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Reasons Why an HTML Sitemap is Important for your Website

A sitemap guides your website visitors to the content they want to see. An HTML sitemap is where they go when they don't find what they're looking for in the drop-down menus.

Besides helping visitors navigate your website, which should be a goal of any marketing effort, there are many other reasons to use a sitemap.

First, it's important to understand that there are two types of sitemaps:

  • Sitemap XML
  • HTML sitemaps

What are XML Sitemaps?

XML sitemaps help search engines and spiders discover pages on your site.  These sitemaps provide search engines with website URLs and offer complete map data of all the pages on the site. That helps search engines prioritize all of the pages they will crawl.  There is information in the sitemap that shows the page change rate for one URL compared to others on that website, but this is unlikely to affect rankings.  An XML sitemap is helpful for large websites that would otherwise take a long time for a spider to crawl the site.  Each site allocates a certain amount of crawl budget, so no search engine will crawl every URL the first time it discovers the URL.  An XML sitemap is a good way for a search engine to build its queue of pages it wants to serve.

What are HTML Sitemaps?

HTML sitemaps serve site visitors. Sitemaps include all the website pages, from the main pages to the lower level pages.  An HTML sitemap is simply an interactive listing of the pages on a website. In its purest form, this could be an un-ordered list of every page on the site.  That is a fantastic opportunity to bring order to chaos, so it's worth the effort.

Why You Should Use an HTML Sitemap

While you may already be using an XML sitemap - and some will argue that an HTML sitemap is no longer needed - here are seven reasons to add (or save) an HTML sitemap.

1). Organize Big Sites

Your site will grow in size.  You can add an e-commerce store with multiple departments or expand your product portfolio. Or, more likely, the site will grow as new clientele do business with your company.  However, this can confuse visitors, who do not understand where to go, as well as your value proposition.  An HTML sitemap works similarly to a department store or mall map.  A sitemap is a fantastic way for the sitemap maintainer to analyze each page and make sure it has a rightful home somewhere on the site.  That is a directory for users who can't find the pages they're looking for elsewhere on the site, and as a last resort, it should help them get there.

2). Work as a Project Manager and Architect

Think of an HTML sitemap as the blueprint for your website.  The sitemap becomes a project management tool. It controls the structure and links between pages and sub-pages.  It's also a forced feature to ensure a clear hierarchy and taxonomy for the site.  A good sitemap is like having a well-organized daily routine.  As any busy person knows, there is a big difference between an agenda that pops up at random every meeting and an agenda that is thematically organized by time slots.  In any case, an organized agenda is much more beneficial for everyone.

3). Highlight the Purpose of the Website

As a content-driven document, an HTML sitemap serves as a way to define the specific value of your website.  Maximize this advantage by using SEO to identify the most unique and relevant keywords to include in your sitemap.  Anchor text is a great way to create keyword relevance to a page, and for pages without a lot of cross-linking, a sitemap is an easy alternative to using selective anchor text.  To understand the power of a single anchor text, look at the search results for "click here":

4). Speed Up the Work of Search Robots

You want to help these search engines in every possible way and take control where you can. Help includes finding your content and moving it up in the crawl queue.  While an XML sitemap is just a detailed list of links, HTML links are the way search bots prefer to open the web.  An HTML sitemap helps draw attention to this content by highlighting the most critical pages on your site. You can also submit a text version of your sitemap to Google.

5). Increase Search Engine Visibility

On some websites, Google and other search engines may not be doing the job of indexing every web page.  For example, if you have a link on one of your web pages, crawlers may choose to follow that link.  Bots want to make sure the link makes sense. However, in doing so, the bots may never come back to continue indexing the remaining pages.  An HTML sitemap can direct these bots to get a complete picture of your site and review all pages. That can make it easier for the bots to stay longer to navigate the pages created for them.

Not only do taxonomy and hierarchy help users find themselves, but they are also crucial for search robots. A sitemap can help search engine crawlers understand a website's taxonomy.  There's no limit to how big a sitemap can be, and LinkedIn even has a sitemap that has links to all of their millions of user pages.

6). Include Page Links Naturally to Engage Visitors

Not every page will connect from a link located in the header or footer.  An HTML sitemap can step in and find those ideal links that determine how visitors can search for things.  In this way, an HTML sitemap can reflect the visitor's journey and guide them from exploration to purchase. However, this advantage of HTML sitemaps can increase the visibility of these related pages in organic search.  In this case, the sitemap is a fallback that ensures that there will never be a page on the site that is not an orphan.  I have seen massive increases in traffic on sites that had problems with deeper pages not getting many internal links.

Areas to Improve the Navigation of Your Site

As your site grows and you create more pages, duplicate data can appear. That can be a problem for the search engine.

But once you've mapped it, you can use the sitemap to find the duplication and remove it.  By the way, this only works if there is a sitemap owner who views the sitemap on a semi-regular basis.  Also, when you use analytics or heat map tools, more visitors use the HTML sitemap than the navigation.  That is a clear signal that you need to reevaluate why this is happening if there is no current navigation.  It's crucial to determine how you can change the site's architecture to make it easier for visitors to find what they want.  For all these benefits, you need to maintain an HTML sitemap. These benefits save resources (time and money). They also provide an effective way to direct your website visitors to desired content and help close those sales.

Starting Out

If you don't have an HTML sitemap but are using a platform like WordPress, I recommend one of the many sitemap plugins. Plugins automate much of the sitemap development and management process.

Large sites may require Internet scanning, such as:

  • Screaming Frog or SiteBulb on your desktop
  • OnCrawl or DeepCrawl in the cloud

The result of this web crawl should then serve as the basis for organizing all of the site's pages by topic.  After designing the HTML sitemap, be sure to include a link on your website that is easy to find.  You can place the link at the top, as part of a sidebar, or in a footer menu that remains accessible as visitors navigate from page to page.  No matter how you look at it, an HTML sitemap is an easy way to reap huge benefits with little effort.