Back in the day, when I first started working on organic search, one of my first tasks was to generate sitemaps for my client’s websites. I’m not referring to XML sitemaps but old fashioned HTML sitemaps.
An HTML sitemap was simply a page (or potentially series of pages) that would link to other important pages that were on your website. It was useful for both users and search engine crawlers to help find important content on your website.
Over the years I have noticed that a number of sites have gotten away from leveraging an HTML sitemap, but there is still benefit in deploying an HTML sitemap.
4 Benefits of HTML Sitemaps
- Usability – and HTML sitemap is a great way for users to navigate to key areas of your website. If created properly, an HTML sitemap can provide users with a great sense of what your site is about.
- Navigation / Quick Access – an HTML sitemap can help ensure that your core content is one or two clicks from your homepage and that your content is easily accessible.
- Interlinking – your HTML sitemap can be created and optimized in such a way that it becomes an authoritative page on your website and as a result a link to your other site pages from the HTML sitemap can become “worth” more from a linking perspective.
- The Google Factor – Google still values HTML sitemaps – according to Google webmaster guidelines – a sitemap for users still has some value. Google states “Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map has an extremely large number of links, you may want to break the site map into multiple pages. (Source: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769?hl=en). Google also recommends that every page on your website should be reachable from at least one static text link (or image link).
There are those who simply rely on an XML sitemap. While XML sitemaps can assist in the crawling and indexing of your website’s content, there is still value in developing an HTML sitemap for your website. An HTML sitemap can be a great way to direct and guide users to your most important content. Why not assist users anyway you can by guiding them to the information that they are looking for? Helping them find the information they are looking for can lead to repeat visits and ultimately conversions (providing that you have the proper calls to action on your site pages).
An HTML sitemap is still a great form of navigation for your website. At the very least it can help you organize your content by theme, topic or category. It can drive users to the areas of the site where you want them to go. Many argue that “well if users need an HTML sitemap to find your content then you have a UX issue with your website”. Well that may be true, but how many times have you visited a site and could not immediately find what you are looking for? When this happens, chances are you do one of three things:
- look for an internal site search and re-type a query as to what you are looking for
- look to a navigation element for some direction
- click “back” or even worse leave the site altogether
Why risk losing the site visitor? It can be difficult to perfect the user experience on your website. After all your users may have different intent upon arriving on your website. Having an HTML sitemap is a universal piece of navigation that can make a difference between a user finding what they are looking for versus leaving your site never to return.