In this edition of ThrowbackThursday, I'm jumping back to May 2011, and my discussion of HTML Site Maps.
There are two types of site map files you might find on a website. If you've ever worked on your search engine optimization, you might be familiar with the sitemap.xml file that search engines read to better understand your website. That XML file contained a record of every page on your site so the search engines can read them directly without having to wade through your navigation tree.
On the other hand, the HTML Site Map page is a normal web page with a list of links to other pages of your site. Years ago, before we started using top, left, and right navigation on web pages we would have a single site map file that contained a list of all the pages of your website. Normally, that site map would appear in the footer of all your web pages for easy access.
In today's world websites, it's easy to quickly count more than 100 pages on a website when you include individual product pages, blog posts, and other content you've created for search engine optimization and customer service. Your content management system should be able to auto-generate an HTML site map for you, but there are some guidelines you should follow before doing that.
3 Guidelines for Site Maps
Link Limit: As a rule of thumb, you should never have more than 100 links on a web page. Google has been known to classify pages with more than 100 outbound links as a link farm page, which is a serious ranking penalty for your site. Naturally, your site map page has internal, rather than external links, but it's best to be on the safe side to avoid Google automatic machine scoring, so limit the number of links on your site map page to 100 or less. Site maps that require more than 100 links should be split up into multiple sub-site map pages.
User Friendly: You have to always ask yourself if the site map makes sense they way it's set up. The only reason to have a site map is to improve the user experience of your website. Although most people don't use the site map, those who do will always appreciate that it's available.
Your SEO agency will probably tell you that the Site Map page is unimportant and perhaps even detrimental for your overall SEO. As part of your search engine optimization process, you should always account for how the pages of your site link together. The site map page will completely flatten your linking strategy when you include all the pages on your site, that's why you should carefully choose what should appear there.
Remember that the HTML Site Map includes a carefully chosen set of pages to help with your overall navigation, but the XML Sitemap is a special file on your website that includes every page of your site. Search engines use that XML Sitemap to discover all the pages of your site that they otherwise wouldn't discover through normal crawling.
I like including the HTML Site Map in all the sites I build because my data shows it is still visited a few times per month. It's best to carefully choose which pages of your site appear on the site map for optimal usability, and certainly don't overburden the site map with more than 100 links.