What Effect do XML and HTML Sitemaps Have in Relation to SEO?
Effective search engine optimisation (SEO) requires the application of numerous techniques applied in concert. Each component, when adopted meticulously and with proper planning and forethought makes a vital contribution to the overall project. The end game is ideally to develop an SEO solution where the whole weight of authority and relevance generated by the site becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
For SEO to be effective it is important that the search engine spiders and web crawlers can properly index a site. Based on your site's architecture and its links (both external and internal) the engines can establish and weight the profile of how each interacts to map out which pages have the highest significance to their index.
One of the most effective ways of encouraging full and extensive visiting and indexing of your site by the spiders is to integrate a site map (or maps) into your development. Sitemaps are an easy way for web masters to represent the structure of a site and inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. Human visitors also appreciate site maps as navigation aids.
Essentially site maps come in two flavours. An HTML sitemap is an actual page on a site containing links to the website's most important pages. Any site with anything approaching complex navigation should consider an HTML sitemap for visitors. Whilst an HTML sitemap can be read and the links followed by spiders (so some passing of link juice is involved that might affect SEO), it also has the advantage of being readable by humans as well.
A visitor might refer to an HTML site map to help them navigate when they can't find a specific page easily. This visitor readability and usability issue that allows users to locate pages within a large site will give weight to your site in the SERP's, (search engine ranking pages) as they will weight your pages favourably for catering to your users and being user-friendly.
HTML sitemaps, however offer only a general guide to a site, an overview, not necessarily containing all the links available to spider in a website. This is especially the case for websites that contain dynamically generated pages (shopping carts, etc).
The XML sitemap protocol is specifically designed for spiders. In its simplest form, an XML sitemap is a 'behind the scenes' XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site). It's a map of all links in a site, uploaded to the root directory of a website, invisible to visitors. XML site maps are accessible to all major search engines (XML sitemaps are now supported by Google, Yahoo! and MSN), so they can more intelligently crawl the site through both top and deep level links.
On new websites, XML sitemaps act as a form of beacon for search engines, enabling them to 'see' the site and index it much more quickly and more thoroughly than by simply waiting for the crawlers to find the site in their own time.
These days a professional and thorough SEO solution will likely include an XML site map, either static or dynamic. Highly customisable, they enhance your Internet presence by passing on to the search engines a range of important and in-depth page information that a basic HTML sitemap simply can't offer, for example:
- Most recent modification
- The frequency of page changes
- A comprehensive list of a website's URLs that may not be easily accessed and spidered
- The relative importance of individual pages on a site in relation to each other
Dynamically generated XML Sitemaps take SEO a stage further, enhancing web presence on an on-going basis.
Using dynamic XML sitemaps can be particularly useful when applying a content management system (CMS). If your site has a database, implementing a dynamic XML sitemap allows you to not only customize each URL of the sitemap, but also ensures that new links are added to the sitemap automatically and dynamically with no manual input - particularly useful on sites having hundreds to thousands of URLS such as e-commerce solutions. A dynamic XML sitemap might also be useful when using software on your website that offer functionality. For example, some shopping scripts may already have the XML sitemaps functionality built in, so updates are made as you add or edit products to your shop.
Search engines love fresh and up-to-date content; by feeding them new links on a regular basis they are encouraged to visit and index frequently and in depth. A detailed sitemap can also develop your keywordprofile, helping to increase long-tail profile and conversions on specific keywords and phrases.
Through architecture sculpting it is possible to manipulate the relative importance of pages within a site. Google is now hinting strongly in its Webmaster Tools that including the 'relative importance' of individual pages in your sitemaps is a good idea. Through employing a databased dynamic sitemap, you can set top level, category and product page defaults to your desired importance, ensuring that all new links include an appropriate rating automatically. All part of a considered SEO campaign.
Whilst HTML maps still play an important role in modern websites, you can raise your crawler profile significantly by applying either a static or dynamic XML map, ensuring that your content is as accessible as possible to both the search engines, and that your relevance is recognised.
SEO Consult is expert and experienced in applying HTML, and both static and dynamic site map solutions as part of our overall SEO strategies. Contact Us today to find out how our site map development can add depth and profile to your Internet presence.