The SEO Advantage of a Sitemap

By John Fitzsimmons

You can hire a professional SEO team to perform strategic key word analysis. You can pay thousands of dollars to have your code optimized. You can spend countless hours with Web marketing consultants. Many do all of the above. Others simply add a sitemap.

A sitemap isn't going to magically propel a website to the top of Google's rankings for every dream key phrase, but it can provide a nice boost to a poorly indexed website's organic traffic. And where a professional SEO team can cost a small fortune, creating a sitemap will likely only cost a few development hours.

Why a Sitemap?
Besides being economical, a sitemap serves two highly functional SEO objectives. A well-designed sitemap allows for search engines to easily locate and index all relevant pages of a website and allows for keyword reinforcement of pages through the use of descriptive linking text.

A good sitemap will include many of the same features one might see on any keenly optimized Web page. For example, clean, uncomplicated coding is ideal. Keep any Java or CSS in external files and keep tables simple, if existent at all - CSS can and should replace tables when possible. Also, using Meta, Title, and Robot Tags will provide direction and clues to help search engines index and rank a page. Most important, however, is the use of text links.

Implementing a Sitemap
Text Links are the most basic link formats for search engines to index and follow, and the text in the link provides clues to help with relevant ranking. Ideally, these links should be key phrases. A common mistake is the use of Java and Flash links that, while having an aesthetic appeal, tend to be unreadable to search engines.

Another way to increase the SEO advantages of a sitemap is through the use of logical categories or groupings for your page links. These similar groupings create blocks of themed content which go a step further toward enhancing the relevance and strength of the keyword-based text links.

But aside from a sitemap's physical characteristics, its placement on the server is also important. Sitemaps should be as easy to find for a search engine. This means a sitemap should not be buried in deep folders or on sub domains, but placed as close to the root directory level as possible. At root level, a sitemap is easier to find because there is less "digging" to do. And the easier it is to find, the easier it is to index the entire website.

Links to the sitemap should ideally be set up from all Web pages in a website. This is most easily accomplished by adding the link to a footer or header include. Theoretically, it is best for a sitemap link to be placed at the top of Web page since search spiders look at a page from top to bottom. However, some site designs do not allow for this. But, in most cases, footer links will be just as effective.

An easy way to test how well a sitemap is working is to run a site saturation query on the major search engines to see if there has been an increase of the number of pages indexed.

In Google, Yahoo, and MSN type

You can also look at your traffic stats to see if there has been an increase in visitors. Google's free analytics tool is a good option.

If there is only one thing you can do to improve your website's organic traffic and budget is a concern, creating a sitemap could be the most beneficial. Not only does it make it easier for search engines to find your pages but it also provides clues to help them determine ranking. These simple benefits combined with its ease of implementation make a sitemap a great SEO solution. -

John Fitzsimmons is a Search Marketing Manager and Consultant.