Site Maps for SE Success

Cheryl Cain
Of all of the working webmaster's most sought-after prizes, having a steady and increasing supply of fresh search engine traffic ranks among the highest.

In the constant battle to elevate their website's Google PageRank, many webmasters focus almost exclusively on known search engine optimization techniques and traffic trades with other websites having an equal or higher PageRank. There is another weapon that is well suited to this battle, however, and best of all, it's quick, easy and free: the site map.

For those who have never used or implemented one, a site map is simply a directory that lists (and links to) all of the publicly available pages on a website. Not only does this "table of contents" enable surfers to easily find what they are looking for, but it makes it easy for search engine spiders to find and index all of your pages.

Sound good? It get's even better: Google offers a free tool that not only makes generating your own site map easy, but using it provides for faster listing of your pages in Google's database – and let's you know their position within it as well.

According to Google's website, "Google Sitemaps is an easy way for you to submit all your URLs to the Google index and get detailed reports about the visibility of your pages on Google. With Google Sitemaps you can automatically keep us informed of all your web pages, and when you make changes to these pages to help improve your coverage in the Google crawl."

Besides its regular automated site map generator, Google has a tool specifically for generating site maps for mobile applications, as well as a submission tool where you can simply enter a text file of URLs. The benefits of using the generator over a text file are impressive, however. According to Google, these benefits include "Better crawl coverage and fresher search results to help people find more of your web pages, [a] smarter crawl because you can tell us when a page was last modified or how frequently a page changes [and] detailed reports to learn more about how Google directs traffic to your site and how the Googlebot sees your pages."

While designing for accessibility technologies including screen readers isn't usually a concern for adult webmasters, site maps are invaluable for these applications. Of more concern is designing for the needs of search engine spiders and other non-human indexing agents that thrive on textual information as well as text links.

Whether you use Google's tool or not (and you probably should), there's a few things to keep in mind when building your site map.

The first and foremost thing is to not over-complicate the webpage your site map is on. Remember, you're not trying to create a fancy presentation full of Flash and graphics, but an easily read and indexed listing of plain text links, using default colors and styles for the links, presented in a way that lets people (and spiders) quickly find the pages they're interested in.

To get the most out of your site map, it should not only link to every page on your website, but should be linked to from every page of your website. If surfers (and spiders) can't find your site map, it won't do you any good. Use a bold text link and label it "site map" for best results.

Here's another tip: use keyword-rich text for the links on your site map and use keyword-rich page names to link them to...

While there's no guarantee that using Google's free service will increase your website's PageRank, more thorough spidering tends to mean more (and more relevant) results in the search engine's listings. Add the double benefit of making your web pages easier for surfers to navigate and you can easily see the value. Try it for yourself and see!