In the early days of search engine optimisation, it was standard practise for a website design team to include a site map when building a website. Useful for both SEO robots and human visitors, the site map was a single page with a link to every other page on the site. But as the web has evolved, has their usefulness vanished?
SEO and Website Design
The way your website is designed and what’s hard-coded into its structure can make it easier or harder for search engines to find your pages. In turn, this means that choices made by your web designers can make a real difference to how many sales you make once the site is complete.
Search engine robots work through a website by following all the links on a page. This means that pages that aren’t linked to, or have changing URLs, tend not to appear. The site map provides a short cut, giving the robots access to all pages, even if they’re not easy to find from the main navigation. In the 1990s, these site maps had to be an actual page. Today, they’re typically an XML script which is never visible to the user. So while the SEO tool is still there, the clunky page is no longer needed.
Site Maps for Humans
Even if the robots don’t need a site map page to navigate your website, will your human visitors appreciate a guided tour? Honestly, we don’t think it’s necessary. Clicking through to a site map to find a page is an extra click, and it’s a last resort. If a customer uses your site map to navigate your site, it means your standard navigation isn’t giving them what they want, and should be fixed.
Instead of focusing on the safety net of a site map, make sure your website design is up to scratch. Clear navigation and a good search function will ensure your customers can find products quickly and easily, without resorting to a site map.
Site Maps Limit Flexibility
To be usable, a site map page needs to be accurate. This means it needs to be up to date and regularly maintained. The straightforward hierarchy of the text also makes it hard to fully capture the cross-indexing common online. For example, this post will be filed in several categories in our searchable system, but we’d have to pick just one for a site map index.
Even relatively small websites are often too complex or too flexible for navigation by site map to make sense to the user. Consider an e-commerce store: products come and go, so the site map can, at best, only have category links. Likewise, a news site or one built on a blog format will have much of its content listed by date, so a good search and use of tags is more important than a page with a list of months.