Multibeam Effects </h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://djaccessories.htm”><h2>DJ Accessories – Record boxes, Headphones &amp; Slip Matts</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://media.htm”><h2>Blank Media – Dub Plates, CD’s &amp; Minidiscs</h2></a></li>
 </ul>

<h1 title=”Find out where we are and when, and talk to other dance music fans”>Social</h1>
<ul>
  <li><a href=”http://events.htm”><h2>New York Dance Events</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://clubnights.htm”><h2>New York Club and Dance Nights</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://forum.php”><h2>Dance Music Fans Forum</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://scratchbattles.htm”><h2>Scratch Battles</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://tours.htm”><h2>East Coast and National Tours</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://showcasenights.htm”><h2>Showcase and Talent Nights</h2></a></li>
</ul>
&nbsp;

<h1 title=”Meet the dance music DJ’s and producers affiliated with Rogue Records”>Artists and DJ’s</h1>
<ul>
  <li><a href=”http://djdiscobiscuit.htm”><h2>DJ Disco Biscuit</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://dopewax.htm”><h2>Dope Wax</h2></a></li>
  <li><a href=”http://dangerousunderground.htm”><h2>Dangerous Undergound</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://lowinmoralfibre.htm”><h2>Low in Moral Fibre</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://djhankz.htm”><h2>DJ Hank Z</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://frankiebeats.htm”><h2>Frankie Beats</h2></a></li>
   <li><a href=”http://djsolo.htm”><h2>DJ Solo</h2></a></li>
 </ul>
&nbsp;

<h1 title=”All about Rogue Records”>Information About Rogue Records</h1>
  <ul>
    <li><a href=”http://history.htm”><h2>History of Rogue Records</h2></a></li>
    <li><a href=”http://contactus.htm”><h2>Contact Rogue Records</h2></a></li>
    <li><a href=”http://promotion.htm”><h2>Rogue Event Promotion</h2></a></li>
    <li><a href=”http://vacancies.htm”><h2>Job Vacancies at Rogue Records </h2></a></li>
  </ul>
  </body>
</html>

So that is most of the HTML done, there will be some more to add once we have created a CSS page to go with it.  If you view the page as it is, you’ll see what browsers that don’t support CSS see.  However plainly, the page still makes sense and still functions.  This is also how a spider would read the page.

Creating a site map in this way is not to be confused with the new application recently unleashed by Google called Google Sitemaps.  This is a fairly recent addition to Google’s repertoire of tools and services and aims at providing site masters with the tools needed to actively help their site get indexed and provide optional information on things like the change frequency and relative importance of each page.  This is an excellent idea because it can increase the speed at which new sites or additions to existing sites are discovered in the vast plethora of data that makes up the Internet.  Basically, you create a site map file in one of the supported protocols and submit it to Google.  A spider is then dispatched to index the site. 

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