You might wonder whether you should use XML or HTML sitemaps to improve the user experience and crawlability of your website. As mentioned, HTML sitemaps are for navigation purposes and directly influence the user experience. However, XML sitemaps are never seen by the user, but both are necessary for your marketing efforts. Let's take a look at a few of the benefits of using sitemaps.
Improved crawlability by search engines
Search engines use links to find web pages. If you have a large website, you probably have a large sitemap. If you want search engines to be able to find and crawl your site pages, submitting a sitemap to Google Search Console can help.
XML sitemaps also come in handy if your website is new because it tells search engines that they should crawl and index your website pages. Since search engines find new pages through links, if your website doesn't have any yet, having an XML sitemap can help alert search engines that you have new pages on your site they should crawl.
Better user experience
HTML sitemaps can provide a better user experience by helping visitors navigate your website. Better navigation means better accessibility, which may help improve your visibility in search results.
Additionally, creating a user experience sitemap before you begin building your website can help you properly plan the information architecture (IA) of the site. When you organize your website content before designing your website, you can start to determine which pages are most important, giving you a structure you'll need to create each individual page.
So how does a visual or user experience sitemap improve user experience? Ultimately, it can help you see how visitors will use your website. Are you providing them with the right information hierarchy to improve navigation and overall usability? Or is your content confusing to follow, and users won't be able to find what they're looking for?
While user experience sitemaps are for internal planning processes only and won't be seen by your end user, they're an essential part of the planning process to ensure your website's usability and accessibility.
Increased website traffic
XML and HTML sitemaps can increase your website traffic. With an XML sitemap, you tell search engines where to look for new or updated content they can crawl, index, and rank on search results. With an HTML sitemap, you can make it easier for search engines to categorize and crawl your content, understanding which pages are the most important.
Sitemaps won't directly impact your website traffic, but they can help search engines index pages faster, which means a higher potential for ranking well on search engine results pages (SERPs), which can increase website traffic.
Simply put, sitemaps provide a clear structure of your content for crawlers, allowing them to properly categorize and index your web pages. HTML and XML sitemaps help crawlers understand the hierarchy of your website content and determine which pages should rank for which keywords.
Better organization of content
Your business and website will grow together, and eventually, you may have hundreds, if not thousands, of pages that can be difficult to navigate for users. Your HTML sitemap will help categorize and organize content on the page to help users navigate throughout the website and find what they're looking for.
HTML sitemaps will act as the map for your website, allowing your visitors to find the pages most important and valuable to them. You can put your sitemap on the footer of each page or create a new page with links that help visitors find what they're looking for.
Many people use HTML sitemaps when they don't know where to go on a website. This additional navigational tool can prevent bounces and ensure your prospective customers can find the information they need.
Facilitation of website updates
HTML, XML, and user experience sitemaps can facilitate website updates by helping you categorize the content. For example, an XML sitemap can inform search engines that your pages have recently been updated and require crawling to properly index and rank them in search results. Meanwhile, an HTML sitemap will ensure customers can find your new pages once they're already on the website.
And finally, a user experience sitemap will be your planning tool for organizing new web pages within the content hierarchy and ensuring a better user experience before your website goes live.
Best practices for creating sitemaps
The best practices for creating sitemaps depend on which sitemaps you're creating. If you're creating a user experience sitemap before designing the rest of the site, you'll need different resources for creating a sitemap for search engines. Here are a few best practices to help you get started:
Consider website goals and hierarchy
When planning your website, you should have created a user experience sitemap, menu, and wireframe that allows you to properly categorize your content and each individual website page. Then, once your website is live, you can gather all your site's URLs and organize them based on the original information hierarchy to create an XML sitemap.
You should always consider your website goals. For instance, does your website sell, or does it inform? Whatever the case, you should have a list of parent and child pages that help users navigate through the website and find the information they're looking for. Your sitemap should have clear labels and a logical path from first, second, and third-level pages to help search engines crawl your website and visitors use it.
You should start with your homepage at the top level and follow the path to parent and children pages with categories, subcategories, and individual pages to make it easier for both search engine crawlers and users to navigate your website and understand which pages relate to one another.
Include all important pages and optimize for search engines
An XML sitemap is designed to help search engines crawl your website, so it must be optimized for search engines. Most website builders have tools to help you create optimized sitemaps for search engines, or you can work directly with a website developer to create one for you.
Your sitemap should include your homepage, category pages, product pages, and other pages that might be important to visitors. If you don't want search engines to crawl particular pages, or you have pages not meant for the public, you should leave them out of your sitemap. Of course, a sitemap only acts as a guide for search engines; any public website page can be found whether or not you include it in your sitemap before submitting it to Google Search Console.
Use descriptive titles and clear labels for pages
When you build a website, you must have clear titles for each page to ensure visitors know what to expect, and the same is true for sitemaps. Having clear labels for pages can improve navigation for website visitors by helping them understand the content of each page before they click a link. Clear labels will also help search engines understand the content of a page and improve the chances of it ranking for a particular keyword.
Organize sitemap by user needs and update it regularly
Your sitemap should be updated any time you make changes to your website. If you haven't made changes to your website, you don't need to create or submit a new sitemap. However, submitting a new sitemap to Google Search Console after updates will ensure that the most up-to-date version of the site is crawled and indexed.