When and how one can use HTML sitemaps for web optimization and UX

When and how one can use HTML sitemaps for web optimization and UX

Google search advocate John Mueller has at all times downplayed the worth of HTML sitemaps. Lately, he reiterated his dissatisfaction with HTML sitemaps, saying: 

“I modified my thoughts on HTML sitemaps through the years, they need to by no means be wanted. Websites small [and] massive ought to at all times have a transparent navigational construction.”

It is a barely stronger stance than what he’s expressed previously:

“On the subject of web optimization … for small websites, your website must be crawlable anyway (and for those who’re utilizing a typical CMS, it’ll nearly at all times be high-quality) & for giant websites, they’re not going to be helpful anyway (use sitemaps, use regular cross-linking, examine with a crawler of your selection).”

Whereas Mueller makes a very good level, for my part, we will’t simply utterly drop HTML sitemaps. Hyperlinks and web site usability nonetheless matter. 

I additionally like what former Googler and now common web optimization skilled Pedro Dias stated in response to Mueller’s remarks, which displays the fact of the net:

“Sadly it’s not straightforward to alter the structure on advanced and enormous web sites. Usually, one thing like this, [sic!] can take years to alter, because it is dependent upon a number of groups. So, HTML sitemaps are sometimes a welcome and temporary-ish resolution. I used to dislike them… These days, I see their use-cases.”

There’s a compromise between each HTML and XML sitemaps, in order at all times in web optimization, “it relies upon.” 

Learn under why, when and how one can use sitemaps to profit your web site and its customers. 

What are sitemaps and why did they get invented?

Within the early days of the net, many web sites grew organically. 

Web sites weren’t appropriately deliberate by info architects in accordance with UX greatest practices. 

They began from scratch, and site owners added content material at any time when wanted in usually far-from-usable methods. 

These have been the times earlier than blogs, social media or content material administration programs. If you constructed a website, you probably did it your self utilizing HTML.

Usually, you have been manually coding the HTML in a textual content editor, utilizing a messy WYSIWYG editor like Dreamweaver or one of many first usually custom-built and fairly cumbersome CMS instruments. Both means, web site constructions shortly turned complicated.

So out of necessity, folks began including sitemaps to their web sites to make some sense of the growing dysfunction. These sitemaps have been created in plain HTML and seemed like some other webpage, a part of the truth that they displayed a map as an alternative of written content material.

Later engines like google launched so-called XML sitemaps meant to interchange guide “search engine submission.”

Greater than 25 years later, HTML sitemaps are much less most popular. However can we actually cease utilizing HTML sitemaps, similar to we dropped visitor books or webrings? 

HTML vs. XML sitemaps – the seen vs. the invisible

To make it quick and easy, the primary distinction between HTML and XML sitemaps is that an HTML sitemap is normally seen to web site guests whereas an XML sitemap shouldn’t be. (The latter primarily made for engines like google.)

The XML sitemaps customary was launched on the finish of 2007 by engines like google like Google, Yahoo and Bing (then MSN). 

By default, they’re formatted in a means that doesn’t show nicely or is readable for people. As a substitute, such sitemaps are used primarily to make sure correct and sooner indexing by engines like google.

Then again, simply because a useful resource is on an XML sitemap doesn’t imply Google and Bing will index it, or will probably be findable even when it’s within the index.

One other web optimization colleague Rob Watts added a tongue-in-cheek, first-hand account to the talk by saying:

“I had websites do nicely for years that have been absent of html or xml sitemaps. I eliminated my tin foil hat and started utilizing xml sitemaps and loved seeing how lengthy it took for urls to look in serps. I don’t assume I noticed any noticeable enchancment efficiency smart for his or her use, however it made some analyses/reviews barely simpler.”

So with XML sitemaps solely theoretically guaranteeing crawling and indexing, do we’ve got to concentrate on them and neglect seen or visible sitemaps? 

Get the each day publication search entrepreneurs depend on.

Why ought to we create sitemaps solely for Google?

Over time, Google spokespeople instructed us to create web sites for customers, not engines like google. Why make an exception in the case of sitemaps and solely create them for Google and different engines like google? 

It makes me wonder if different web optimization techniques that show one factor for search bots and one thing totally different for web site guests can also be a good suggestion.

Anyway, Google stated so, so we should hear, proper? Not likely.

There should be a purpose why Google dislikes HTML sitemaps and prefers XML.

XML sitemaps are normally automated and embrace all of the content material printed as quickly because it’s on-line. 

On WordPress, quite a few instruments create sitemaps for you. Yoast web optimization additionally covers you, for instance, even the fundamental free model.

In 2020, WordPress lastly added XML sitemap assist to its core, so you will not even want exterior plugins.

The XML code format can also be machine-readable, whereas HTML is messy. HTML has to work regardless of errors, whereas XML breaks if you overlook a personality.

So on the finish of the day, the XML sitemap creation works largely behind the scenes with out error-prone human fingers interfering.

Additionally, most individuals won’t ever see your XML sitemap, they would not even know the place to search out it as it isn’t linked wherever visibly on the location.

Making XML sitemaps work for folks

Fortunately, there’s at all times some center floor. You do not have to make XML sitemaps invisible. 

You may format XML sitemaps with stylesheets similar to you do with any HTML pages.

This method has been working so long as XML has been round. There are tutorials on the market that assist you to with that.

Certainly for some time, it appeared that XML would substitute HTML as the net customary, or it was a compromise known as XHTML.

For compatibility causes, that did not occur. Despite the fact that the XHTML format was cleaner and fewer error-prone. When an error occurred, the web site did break.

With HTML5 launched as an alternative, browsers embraced sloppily coded web sites to make publishing simpler however on the expense of computerized crawling.

Now you may have ideally created an XML sitemap that may be learn by folks with out coding abilities. Keep in mind that it is nonetheless a bland checklist of all of the content material you may have.

You should still think about making a readable HTML sitemap to your web site guests.

When to make use of visible or HTML sitemaps

It is not both/or. You may:

  • Determine to separate each seen and invisible sitemaps as an alternative of creating your XML sitemap seen to folks.
  • Create each seen (HTML) and invisible (XML) sitemaps in your website for various causes. 
  • Have a couple of HTML or XML sitemap. 

It is dependent upon what your website seems to be like and what your aims are.

Use these questions as a information to creating a choice:

  • Do you need to create a fast overview web page of your website? Use an HTML sitemap!
  • Do you need to get listed as quickly and as deeply as doable? Create an XML sitemap.

That stated, there are edge circumstances, and lots of web sites don’t conform to typical requirements. 

Listed below are instance use circumstances for visible or HTML sitemaps.

Legacy and/or hard-coded websites

Consider it or not, there are nonetheless legacy websites from a long time in the past on the net, and even hard-coded websites made manually in HTML, CSS and/or JavaScript.

Actually, you’ve got in all probability used one very often. 

Amazon.com is nearly the identical website it was a few years in the past. It has been repeatedly refreshed through the years and improved to today. 

An all-out redesign would have been too dangerous and disruptive for the underside line.

Some fundamental legacy websites might have issue creating an XML sitemap on the fly. So it isn’t an issue once they have a hard-coded HTML sitemap as an alternative. 

Do it’s important to take away it as a result of Google says so? After all not.

Massive websites

When Mueller stated that you just wanted correct website navigation, he was typically proper. However it doesn’t at all times apply to bigger websites. 

You may’t presumably match a extremely advanced website with 1000’s of pages right into a menu with out it shortly spiraling uncontrolled. 

For higher findability, it is helpful for each people and search bots to have sitemaps that mirror the general website construction. 

You do not have to checklist each web page, as that may make it too massive.

Many websites try to suit as a lot as doable into their website navigation and find yourself having so-called mega menus. 

You hover your mouse over the navigation, and the menu immediately covers the entire website. 

Customers get shortly overwhelmed visually with dozens of choices to pick from.

Additionally, typically, if a person shouldn’t be quick sufficient to level on the proper menu merchandise, it’ll disappear once they lose the extent one menu. 

Mega menus are tempting, particularly with massive corporations the place each stakeholder needs to be on prime. 

However they’re usually a person expertise nightmare, as Smashing Journal founder Vitaly Friedman clearly demonstrates.

When doing internet outreach, you would possibly discover that many websites make it fairly exhausting to contact them. 

Such is commonly the case with websites having no inside search function. You’ll usually wrestle to find their contact web page. 

A search function can be a logical resolution, but surprisingly some websites wouldn’t have one, even these run on WordPress, which has built-in performance. 

Some themes or web site homeowners merely take away the search enter.

Once I cannot discover a normal web page in your menu and there’s no search function obtainable,a visible sitemap can be good.

Orphan pages

If you handle to create a menu that’s usable with out changing into so large that it doesn’t match some screens anymore, you’ll usually find yourself with orphan pages. 

Orphan pages are webpages that aren’t linked internally from the menu construction or contained in the content material. 

This occurs when content material will get eliminated and up to date, and a few hyperlinks disappear.

Oftentimes, orphan pages must be eliminated altogether. 

Others nonetheless make sense however won’t be as vital to position into the primary menu or the footer hyperlinks. 

Such orphan pages can be high-quality when linked in a visual, readable sitemap so that individuals searching for them can discover and entry them.

Quicker indexing 

Let’s be trustworthy! Simply because a web page or different useful resource (assume picture or video) is listed on an XML sitemap doesn’t imply Google will index it. 

Your website might not have sufficient authority to get all its content material into the Google index. 

This was fairly a typical problem for brand spanking new websites previously. Particularly with newly created websites and Google having extra restricted computing energy, some content material didn’t make it into the index on function.

It is much less of a difficulty now, however you continue to might need to hyperlink content material internally to spice up your possibilities of getting indexing. 

Hyperlink to the extra essential content material on prime, prominently, and/or extra usually.

After we speak about authority, we seek advice from the hyperlink fairness that some SEOs nonetheless name “hyperlink juice.” 

An HTML sitemap that exhibits some hyperlinks on prime and others on the backside regulates hyperlink fairness move to some extent. 

Pages linked on prime are anticipated to have and obtain extra authority than pages on the backside. 

With XML sitemaps, there isn’t a such hierarchy, so far as I do know. All assets listed on it are simply that, objects in a listing. 

The merchandise on prime is merely the most recent one, not essentially crucial one or the one needing the very best authority. 

There is no such thing as a inherent hierarchy on XML sitemaps until you code one into it by declaring that some assets are extra essential and, thus, must be crawled extra usually than others.

A visual HTML sitemap lets you hyperlink these assets on prime that matter most and thus ship extra customers and authority their means, similar to in your website navigation. So it isn’t “newest” on prime however most essential on prime, ideally.


As we’re speaking web optimization right here, crucial side of sitemaps, enhancing usability, comes on the finish. 

That is Search Engine Land and never UX Collective, in spite of everything. They advocate creating an (inside) UX sitemap for each web site challenge, not less than whereas establishing the data structure.

HTML sitemaps enhance the general person expertise, particularly:

  • Accessibility.
  • Discoverability.
  • Findability.
  • Usability. 

These are nonetheless the strongest use circumstances for HTML sitemaps, similar to within the ‘90s, means earlier than Google began utilizing hyperlinks for indexing and rating and lengthy earlier than XML sitemaps have been launched. 

Older customers (I admit I am amongst them) might even desire clear and page-style sitemaps as an alternative of shaky menus that vanish when you do not contact them or search options displaying irrelevant objects. 

Some aged folks can’t use mouse-over and mouse-click actions effectively. 

Individuals with disabilities, notably the visually impaired, want as few mouse actions as doable. Thus, a one-page overview is likely to be greatest for them.

Helpful sitemap examples within the wild

The New York Occasions 

I usually use the New York Occasions for example as a result of nearly all people is aware of the publication, and it is such an authority. 

This time I need to present the NYT for example just because they managed to do one thing proper and stand out. 

The NYT makes use of seen HTML sitemaps in a means that’s actually useful for readers, search customers and search engine bots alike. 

The NYT has a number of sitemaps highlighted by fellow web optimization Chris Lengthy of Go Fish Digital on LinkedIn. It’s a prime instance of utilizing sitemaps to profit an internet site.

“60 Second web optimization: The New York Occasions has among the finest HTML sitemaps I’ve seen. This is an instance of how an article from 1912 is barely 5 steps away from [their] house web page:”

I do not need to go an excessive amount of into element right here, as Lengthy has executed a wonderful job already at it.


One other nice instance of sitemap utilization for a big website is Apple.com. Their plain and easy textual content sitemap is beneficial for folks and engines like google.

Nevertheless, word how a lot the sitemap differs from the precise prime navigation the Apple website has above the content material.

The “Apple sitemap” begins with “About Apple” (not linked) and the next hyperlinks:

Apple Site Map

The location navigation begins with the store and particular merchandise in distinction:

Apple Site Navigation

Apparently, the web optimization staff determined to make the store and merchandise extra seen to web site guests and search bots. On the identical time, the true construction or significance of the pages appears to be utterly totally different.

In any case, the massive Apple sitemap provides customers a very good overview of the location contents with out overloading the web page regardless of greater than 100 hyperlinks.

Furthermore, they’ve one other sitemap within the footer reflecting the highest menu construction as an alternative of the standalone “sitemap” on the devoted web page.

It’s smaller each by the font measurement and by the variety of hyperlinks listed however nonetheless very helpful.

Apple footer site map

So irrespective of the place you find yourself, you at all times have a website navigation or sitemap that will help you. 

An “all the pieces is simple to search out” person expertise is central to the Apple web site design.

Opinions expressed on this article are these of the visitor writer and never essentially Search Engine Land. Employees authors are listed right here.