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History and Special Uses of the Website Sitemap

History and Special Uses of the Website Sitemap 4371-daily-golden-nugget-1048
How deep is your website? The depth of a website is measured by the number of times you would have to click on a navigation link in order to reach the most nested areas of your website.

I've read website design recommendations stating that every page of your website should be reachable within 3 clicks. Anything more than that supposedly won't be of interest by website users.

But when it comes to a product catalog, it's very easy to dive down into 4 levels very quickly.

For example:

Home Page
- > Catalog Main Page (category icons) (level 1)
-- > Main Ring Page (product thumbnails) (level 2)
--- > Engagement Ring Sub-Catalog (thumbnails) (level 3)
---- > Engagement Ring Product (single item view) (level 4)

Several years ago, I was able to track how Yahoo, MSN (that's pre-Bing), and Google websites would spider a website. Frequently, they would read the home page of a site and then the 1st level down. Sometimes they would read into the 2nd level, but rarely would they dive into the 3rd level, let alone the 4th.

Up until 2007, this was a real issue because you might spend a lot of time adding information to your website that search engines would never read and share in their results. It was depressing at times.

The best solution was to occasionally include a link from your home page to those level 3 or level 4 pages. This was a way to "flatten" your website from the search engine's point of view. We still use this technique today, but there are better options.

Way back in the 1994 and 1995 era of the internet, it was a necessity to include a "sitemap" page on your website. This single sitemap was the main source of navigation before website programmers realized they should add some aesthetics to their sites with nice navigations.

Within a few short years, the idea of a sitemap fell out of style and programmers stopped adding them to sites. That was an unfortunate turn in how websites were programmed because those single sitemap pages provided a way for every page of the website to be reachable within just 2 clicks from the home page.

Some time around 2001, the sitemap made a resurgence as websites started to migrate from manually programmed into content management systems. You see, the CMS could generate the sitemap automatically.

These automated sitemaps come in real handy when you regularly add new blog pages to your website.

But then things started to shift again as online marketing began to mature. Although top and side menu navigation became the primary way for users to find content on a website, there are often hidden pages that serve as landing pages for marketing that won't be included in your navigation.

The next time you set up a paid Facebook advertisement, you should target a special dedicated landing page that users will see when they click on that ad. That dedicated page would provide more details about the ad, but you wouldn't want people to stumble across that special page simply by navigating your site, so you would exclude it from your main navigation.

Two websites that truly understand the online marketing concept of dedicated landing pages are University of Phoenix and Full Sail University. Their online ads are usually themed in some way; sometimes it's the simple ad copy, but I often see attractive banner ads for them that are themed in some way.

One such themed Full Sail ad I remember fondly, featured a bunch of superhero characters. Clicking that ad brought me to a hidden area of the website that featured a unique website design and more artwork of the same superheroes featured in the ad. They were trying to attract potential art students in a way that would appeal to them more than the sterile looking home page.

Although they spent a lot of time developing that online campaign, there was no way to find it simply by using the website's normal navigation. This was a conscious decision on their part, and it helped to properly measure the ROI of their marketing campaign.

Switch gears and think for a moment about your busiest time of the year, the holiday season. If you take the time to plan your marketing campaigns in August, you too could set up special dedicated landing pages to match your individual online marketing campaigns. These special pages would stay hidden on your website until the ads are launched.

Returning back to the sitemap... Those hidden pages would appear on your sitemap page when using a CMS, because it's automatic. However, there's a chance you would ruin the surprise, or maybe spoil one of those Black Friday doorbuster surprise specials if those landing pages were found early.

So the idea is to hide these special page from appearing on your automatic sitemap web page. This is one of those times when the expression "out of sight, out of mind" works well. Customers who don't see the pages won't even know they are there.

But wait, I started this Nugget explaining how search engines read all the pages of your website when they find links to those pages in your navigation and on your sitemap page. And that's absolutely correct.

Except there's another way we can announce hidden pages to the search engines. It's call a sitemap page, or more accurately, a sitemap.xml page.

Most websites will include a link to the sitemap page in their footer. But that's a link to a sitemap.html, or sitemap.php, or sitemap.aspx page. Notice the extensions of those three files. The "xml" file extension is a special version that search engines look for.

You can include tons of hidden pages within the sitemap.xml file. Once you tell Google and Bing that the sitemap.xml file exists, they will reread it often. Within the xml file you would include the URL of all the pages of your website, how important the pages are (called the priority), and how often the search engine should come back to reread the page.

Here's why it's important for you to have this sitemap.xml file on your website...

The hidden page on your site could have tons of really valuable content for the holiday season. Imagine that it's the type of stuff you want people to find in search results in November and December. Except that it usually takes a few weeks for Google to find and index new pages.

If you wait until November to allow Google to find these pages, the holiday season might be over by the time the pages appear in search results. By then you might have already lost your sales opportunity.

Planning ahead is paramount. You need to plan your ads, write your content, and publish the pages to your website during the months of August and September. Include the pages in your sitemap.xml file as soon as they are ready. Google will find and index them, and they should appear in SERPs when people start searching for the appropriate keywords in November and December.

Additionally, your holiday ads would send users to these special hidden pages.

If it's appropriate, you could include these special landing pages in your main top or side navigation during November and December. You could also allow them to appear on the normal sitemap.html page.

Overall, the sitemap page has a bunch of useful features now. It's user friendly for your normal website visitors; search engine spiders use it to find all the public pages of your site, and you can hide special pages from it before you want the public to see them.

Google and Bing both read the sitemap.xml file, and you should have it automatically generated on your site to make sure they can find all your pages.

AT: 07/30/2014 10:56:09 AM   LINK TO THIS GOLD NUGGET
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