Information Page: eCommerce Guide


A sitemap serves as a navigational guide to your website by performing two fundamental and distinct functions:

  • To help visitors find their way around your site: If you have a large eCommerce site, it is simply not practical to reference all of the pages of your eCommerce site directly from your home page. However, a sitemap will overcome this by offering users a structured plan of the most important pages on your site, allowing them to navigate quickly and easily to the information they want.Sitemaps also make your site more accessible to disabled people, such as the partially sighted. This is because assistive technologies, such as text-reading software, often cannot extract or interpret the hyperlinks on your normal web pages, whereas sitemaps serve up the navigational information to your site in a format that they can understand.
  • To provide the information that search engines need: Sitemaps also play a useful role in SEO as they make it easier for search engine spiders to analyse and index your site. They are especially important to the large websites that are particularly common to eCommerce.This is because search engine spiders often find it difficult to crawl their way through every single page on a very large site. However, a sitemap can go a long way in ensuring every page is indexed by telling search engines precisely what pages are on your site and where they can find them.

The difference between HTML and XML sitemaps

There are fundamentally two main types of sitemaps:

  • An HTML sitemap, which is a simple web page written in HTML.
  • An XML sitemap, or Sitemap, which is a data file set out in a format known as XML.

The keys differences between the two are:

  • An HTML sitemap is a visible page on your website that both visitors and search engines can see.
  • An XML sitemap sits in the background where only search engines can see.
  • An HTML sitemap serves two roles – both as a navigational tool for site users and as an aid to SEO.
  • An XML sitemap serves only the one role – purely as an aid to SEO.

By and large it makes sense that if you can only have one sitemap then you should choose an HTML sitemap, which improves both the usability of your site and your SEO at the same time. However, ideally your site should feature both. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, many eCommerce sites have a substantial number of web pages, which would make a fully comprehensive HTML sitemap very large and difficult for users to navigate. So while it wouldn’t be practical to include every single page in an HTML sitemap, you could nevertheless use an XML sitemap to catalogue every single page on your site.

Secondly, XML sitemaps are now regarded as the modern way to submit a site to Google, in preference to filling out the form on its website submission page. They are also becoming increasingly important to other search engines, such as Yahoo! and Bing.

Finally, XML sitemaps allow you to specify additional useful information that HTML sitemaps cannot offer. For instance, you can indicate how often a page is updated or provide the time duration of a video clip.

What you need to consider

If you have both an HTML and XML sitemap then your HTML version needs to fulfil the primary objective of being a user navigation tool. You can also help users get the most out of your HTML sitemap in the following ways:

Every eCommerce website from Rapid Web Services comes with an automated XML sitemap as standard.

This means that whenever you change your site content the system automatically updates your XML sitemap for you. In other words, it takes care of a key routine SEO task, so you don’t have to.