Sitemaps – Do You Need Them?

July 29, 2009

Do you have a sitemap on your website? More importantly, do you need one?

Before I answer that question, let me point out that there are two types of sitemaps – HTML and XML. The first is an actual page on your website that lists all the other pages of your website – often broken into sections. For example, check out this sitemap. This type of sitemap is intended primarily for human visitors (not robots) to your site. The second type – XML – is only seen by the search engines robots. It too is a listing of all the pages of your site, with some additional information.

HTML Sitemaps

So, what’s the point of a sitemap page? Do visitors to your site even look at it? To answer these questions, I took a quick look at the analytics for about a dozen sites (that range from 5,000 visits a month to over 100 million). What I found from this (less than scientific) analysis is that the number of page views of the sitemaps pages ranged from less than .01% of total page views to 1.24% (with the average being .26%). See the screenshots below for a better idea of the actual numbers:

Even if only a quarter of one percent of your pageviews are to the sitemap page, depending on the amount of traffic to your site, that could be a substantial number.

(As a side note, if you’re getting a significant amount of page views on your sitemap page, that’s a good indicator that people can’t find what they’re looking for. Perhaps you should rethink your navigation or how you present your content.)

Aside from helping that small percentage of people who actually use it, a sitemap page has other benefits. If you have pages that are buried deep within your site, a sitemap can keep them a minimum number of clicks away from the homepage. Why is that important? It helps those pages receive link juice from the home page, as well as helping the search engines find pages that they otherwise might not see.

XML Sitemaps

So what about XML sitemaps? Basically, they can be used to let the search engines know about all of your pages. Google has some helpful information about when XML sitemaps are useful, including:

  • if your site has dynamic content
  • if your site is new and/or has very few links pointing to it
  • if you have a lot of content pages that are not well linked from other pages on your site

Additionally, XML sitemaps let you specify information about your pages that help guide the search engines, including how frequently the pages are updated, the date each page was last modified, and the relative importance of each page. This information will help the search engines decide how frequently to crawl your pages.

Additional Resources – this online tool lets you create XML and HTML sitemaps for free (up to 500 pages)

XML Sitemap format – explains the XML schema for the Sitemap protocol

Google Study Shows Use of XML Sitemaps Helps Index Fresh Content Quicker – Bill Slawski dissects a whitepaper from Google about the effectiveness of XML sitemaps

Increasing Search Indexing Coverage With an XML Sitemap – an XML sitemap Q&A from former Googler Vanessa Fox