Sitemaps: What are They and Why Do I Need One?
There are a lot of features on websites you really don’t think about as a user until you get a peek behind the scenes. Sitemaps are one of these features. Whether they’re HTML sitemaps or XML site maps, there are conflicting ideas on whether or not they’re actually necessary. So let’s go into the benefits of having a sitemap.
So what is a sitemap?
A sitemap is a page on a website that contains links to every other page on the website. See, here’s ours. It’s usually designed for crawlers and search engines, which I’ll get back to. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin: a map of the site. It’s a one-stop-shop to get to all the other pages.
So what are the benefits of a sitemap?
There are many benefits to a sitemap, but the main ones fit into the groups of ease for search engines, ease for users, and organization.
Ease for search engines
For the new kids in class, search engines like Google know which pages to show searchers by looking at millions of websites. They utilize spiders (a tool that follows links and builds a web of links from the connections its found) to understand how everything on the site links to each other. They can do this by simply following internal linking structures, but have a better time when they can go through one page. Hence the sitemap. Crawlers can go directly through the sitemap to every page, saving time and resources.
This would probably be a good time to touch on the differences between HTML sitemaps and XML sitemaps. XML sitemaps are designed solely for search engines. Humans don’t get to see much of it. HTML sitemaps are usually easy to find on a website; ours is linked to in our footer. You can see where all of our pages are and even find links to every single one of our blog posts. Every. Single. One.
Ease for users
The user-oriented sitemap is extremely useful for finding pages that might be hidden in layers of internal linking. If you remember the name of one of our blog posts, you are just a click and Ctrl+F away from finding it. It sure beats scrolling back months or years to find it.
Even nice websites can be sloppily organized. It happens. But a sitemap can help to visualize and show you where you might be able to correct linking structures. If your service pages are organized by type of service, but their URL structures don’t reflect that, your site might have an organization problem. A sitemap will show you how your pages are currently set up, and you can decide whether or not you want to fix that yourself.
Downsides of a sitemap
To be honest, there aren’t really any other than it takes time (not even a lot of time) to build it. It’s generally just a good practice to have a sitemap, even if it isn’t necessary.
Creating a Sitemap
We actually have a blog post about how to create an HTML sitemap, so that’s a good resource for that. As for creating a user-oriented sitemap, there are numerous WordPress plugins for this very purpose. If you would like more information on building a sitemap for your law firm’s website, contact a company that has experience in this area.