You Need More Than One Site Map

Something as basic as your web site’s site map could have more of an effect on the success of your web site than you originally may have thought. So why is it that site maps are often taken lightly or overlooked altogether? Most graphic designers, webmasters and even Internet marketers don’t grasp the many uses and purposes for a site map. And the ones who do might only incorporate one version when there is a strong value to having multiple types for different “audiences.”

In this article I will be reviewing the benefits of incorporating a site map, its prime positioning and the different types that should be considered for optimal success.

So What Exactly is a Site Map?

The simple definition of a site map is a page that contains an organized listing of links to all pages within the web site. You will usually find links to these pages somewhere on the home page of a web site, and on more proactive sites, every page. Often site maps are found at the top right or bottom navigation links, away from the main components and natural site navigation, but still positioned in areas of high visitor focus, based on eye-tracking tests that have been performed by knowledgeable Internet marketers.

There are of course many ways to structure the site map itself, taking into consideration a company’s brand colors and the special look and feel of the site itself. Some may choose to list links alphabetically while others choose a category-based approach. While the design layout choice is insignificant, an organized and easy to read and follow site map structure is.

The Different Uses for a Site Map

There are three main purposes for a web site map, though particular formats may be applied differently. These three purposes can be categorized into site maps that:

  • Help the visitor find every page of your site, regardless of link depth or the usability of your natural navigation.

  • Direct all search engines to your inner pages, not just the home page, and resolve the conflicts caused by dynamic URLs and broken links within the site.

  • Feature specific formats that can be submitted to the different search engines to help improve search engine optimization (SEO).

The first one of course is the easiest and most known by web site owners, web designers, and web programmers. Unless you are a very experienced web site designer, web programmer or Internet marketer, however, chances are that you do not know how to properly create the perfect navigation to direct all of your traffic to the right areas of your site (these are usually the section where you sell your products and/or services).

In another article of mine, "Why A C-Navigation," I go into more depth on how to structure and implement this "perfect navigation." For the purposes of this article I will only be explaining how to make up for not having this.

The truth of the matter is, even with a "perfect" navigation plan you still cannot guarantee that all of your web traffic will use your site in the same way. Typically, your site is designed to your wants and needs and possibly to your employees’ wants and needs as well; rarely will it fulfill the needs of every one of your visitors. Some may have trouble finding certain products, or information and service pages, resulting in a loss of a potential sale and even a future client or customer.

Your human-readable, text version site map is the solution to this problem. A well-organized Site Map that illustrates the important areas of your global site and breaks them up clearly into an understandable order, will bring traffic to even your deepest page links. It will also come in handy if you have broken links within your site that you are unaware of or have not had the chance to resolve yet.

The final advantage to having a text-based site map is that it gives you another opportunity to display your keyword phrases, embedded within these links. Internet marketers and SEOs know that in order to be indexed for certain keywords, they must be displayed multiple times throughout the site and not all in the same general area. Having your keyword phrases displayed directly in the link name will greatly increase the chances of ranking fore these keywords in many of the top search engines’ indexes. 

A healthy, human-readable and text-based site map will become your visitors’ best friend for any navigational confusion, problems with programming, and keyword-phrase positioning.

ROR site maps are the perfect tool to achieve better search engine rankings, even in worst case scenarios. High rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs) are necessary for achieving the web site traffic you need. If you are not within the top three pages of search results, you are practically invisible. If you have broken links, consider yourself even worse off.

ROR (Resources of a Resource) is a rapidly growing independent XML format for describing any object of your content in a generic fashion so that ALL search engines can easily read it. This makes it a perfect site map version to put directly on the web site, alongside the HTML version for human visitors. By incorporating an ROR site map into your web site, you are guaranteeing that all of your pages will be indexed and appear somewhere in search results – and if by chance any of your natural links are broken, the site map will have them working.

Another major benefit to placing a search-engine friendly site map on your web site is that it fixes the problems that arise from having a database driven, dynamic site or URL. Search engines prefer static sites or URLs, which sufficiently enables them to browse page links and index them accordingly. While many large product web sites have little to no alternatives to continuing to use a database-driven, dynamic web site, an independent site map can accomplish this goal.

ROR site maps are the perfect answer for directing ALL search engines to your inner pages, regardless of broken links or nasty dynamic URLs. It is an all-in-one solution that helps ALL search engine robots explore and index your site appropriately.

Submit Different Types For Different Sites

To increase search engine rankings you may actually submit your site maps to your chosen search engine. By doing this, your web site will quickly get "spidered" and indexed in their database, instead of waiting for the bots to find you. 

Each search engine has a preferred format, though, for submitting site maps. Google prefers XML while Yahoo accepts text versions. A text version site map that can be submitted to Yahoo is not the same as the HTML-based site map used by on-site visitors.

These submitted site maps solve the same issues that the on-site ROR site map does, except in a much faster way. They get your information to the preferred site so you can get indexed in their databases quickly. You may even program these site maps to tell the search engine when they should revisit and re-spider your site for new content to include in search results.

What is XML? XML is an acronym for Extensible Markup Language. It is an open standard for exchanging structured documents and data over the Internet, introduced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) back in November 1996.

Google launched the Site Map 0.84 Protocol back in 2005, which uses the XML format. It was developed in response to the increasing size and complexity of web sites, and the frequent changing, adding, and updating of content at many of these sites. As web sites grew, it was difficult for the search engines to keep up with all of the material, and sometimes their spiders skipped information as they crawled these rapidly changing sites.

The new XML protocol could track URLs more efficiently, optimizing sites to one page and summarizing how frequently a page updated. After Google’s publishing under the Attribution/Share Alike Creative Commons License, the word quickly spread.

How to Create these Site Maps

All of you non-experienced programmers are probably wondering how to go about creating these different site maps for your web sites. Fortunately, you do not need to know! In fact there are multiple free and paid site map generators across the Internet that can automatically create them for you.

Some only specialize in one of the above formats, such as the ROR Site Map Generator provided by ROR Web (www.rorweb.com) or the XML Site Map Generator Script from Google itself. This script can be found by going to this link: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools, and following the instructions within.

The site map generator that I currently use for my clients and personal sites is the four-in-one version offered by XML-Site Maps.com. The welcome screen gives a clear understanding of what you are getting, what to do to get it and what to do after you receive it. You simply enter a starting URL (usually the root domain) and the program will automatically pull up a details page, including number of pages, broken links, and the different site map formats. 

A Site Map Conclusion

While your web site’s site map is much more than a summary of your site, it may be seen as one. It is an all-in-one solution to direct even your most oblivious visitors to the necessary areas within your site and give them an alternative if you have broken links.

Your site map will also serve the search engines’ purposes in many ways, giving them a clear path to all the pages you expect to be indexed regardless of the broken links stated above and dynamic URLs which are hard for them to read and understand. It will also increase the odds that they will rank you for your keyword phrases, and quickly get your information to them, including when you expect to update. If these site map formats were not originally in your web site building plans, consider adding them today!

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