Sitemap : Planning, Implementing & Optimizing


A website’s sitemap, or page structure, is commonly overlooked, hardly ever planned out and continues to get ignored when it comes to website and content development.

For these reasons we are going to help you understand why a good website sitemap is so important, how to plan one out and the best ways to implement an effective one for your website.

What’s a Sitemap Again?

The best way to understand a sitemap is to think of it like a tree.

The trunk of the tree is the base, which has branches extending from it. These branches sometimes have leaves growing from them and sometimes also have other branches extending off of them. Your website’s sitemap is just like this.

The tree trunk is like your homepage.

The few large branches that extend from the trunk are your top level pages (e.g. Company).

The mini-branches represent your second level pages (e.g. Company > Team).

And the leaves that sprout off of some of the branches make up specific pages that fall under that level’s theme (e.g. Company > Team > About Seo in Town).

Who Cares About the Sitemap?

We certainly do. Your visitors absolutely do (although they may not know it). And you most definitely should too.

Your sitemap is an integral part of your website for many different reasons. Unfortunately it doesn’t get treated as such as it requires some actual research, planning and execution. It kills us every time we come across a website that was built without an initial sitemap. This tends to be the case more often than not.

You wouldn’t build a house without blueprints so why would you build a website without a sitemap? It’s strategically the same thing.

Back to the original question about who really cares about the sitemap…

Reason #1
Without really knowing it, website visitors are controlled by the website’s sitemap. That’s right…something as simple as a sitemap can make visitors do what you want them to do, go where you want them to go and click on what you want them to click on.

Reason #2
Not only does your sitemap control visitor flow, but it also helps search engines to crawl and index your website as accurately as possible. A clear, well-planned sitemap leads to more efficient crawling and more accurately displayed search results for your website.

Reason #3
Even if you have a small website (in terms of number of pages), if you start with a well-planned sitemap, then you’re going to make it very easy for you, or your marketing team / agency, to build out and grow your website’s content. This saves time if you ever need to move your website, rebuild your website, add / remove pages or even to find new ideas for additional content.

Sitemap Optimization Steps

Although it’s ideal to build a sitemap from a blank slate not everyone has that luxury. Fortunately there are ways to rebuild and optimize an existing sitemap.

Step 1: Take Inventory

The most important first step is to take inventory of your website’s existing sitemap and all of its indexed pages. You should never make changes to your sitemap or URLs without doing this first.

Before you remove or redirect any pages it’s vital that you review your website’s analytics to get a clear understanding of (1) which pages your visitors interact and engage with the most / least and (2) how visitors navigate your website and jump from page to page.


Step 2: Map It Out

Your next step is to map out your new sitemap, which is hopefully simplified per our tips above.

Once you have your original sitemap and your new sitemap logged, then (and only then) can you put them side by side to figure out what existing pages are changing or being removed and what new pages are being added and where they will be going. This step is essential for whomever is going to be handling the necessary 301 redirects to mitigate the loss of any established SEO value.

Try to limit the amount of redirects that your new sitemap is going to need. More importantly, try to avoid “chaining” redirects (e.g. Page 1 redirects to Page 2 which redirects to Page 3). Possible SEO issues aside, a cleaner sitemap will make for an easier migration and future sitemap management.


Step 3: Go Slow

If you’re going to spend the time and resources to properly optimize your sitemap, then don’t leave it as a last minute task that may get rushed due to others’ priorities.

Instead (if possible), do the optimization and migration in phases, especially if you have a very large site with a good amount of established SEO value.

Use Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics and your server logs to monitor affects on traffic as you gradually optimize and implement your new sitemap with its included redirects. For more information on this process check out Google’s documentation on moving a site.


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