You probably already know several ways to improve search engine optimization by now:

  • Incorporate relevant keywords into your content
  • Publish authoritative and engaging content
  • Keep your name, address, and phone (NAP) information consistent across online platforms
  • Create metadata and alt-tags

But what about an HTML sitemap for SEO? 

Adding one to your website could make it easier for visitors to find the information they need, which improves user experiences. And because search engines like Google prioritize easy-to-use websites, you might see dramatic improvements in your search rankings. 

Many SEO strategies forget to include HMTL sitemaps. So creating one could give you a competitive advantage. Learn more about the benefits of HTML sitemaps for SEO below, read some best practices for implementing them, and discover the differences between HTML and XML sitemaps. 

What is a Sitemap in Web Design?

Before you learn about an HTML sitemap for SEO, you need to understand Hypertext Markup Language or HTML. It’s been the standard markup language for web pages for decades, and developers still use it to structure a website and its contents

HTML is made up of different elements that “wrap” parts of website content so it appears or performs in a certain way. It makes it possible to create static web pages with text, lists, images, headings, and other components. Even though it came out in 1993, 95.2% of websites still use HTML, according to W3Techs. 

So, what is an HTML sitemap? Well, it’s a website component written in the HTML language that lists the pages on your site, helping users find the information they need. Think of it like a directory of your web pages and the different relationships between them. It doesn’t show all your pages, though, just the important ones. Otherwise, your sitemap would be too large! 

Here are some of the pages you’d normally see on an HTML sitemap:

  • Home page
  • Contact page
  • About us page
  • Privacy policy
  • FAQs
  • Terms and conditions

If you’ve ever noticed a list of links at the bottom of a web page, that’s probably an HTML sitemap! However, sometimes web developers place a sitemap on a dedicated page. 

HTML sitemaps have one main function:

They help website visitors navigate that site and find links quickly

However, they can be beneficial for SEO purposes, which you’ll learn about later.

You might think you need HTML skills to create an HTML sitemap for your website. Thankfully, that’s not the case. You can just use a plugin to add this component to your site, and if you use WordPress, you’ll find plenty of them for free. 

HTML vs XML Sitemaps

As previously mentioned, HTML maps have one main function: To help website visitors find information. They are, at their core, navigational

XML sitemaps are similar to HTML ones in that they categorize important web pages. However, developers create them solely for SEO purposes. XML sitemaps are located in your website’s root directory, meaning visitors will never see them. They have no navigational benefits for users at all.   

Search engine bots or “spiders” can crawl a website easier when it has an XML sitemap. So adding this component to a site is useful, especially if that site has a complex structure. A bot will then analyze all of the pages included in the sitemap and determine the position of those pages on search results. 

As you can see, there’s a direct correlation between XML sitemaps and SEO. In fact, a well-made XML sitemap could improve your search rankings significantly because bots will be able to index your site more effectively. But what about the benefits of an HTML sitemap for SEO?

What are the SEO Benefits of a Sitemap?

The SEO benefits of HTML and XML sitemaps sometimes overlap, as you’ll notice below. However, XML sitemaps improve SEO directly, while HTML sitemaps improve SEO indirectly.

Sitemaps make it easier for search bots to crawl your website

You already know that XML sitemaps help search engine spiders crawl a website. However, HTML sitemaps do pretty much the same thing. While developers primarily create HTML sitemaps for website navigation, search engines can crawl websites with these sitemaps efficiently. 

If your site is more “crawlable,” search engines can index the information on it more quickly, resulting in more visibility on results pages. So, essentially, you can get SEO brownie points for helping users find information on your site quickly.

Sitemaps organize your website architecture 

Both sitemap types categorize the architecture of a website in a highly-structured way. For example, a home page will likely be at the top of an XML sitemap because it probably links to the most pages and has the most authority. An XML sitemap might then include more specific pages under the home page, such as a contact page and privacy policy. 

This structure helps search engines determine the importance of web pages when indexing information for search users. Using the example above, a sitemap will tell a search bot that a home page is more relevant to searchers than a privacy page. That means the home page will appear in a more prominent position on search results. 

So how does this improve SEO? Well, again, “crawlability” is the thing to consider here. If your site has a clear architecture and structure, search bots can crawl it more effectively and index information more quickly, which increases visibility on results pages. And with more visibility comes more traffic. 

Search users are also more likely to see your web pages that match their original query when you have a clear website structure. For example, if someone searches for your brand on Google, the first result they will see is likely your home page and not your privacy policy or terms and conditions. As your home page probably contains more relevant information about your company than these other pages, visitors are likely to stay on your site for longer rather than hit the “Back” button on their browsers. 

Sitemaps contain internal links 

HMTL sitemaps usually contain anchor links that point to multiple pages on your website. These links also make it easier for search bots to crawl your site. HTML sitemaps are essentially telling these bots to explore other areas of your website and index all the information on those pages. 

Sitemap links can help some pages rank higher on search engines. Say you have a contact page that lists your phone number and email address and little other information. While Google and other search engines will still crawl this page, it might not place the page in a prominent position if it doesn’t include any relevant keywords or external links. Linking to your contact page in your sitemap, however, increases the ranking authority of that page. 

Sitemaps improve accessibility

HTML sitemaps have a unique advantage over XML sitemaps for SEO in that they can improve accessibility for website visitors. Listing your most important pages in a hierarchical order, for example, makes it easier for people to access different areas of your site, especially if they are unable to use drop-down menus and other navigational elements. Also, because sitemaps list web pages in a list format, it’s easier for people to navigate to those pages using the Tab key on a keyboard

Improving the accessibility of your website not only helps people with disabilities but can have a significant effect on your search rankings. Google, for example, prioritizes websites that provide an easy user experience on its search results pages. The search engine says:

“To give you the most useful information, search algorithms look at many factors and signals, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings.”

Even if visitors don’t have disabilities, including an HTML sitemap on your site makes it easier for people to find the information they need. You’ll be able to list the important areas of your site in one location, removing the need for visitors to use multiple menus. That can encourage people to browse your website for a longer time and return to it in the future.  

XML and HTML Sitemap Best Practices for SEO

Here are some things to consider when creating HTML and XML sitemaps for your website:

Use dynamic sitemaps

Dynamic HTML and XML sitemaps update every time someone accesses your website, meaning they are always up to date. Even if you remove a page from your site or change the name of a page, your sitemap will accurately reflect your website. A static sitemap, on the other hand, requires manual coding every time you change something that impacts the sitemap. These sitemap types won’t update automatically, which can be a problem when search engines crawl your website. For example, when a sitemap anchor link directs to a removed or broken web page. 

Organize sections by using categories

The best sitemaps categorize your web pages based on a topic area or other classification. For example, a footwear company can include the category “Products” at the top of a section of its sitemap, which links to its main products page, and then include subpages underneath it. These subpages might include “Casual footwear,” “Formal footwear,” “Running shoes,” and so on. 

Make your sitemap visible in your website’s footer

When creating an HTML sitemap, include it in the footer of your website. That helps people navigate your site no matter what page they are on. Many companies use this method rather than placing a sitemap on a separate dedicated page 

Don’t add noindex tags to your sitemap

Noindex tags tell search engines not to index a particular URL. Including these tags in XML sitemaps can confuse search bots and cause them not to index your entire sitemap. Obviously, this can impact SEO and make it more difficult for searchers to find your content online. If you don’t want search engines to index a particular web page, don’t include that page in your sitemap. 

Choose the right sitemap plugin

Creating a sitemap doesn’t require knowledge of HTML or XML anymore. That’s because you can create a sitemap easily with plugins for WordPress and other web content management systems. Choose a plugin that has positive user reviews and is easy to use. You should also find a plugin that offers active support in case you have trouble creating your sitemap or experience problems with your website. 

Call in the experts

While plugins can be effective, you need to include the right pages in your sitemap and structure everything correctly. After all, the better your sitemap, the more chances you have of improving SEO. Working with a digital marketing agency with experience in sitemap creation can lead to more effective results. You can also use these experts to optimize other elements of your SEO campaign, such as improving page loading times and creating engaging content.

Everything You Need to Know About an HTML Sitemap for SEO

While this article also includes information about XML sitemaps, you should now have a better understanding of how HTML sitemaps work and how they can indirectly improve your SEO efforts. Adding any kind of sitemap to your website will make it easier for search bots to crawl and index your content and tell search engines about your website architecture. HTML sitemaps, in particular, can improve accessibility and the user experience and let you add internal links for SEO purposes. 

Symphonic Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency that can help you transform your SEO efforts. As well as creating sitemaps, its talented team can improve your organic rankings, increase the visibility of your brand with paid ads, and help you target prospects with email marketing. Start your SEO journey by requesting a website audit now!