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14 Sitemap Best Practices for Optimizing Your Sitemaps
Sunday, April 11, 2010
We previously discussed the importance of sitemaps and how they can help both human visitors and search engine crawlers navigate your site to find your most important content.  Why are we focusing on sitemaps and the importance of them?  Well you would think that every site out there has a sitemap right?  Wrong.  You would think that in this day an age most sitemaps are well optimized right?  Again wrong.  From small, twenty page sites to large e-commerce sites with hundreds of thousands if not millions of pages, we continue to see numerous sites without optimized sitemaps.  In fact we still come across sites that do not even employ a sitemap.

Of course when we discuss sitemaps, we should mention that there are two main types of sitemaps, the HTML version that actually appears on your site and the XML version that you create for search engine submission.  Our definitive list of sitemap best practices will feature tips for both, but for the most part is geared more towards the HTML sitemap.

14 Sitemap Best Practices

  1. Ensure that your sitemap is found at the root of your site hierarchy -  your sitemap should look something like: www.your-site.com/sitemap as opposed to something like www.your-site.com/content/index/sitemap or www.your-site.com/sitemap/sitemap
  2. Limit the number of links on your main sitemap to 100-150 pages - this still appears to be the sweet spot with the search engines.  If you are a larger site, consider the creation of multiple themed based sitemaps.  Google even states in their Webmaster Guidelines, "If the site map is larger than 100 or so links, you may want to break the site map into separate pages."
  3. Created Multiple Themed Based Sitemaps - to help promote content themes, and thus communicate your site as an authority on a given topic, creating themed sitemaps is a great way to not only help users navigate to this content, but to also let the engines know what your site is about.  Themed based sitemaps also help create consistent interlinking by using similar keywords in anchor text thereby improving the inbound link quality of your pages that you are linking to.
  4. Organize your sitemap(s) in a logical manner - this speaks to the themed content as mentioned above.  It should be easy for users to navigate your website, especially from your sitemap.  Directing the user through a logical navigation map is an easy way to ensure that users will engage with your most important content.
  5. Use descriptive, relevant keyword rich anchor text - this is a must when creating your sitemap.  Chances are that your sitemap is going to inherit PageRank from the homepage and thus be considered somewhat of an authoritative page.  Using keyword rich anchor text from an authoritative (and more importantly relevant page) is a great way to improve the inbound link quality score for the page being linked to (a key factor used in the ranking algorithms of the search engines.).  Try to incorporate keywords into the linking text that is featured on your sitemap.
  6. Keep your sitemap up-to-date - Check for broken links and correct HTML.
  7. Link to canonical (i.e. your preferred page) URLs - if you have multiple versions of a webpage, you should use the canonical tag to identified the preferred URL.  Ideally you should only have a single version of a given webpage on your site anyway.  As a result, this is the page that you should be linking to from your sitemap.
  8. Place a link to your sitemap on the homepage - preferably near the top.  There are still numerous sites out there that make it difficult for users to find their sitemap.  The link to your sitemap should be conspicuous.  Many site owners link to their sitemap from their footer as well.
  9. Make your sitemap a static page - avoid placing your sitemap in an image, in a Flash file or in an i-frame or type of coding that cannot be read by the search engine crawlers.
  10. Avoid hidden text or hidden links. - this should be self-explanatory by now, but this can and will get you penalized by the search engines.  Try not to use a super small font either.  Again if you need to have multiple pages for your sitemap do so.  Take the time to plan out your sitemap strategy.
  11. Help Google crawl your site - Make sure your web server supports the If-Modified-Since HTTP header. This feature allows your web server to tell Google whether your content has changed since we last crawled your site. Supporting this feature saves you bandwidth and overhead.
  12. Set the priority and frequency of your crawling activity - this is specific to your XML sitemap.  It is a good idea to set the priority of your sitemap page higher so that the search engines crawl this page regularly.  That way when you update your sitemap with new links to new pages, the search engines should be able to crawl and index this content sooner rather than later.
  13. Include information about images - again specific to your XML sitemap, you can use the sitemaps extension to provide Google with key information about images. For each URL you list in your Sitemap, you can add additional information about important images that exist on that page.
  14. Use Video Sitemaps - do you host your own videos on your site?  If so you might want to leverage a video sitemap to enlighten the search engines about your video content. 

Examples of Well Optimized Sitemaps

Marketing Jive - not to be biased, but our very own sitemap is a great example of a sitemap that is logical, concise and leverages relevant keyword rich text links.  Due to our blogging platform, we were limited with some of the design elements, but our sitemap is still useful in guiding users to our most important content.

Zappos http://www.zappos.com/site-map - the Zappos sitemap is a good example of a large e-commerce site that takes advantage of a themed sitemap to guide users to the area that they are interested in.  Zappos features a number of mini sitemap-like pages that help the user find the content that they are looking for.  They make use of static URLs making it easier for the purposes of interlinking key site content.  Well done Zappos!

Oracle http://www.oracle.com/sitemaps/sitemaps.html - the Oracle sitemap does a good job of navigating the user to the various content themes that are featured on their site.  They use a logical hierarchy that helps drive traffic to the specific content silos that site visitors may be looking for.

Disney http://home.disney.go.com/sitemap/ - Disney does a great job of help users navigate their site with a sitemap that takes users basically one click to anywhere they need to go on the Disney site.  The sitemap is not overwhelming and is intuitive to the various content areas of the site.  The coding of their sitemap page is very clean making it easy for the search engines to follow as well.

Examples of large e-commerce sites that feature sitemaps that are sufficient, but still have room for improvement include:
  • http://www.toysrus.com/sitemap/map.jsp
  • http://www.backcountry.com/store/site_map.html
  • http://www.lego.com/en-US/siteindex/default.aspx

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posted by Jody @ Sunday, April 11, 2010  
  • At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Dora E. H. Crow said…

    Great post - you've touched on so many important areas that other posts have left out about sitemaps. (I've been reading a lot of posts about sitemaps this morning, so I know!)

    P.S. I like the fact that you mentioned the difference between XML and HTML sitemaps at the beginning of the post. Very helpful for newbies.

  • At 5:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I liked the article ...straight forward and to the point.

  • At 9:26 PM, Blogger u666sa said…

    Question though: How sitemap should look, in terms of URL, you say www.site.com/sitemap, or should it be www.site.com/sitemap.html .... in other words a /sitemap/ directory (/sitemap/default.html) or sitemap document sitemap.html ... or am I over thinking here?

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