Are sitemaps still necessary?

Posted by on Jan 12, 2011 in Misc | No Comments

Back in the old days all sites would have a sitemap which would show a nice family tree pointing out all the pages included on the site. But is that still necessary in the current age of dynamic content? This is a discussion I have had with other developers and SEO consultants, and my opinion is that no, a front-end sitemap isn’t needed for most sites. Here’s my argument.

Sitemaps help users find pages on the site

  • If a user needs to go to a sitemap to find something on your site then it means the navigation structure and layout isn’t good enough.
  • A site search tool is a better way of finding content than a sitemap. Make sure the search works well and is easy to interpret.
  • How many times have you actually clicked on a sitemap to find something recently? Most of the time, if I can’t find something straight away I will go back to Google, or find a different site that will serve me the information more easily.

Sitemaps help search engines index the site

Sure, a sitemap will help make sure that all your site pages are linked to from the front page and help indexing. But this is the job of an XML sitemap, and there’s no need to duplicate the work on a front-end sitemap.

The XML sitemap is essential and should link to all the site pages, providing information on their importance and update frequency. The name of the sitemap should be specified in the robots.txt file and doesn’t┬ánecessarily have to be sitemap.xml.

There are server side tools like Google Sitemap Generator which will crawl your site internally and create xml sitemaps or you can dynamically create your sitemap.xml file using a php script.

In order to make a sitemap useful to search engines you need to include absolutely all the site pages on there. However, if you have a site with hundreds of old news stories on, for example, you may only only want to show the highlights to users on a front-end sitemap to avoid making it look too complicated.

It’s just something people expect to see there, isn’t it?

Maybe some people do expect to see it there, but in my opinion it is looking increasingly old fashioned to have a sitemap link. Modern savvy web users may look down on sites with dated phrases like “sitemap” or “webmaster”. My advice is to use that important header or footer space to push your SEO message or highlight a site search that will help users far more than sitemaps ever have.

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