Sitemaps and Schema – What Are They and Can They Help SEO?
HTML sitemaps, XML sitemaps, schema markups. If you’ve heard of these things but are confused about exactly what they are, you are not alone. It can be easy to think they are different terms for the same thing. That, however, is not true. Each of the three are distinct and unique from each other and all have a place in your website and SEO strategy. Let’s take a look.
HTML Sitemaps—The Customer Roadmap
If you have ever been on a website and couldn’t quite find what you were looking for but saw a link to the “sitemap”, you have found and used an HTML sitemap. This is a simple and graphical way of outlining a website’s structure in a tree or outline format. It functions as a visual aid for visitors. That said, certainly you hope that your overall site navigation and structure will appropriately guide people through your site. But when that does not happen for whatever reason the HTML sitemap is there to pinch hit.
Can an HTML sitemap directly help your SEO? No. However, because it can help people more easily use your site or find what they need, it may indirectly help your SEO. This is again because Google’s overarching mantra with SEO is to put the customer’s needs front and center. An HTML sitemap in essence does just that.
XML Sitemaps—The Search Engine Roadmap
Where the HTML sitemap is developed for the direct benefit of the customer, you could say that the XML sitemap is developed for the indirect benefit of the customer. Its function is to make it easier for search engines to see and crawl information on a site. This, in turn, allows the search engine to return a result that matches a search request. In this way, the XML sitemap helps the customer because without it, the customer may not have found the page they needed that best fit their search needs.
Can an XML sitemap directly help your SEO? No. But, just as with the HTML sitemap, the indirect benefit potential for your SEO is more than worth your time to develop one. Think of it this way—if you have content on your site that is not found by crawlers for whatever reason, SEO doesn’t even matter to you for that content—it’s like those items or pages simply do not exist. An XML sitemap gives your content the chance to vie for a search result rank that it may not otherwise have.
Schema Markup—The Secret SEO Weapon
An XML markup gives search crawlers basic information about content on your site and then schema takes that to a whole new level. You could think of these two components like nouns and adjectives. The XML markup alerts a crawler to information about boots on your site. The schema markup then tells the crawler that those boots are red, rubber rain boots.
Armed with this level of detail, search engines can in turn provide more detail to customers in search results. This gives you a big advantage over other listings and makes yours the listing far more likely to be clicked on.
The best way to understand the power of schema is to see it in action. Below are two screen captures of actual search results that make the benefits of schema obvious.
Which One Do I Need?
I would argue that a good strategy should be to utilize all three of the elements discussed. Each one—HTML sitemaps, XML sitemaps and schema markup—all offer unique benefits that, when combined, give you a huge competitive advantage.