Regardless of the complexity or purpose of your website, chances are that a sitemap isn’t the first topic on your agenda. Site admins and content creators often rely on practical, user-centric web and content development, without paying a lot of attention to the back-end side of things. However, disregarding the importance of sitemaps is risky because they can help to accomplish a critical goal of making it easier for search engines to find your website’s pages. In other words, they’re a great part of your SEO, so not having one could be a disadvantage.
But how exactly sitemaps improve SEO? They let search engines know the literal mapping of your website’s structure, starting from the top (landing page/navigation bar) to the bottom level (articles, products, etc.). This makes indexing, therefore, choosing your website for search results, much easier.
Since sitemaps are so important, let’s explore them a little bit more by taking a look at how to create a good one and the ways in which they benefit your website.
To maximize the benefits of a sitemap for your website, you have to create one from scratch As you develop your website and expand it with different categories of content, it will become harder and harder to manage, so a dedicated sitemap can help to develop a more structured, organized website from the get-go. Things like server file management, remote collaboration and page structure modification become a bit easier as a result later on.
A well-established sitemap allows to improve the experience of your visitors and customers by mapping of their journey through the website and giving ideas on optimizing it. For example, you might want to help your visitors find product pages as quickly as possible from the home page or a landing page. With a sitemap under your belt, you can create a flow which redirects them to that very section of your site.
Creating a visual sitemap requires input from a web developer and manager because the latter can define business-related knowledge while the former converts it into a good sitemap. Before starting designing a sitemap you should define:
Answering these questions will help you to create a sitemap that will meet all the requirements of your future users, increasing sales, and improving the overall experience of website’s users, and therefore, achieve long-term goals.
You should always start creating a sitemap from the Home Page — this way, you can create a clear hierarchy. For example, the Home Page can be the only first level page, and the second level pages – products, blog, contacts us etc. - should reflect the basic navigation.
The second level of the sitemap comprises a number of important site sections with a common theme such as categories of products. When designing, it's important to look at it from the user's perspective to make them easy to navigate, and providing the user with the ability to spend less time finding their way around. Second-level pages should contain links to content inside so-called “child pages,” providing easy navigation to them. It is important that the navigation usually includes less than 10 pages of the second level.
Child or third-level pages are pages that contain the specific content focused on one idea. For example, if a second-level page “Sports Nutrition” leads to a number of third-level pages such as “sports bars,” “amino acids,” and “protein”.For most websites, 3 levels of page hierarchy are enough to include all content, but there are also sites where 4 or even 5 levels may be required. These are complex sites with a large range of products.
Once you have created your sitemap, the best solution is to create a duplicate to be able to test the performance of different options. This can help to create an intuitive and easy-to-use sitemap. At the testing stage, you can also experiment with different structures of the map and other ideas to find the best option to meet the needs of the visitors.
Once you have finished working on the structure of your website, you have to make it more detailed to make sure that you didn’t miss anything. For example, you can add descriptions to pages so you know what subsections will be added. By doing so, you’ll never lose the focus on the main goals and consolidate up-to-date information at all stages of development.