Sitemaps have two separate but related functions in Web design. An HTML sitemap on your site can help your users see the extent of your content and navigate easily. An XML sitemap helps search engines correctly index the structure of your site. Your Web designers should not only include both types of sitemaps, they should also have a plan for keeping them updated, especially if your site content is dynamic.
On each of the Praetorian Group’s sites, there is a link to the sitemap in the footer of every page. This lets users jump directly to a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the site, to see how it is organized. For example: www.policeone.com/sitemap.html shows which pages are sub pages of each other, which pages are product pages versus news pages, and so on.
Especially if your site is large or your content changes frequently, users may look for a sitemap page to help orient themselves or locate specific sections.
An XML sitemap is based on a specific protocol – it is a codified way for search engines to learn about what is on your site. Each entry in the XML file shows a URL on your site and optional information such as when that URL was last updated, and how frequently it is updated. This helps search engines find your pages and know how often to check them for new content.
Although many search engines will crawl HTML sitemaps, your designer should be familiar with the XML sitemap format required for this type of sitemap, and the various ways to submit it to search engines. Details are available on www.sitemaps.org.
Working with your Designer on Sitemaps
Because they reflect the underlying structure of your site, sitemaps shouldn’t be considered a secondary part of your Web design process. Some designers recommend starting by giving your designer a chart or “wire frame” showing the main sections and sub-sections of your site – this is a basic sitemap, and can grow into the HTML sitemap that will appear on your site.
For both the HTML and XML sitemaps, ask your designer how and when the sitemap will be updated. If you are able to add pages to your site without your designer, those changes should ideally be automatically reflected in both sitemaps. If they aren’t, make sure your Web designer has a plan for doing ongoing manual updating of both sitemaps.
Read the full series: Top 10 Web Design Warning Signs