A sitemap guides your website visitors to where they want to go. It’s where they turn if they haven’t found what they are looking from those dropdown menus.
Beyond helping your visitors navigate your website, which should be the primary focus of any marketing effort, there are many other reasons to use a sitemap.
First, it’s important to understand that there are two types of sitemaps:
What Are XML Sitemaps?
XML sitemaps help search engines and spiders discover the pages on your website.
These sitemaps give search engines a website’s URLs and offer data a complete map of all pages on a site. This helps search engines prioritize pages that they will crawl.
There is information within the sitemap that shows page change frequency on one URL versus others on that website, but it is unlikely that this has any effect on rankings.
An XML sitemap is very useful for large websites that might otherwise take a long time for a spider to crawl through the site.
Every site has a specific amount of crawl budget allocated to their site, so no search engine will simply crawl every URL the first time it encounters it.
An XML sitemap is a good way for a search engine to build its queue of the pages it wants to serve.
What Are HTML Sitemaps?
HTML sitemaps ostensibly serve website visitors. The sitemaps include every page on the website – from the main pages to lower-level pages.
An HTML sitemap is just a clickable list of pages on a website. In its rawest form, it can be an unordered list of every page on a site – but don’t do that.
This is a great opportunity to create some order out of chaos, so it’s worth making the effort.
Why You Should Leverage HTML Sitemaps
While you may already use an XML sitemap – and some insist that an HTML sitemap is no longer necessary – here are seven reasons to add (or keep) an HTML sitemap.
1. Organize Large Websites
Your website will grow in size.
You may add an ecommerce store with several departments or you may expand your product portfolio. Or, more likely, the site just grow as new people are added to a company.
However, this can lead to confusion for visitors who are then confused about where to go or what you have to offer.
The HTML sitemap works in a similar way to a department store or shopping mall map.
The sitemap is a great way for the person maintaining the sitemap to take stock of every page and make sure it has its rightful home somewhere in the site.
This is the directory for users that can’t find the pages they are looking for elsewhere on the site and, as a last resort, this should help them get there.
2. Serve as a Project Manager & Architect
Think of the HTML sitemap as an architectural blueprint for your website.
The sitemap becomes a project management tool. It oversees the structure and connections between pages and subpages.
It’s also a forcing function to make sure that you have a clean hierarchy and taxonomy for the site.
A good sitemap is like a well-organized daily schedule.
As any busy person knows, there’s a big difference between an agenda that has every meeting popped on at random or those that are themed and organized around time blocks.
In either case, an agenda is still an agenda but an organized one is far more useful for everyone.
3. Highlight the Website’s Purpose
As a content-based document, the HTML sitemap serves as a way to further define your website’s specific value.
Enhance this benefit by using SEO to identify the most unique and relevant keywords to include on the sitemap.
Anchor text is a great way of creating keyword relevancy for a page and for pages without many cross-links, a sitemap is an easy alternative to use choice anchor text.
To understand the power of anchor text alone, look at the search results for the query “click here”:
4. Speed the Work of Search Engine Crawlers
You want to help those search engines out in any way you can and take control where you can. The assistance includes finding your content and moving it up in the crawl queue.
While an XML sitemap is just a laundry list of links, HTML links are actually the way search crawlers prefer to discover the web.
The HTML sitemap helps call attention to that content by putting the spotlight on your website’s most important pages. You can also submit the text version of your sitemap to Google.
5. Increase Search Engine Visibility
With some websites, Google and other search engines may not go through the work of indexing every webpage.
For example, if you have a link on one of your webpages, then search bots may choose to follow that link.
The bots want to verify that the link makes sense. Yet, in doing so, the bots may never return to continue indexing the remaining pages.
The HTML sitemap can direct these bots to get the entire picture of your site and consider all the pages. In turn, this can facilitate the bots’ job and they may stay longer to follow the page navigation laid out for them.
Not only does a taxonomy and hierarchy help users find themselves, but it’s incredibly important for search crawlers, too. The sitemap can help the crawlers understand the website’s taxonomy.
There is no limit to how big a sitemap can be and LinkedIn even has a sitemap which has links to all of their millions of user pages.
6. Enable Page Links in a Natural Way to Drive Visitors
Not every page will connect through a link located in a header or footer.
The HTML sitemap can step in and find these ideal connections that address how visitors may look for things.
In this way, the HTML sitemap can reflect a visitor’s journey and guide them from research to purchase. In doing so, this benefit of HTML sitemaps can raise the organic search visibility of these linked pages.
In this instance, the sitemap is the fallback that ensures that there is never a page on a site that is orphaned.
I have seen huge gains in the traffic of sites that had issues with deeper pages not receiving many internal links.
7. Identify the Areas Where Site Navigation Could Improve
Once your website grows and you develop more pages, there may be duplicate data, which can be problematic for a search engine.
But, after mapping everything out, you’ll be able to use the sitemap to find the duplication and remove it.
As an aside, this only works if there is an owner of the sitemap that is looking at the sitemap on a semi-regular basis.
Also, when you apply analytics or heat map tools, it may conclude that more visitors are using the HTML sitemap than use navigation.
This is a clear signal that you need to reassess why this is happening if the current navigation is missing the mark.
It’s important to determine how you can change the site architecture to make it easier for visitors to find what they need.
For all these benefits, you’ll want to maintain an HTML sitemap. These benefits save resources (time and money). They also deliver an effective way to guide your website visitors to what they need and help close those sales.
If you don’t have an HTML sitemap but do use a platform like WordPress, I recommend one of the many sitemap plug-ins. The plug-ins automate much of the sitemap development and management process.
For larger sites, it might take running a web crawl like:
The output of this web crawl should then serve as the basis for organizing all of a site’s pages around themes.
After developing the HTML sitemap, don’t forget to put a link on your website that is easy to find.
You can either put the link at the top, as part of a sidebar or in a footer menu that continues to be accessible as visitors move from page to page.
However you look at it, an HTML sitemap is an easy way to get huge benefits without a lot of effort.
Websites hosted on WordPress.com can now monetize their content with a new recurring payments feature.
Available with any paid plan on WordPress.com, the recurring payment feature lets site owners collect repeat contributions from supporters in exchange for things like exclusive content or a monthly membership.
“Let your followers support you with periodic, scheduled payments. Charge for your weekly newsletter, accept monthly donations, sell yearly access to exclusive content — and do it all with an automated payment system.”
Recurring payments on WordPress.com allows site owners to:
Accept regularly-scheduled payments directly on their site.
Offer ongoing subscriptions, site memberships, monthly donations, and more.
Integrate their site with Stripe to process payments and collect funds.
WordPress.com site owners can enable recurring payments by following the steps below:
Step 1: Connect (or create) a Stripe account. Visit the Earn page from the WordPress dashboard and click Connect Stripe to Get Started.
Step 2: Add a recurring payments button to your site using the block editor.
Step 3: Customize details such as payment amounts, frequencies, subscription tiers, and so on.
Websites will pay WordPress a percentage of revenue earned through recurring payments, which varies depending on whether its a personal plan (8%), premium plan (4%), or business plan (2%). In addition to WordPress fees, Stripe collects 2.9% + $0.30 for each payment.
In order to make a recurring payment to a WordPress.com site, users will also need to have a WordPress.com account. If they don’t already have one, they’ll be prompted to create one when making a recurring payment for the first time.
For users, this will make it easy to subscribe to multiple sites with one account and manage all subscriptions from one place.
On Oct. 31, Google announced the launch of its Site Kit WordPress plugin that, “enables you to set up and configure key Google services, get insights on how people find and use your site, learn how to improve, and easily monetize your content.”
This plugin allows you to easily connect the following Google Services in a dashboard format within your WordPress backend:
It brings the convenience of accessing your site’s performance data while logged into the backend of the site. This is great for webmasters, developers and agencies who are often an admin for their own site or a client’s WordPress site. However, it does not offer the robust and dynamic capabilities of a Google Data Studio report or dashboard to sort data so it may not be ideal for a digital marketing manager or CMO.
With that said, it wouldn’t hurt to implement this plugin as it’s actually a nifty tool that can help you stay on top of your site’s performance metrics. It’s also another way to give Google more access to your site which can have some in-direct benefits organically.
Here is what the Google Site Kit plugin looks like within the WordPress plugin directory.
Installing and setting up Google Site Kit
To utilize the plugin, simply click install and activate as you would any other WordPress plugin. You will then be prompted to complete the set up.
Click on the “Start Setup” button.
You will be prompted to give access to your site’s Google Search Console profile, which means you need to sign in to the Gmail account that has access to your site’s Search Console profile.
Once logged in you need to grant permissions for Google to access the data in your Search Console profile.
Once you’ve granted all the respective permissions, you will get a completion notification and can then click on “Go to my Dashboard.”
Once you’re in the Dashboard you will see options to connect other services such as Analytics, AdSense and PageSpeed insights. You can now choose to connect these services if you like. If you go to the settings of the plugin you will see additional connection options for Optimize and Tag Manager.
Here is what the dashboard looks like with Search Console, analytics and PageSpeed Insights enabled. You can see a clear breakdown of the respective metrics.
The plugin allows you to dive into each reporting respectively with navigation options on the left to drill down into Search Console and analytics.
There is also an admin bar feature to see individual page stats.
In summary, this is a great plugin by Google but keep in mind it’s just version 1.0. I’m excited to see what features and integrations the later versions will have!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Tony Edward is a director of SEO at Tinuiti and an adjunct instructor of search marketing at NYU. Tony has been in the online marketing industry for over 10 years. His background stems from affiliate marketing and he has experience in paid search, social media and video marketing. Tony is also the founder of the Thinking Crypto YouTube channel.
Bing announced a new link penalties. These link penalties are focused on taking down private blog networks (PBNs), subdomain leasing and manipulative cross-site linking.
Inorganic Site Structure
An inorganic site structure is a linking pattern that uses internal site-level link signals (with subdomains) or cross-site linking patterns (with external domains) in order to manipulate search engine rankings.
While these spam techniques already existed, Bing introduced the concept of calling them “inorganic site structure” in order to describe them.
Bing noted that sites legitimately create subdomains to keep different parts of the site separate, such as support.example.com. These are treated as belonging to the main domain, passing site-level signals to the subdomains.
Bing also said sites like WordPress create standalone sites under subdomains, in which case no site level signals are passed to the subdomains.
Examples of Inorganic Site Structure
An inorganic site structure is when a company leases a subdomain in order to take advantage of site-level signals to rank better. There have been
Private blog networks were also included as inorganic site structure
Bing also introduced the idea of domain boundaries. The idea is that there are boundaries to a domain. Sometimes, as in the case of legitimate subdomains (ex. support.example.com), those boundaries extend out to the subdomain. In other cases like WordPress.com subdomains the boundaries do not extend to the subdomains.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs) Bing called out PBNs as a form of spam that abuse website boundaries.
“While not all link networks misrepresent website boundaries, there are many cases where a single website is artificially split across many different domains, all cross-linking to one another, for the obvious purpose of rank boosting. This is particularly true of PBNs (private blog networks).”
Subdomain Leasing Penalties
Bing explained why they consider subdomain leasing a spammy activity:
“…we heard concerns from the SEO community around the growing practice of hosting third-party content or letting a third party operate a designated subdomain or subfolder, generally in exchange for compensation.
…the practice equates to buying ranking signals, which is not much different from buying links.”
At the time of this article, I still see a news site subdomain ranking in Bing (and Google). This page belongs to another company. All the links are redirected affiliate type links with parameters meant for tracking the referrals.
According to Archive.org the subdomain page was credited to an anonymous news staffer. Sometime in the summer the author was switched to someone with a name who is labeled as an expert, although the content is still the same.
So if Bing is already handing out penalties that means Bing (and Google who also ranks this page) still have some catching up to do.
Bing mentioned sites that are essentially one site that are broken up into multiple interlinking sites. Curiously Bing said that these kinds of sites already in violation of other link spam rules but that additional penalties will apply.
Here’s the kind of link structure that Bing used as an example:
All these sites are interlinking to each other. All the sites have related content and according to Bing are essentially the same site. This kind of linking practice goes back many years. They are traditionally known as interlinked websites. They are generally topically related to each other.
Bing used the above example to illustrate interlinked sites that are really just one site.
That link structure resembles the structure of interlinked websites that belong to the same company. If you’re planning a new web venture, it’s generally a good idea to create a site that’s comprehensive than to create a multitude of sites that are focused on just a small part of the niche.
Curiously, in reference to the above illustration, Bing said that kind of link structure was already in violation of link guidelines and that more penalties would be piled on top of those:
“Fig. 3 – All these domains are effectively the same website. This kind of behavior is already in violation of our link policy.
Going forward, it will be also in violation of our “inorganic site structure” policy and may receive additional penalties.“
It’s good news to hear Bing is improving. Competition between search engines encourage innovation and as Bing improves perhaps search traffic may become more diversified as more people switch to Bing as well as other engines like DuckDuckGo.
Read Bing’s announcement: Some Thoughts on Website Boundaries