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Your Site Map: Spider Food or Just A Light Snack?
Mechanical spiders have to eat. In fact, they usually have bigger appetites than the real-life spiders you squish under your shoe. What spiders am I talking about? The automated programs sent out by search engines to review and index websites. These "spiders" (sometimes called "bots") are looking for a reason to list your site within the database of their particular search engine. It's hard work roaming around the 'Net non-stop, and these little guys need some nourishment from time-to-time. In fact, when spiders find some hearty "spider food" (a.k.a. a site map with some meat to it), they sit down to stay a while. That's a good thing!
You've probably seen many site maps. The standard ones look like the example below with each phrase being linked to the page of the same (or similar) name.
>> Small Appliances
------- Microwave Ovens
------- Can Openers
------- Serving Bowls
Site maps are deemed "spider food" because they can be the perfect place for search engine spiders and bots to crawl your site. Because a site map has links to every page of your site (and those link names or page descriptions often include keywords), it is extremely easy for the search engine spider to access each publicly accessible area with no obstacles and relate it to a given subject matter. (For example, a page labeled "microwave ovens" is most likely about microwave ovens.)
Some site owners think that's enough. They think a page with keyword-rich titles and links is plenty for a hungry little spider to munch on. Not hardly! That's not a meal? it's just a light snack.
Give Spiders A Tasty Treat
If you really want to fill the spiders' bellies, you'll want to take your site map page to the max with a descriptive site map (as I like to call them). Descriptive site maps go beyond the simple list of links to pages. These special versions of the traditional maps also include a short, keyword-rich description of each page. The text only needs to be a sentence or two in length. An example is below. This is certainly not the only way to layout or design your site map. Get creative and use columns, bullets or other formatting to make it look the way you like. (The links would remain the same as in the previous example.)
HOME - Home page for XYZ Depot, a home accessories outlet.
ABOUT US - Account of how XYZ Depot became the world's largest home accessories outlet.
SHIPPING RATES - Shipping rates and delivery times.
PRODUCTS - Complete listing of home accessories offered.
>> SMALL APPLIANCES - Exciting selection of small appliances to save you time in the kitchen.
------- MICROWAVE OVENS - Top-of-the-line microwave ovens from brands you trust.
Descriptive site maps work well in attracting and satisfying spiders because they include naturally occurring keywords. They also place keywords in the vicinity of a link that points to the associated page. Add these advantages to those that already exist, including:
· having links in the body copy of the page
· overcoming complex navigation such as DHTML or Java
· lending quick access to pages located several layers deep within the site
· assisting with usability for visitors (especially disabled visitors)
· and others
and you have prepared a huge feast for the search engine spiders that is almost guaranteed to entice those hungry little critters to crawl through every available page of your site.
Does every site need a site map? It certainly wouldn't hurt. Sites with less than 20 pages or sites where most or all the pages have links directly from the home page generally don't "need" a site map, per se. However, practically every site of every size can reap benefits from including a map on their site.
If you're creating a site map for your site, don't stop with the basics. With just a little added effort, you'll have a four-course meal to serve the spiders that will keep them happy and satisfied and that will help get you exceptional rankings.
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