HTML and XML Sitemaps: Why You Need Both

A well designed map can help lead the way

 

In the SEO world, the use of sitemaps is always advisable. There are two types of  sitemaps, the XML sitemap and the HTML sitemap. These sitemaps are very different with each serving its own purpose and both providing value to your website.

What is the difference between XML and HTML sitemaps?

XML and HTML sitemaps are created for different purposes, but both can help increase traffic to your website and improve its usability.

 The XML sitemap

XML sitemaps are used by search engine spiders, also known as robots, bots or crawlers. Spiders “crawl”, or follow links throughout the Internet, finding content and adding it to search engine indexes.

An XML sitemap is a file containing all of the URLs on the website that you would like to be indexed in search engines. The XML sitemap also provides spiders with the following information:

  • Metadata for URLs
  • When the URLs were last updated
  • The importance of certain URLs
  • Average frequency of changes to URLs
  • URL relation to the rest of your website

Having an XML sitemap is crucial for the proper display of your site’s pages in search engines.

 The HTML sitemap

In simple terms, the HTML sitemap gives users an overview of your website. This can be helpful if you have pages that might be difficult to find. For example, if a user visits your homepage and is looking for a “contact us” page but can’t find the link for the page easily, the user may click on the “sitemap” page. There, the contact page may be accessed a simple click on a link.

An HTML sitemap helps users navigate your website and get to the pages or information they are seeking quickly.

The benefits of using both sitemaps

Having your XML sitemap functioning properly ensures that search engines are finding your site’s information and correctly listing it in search results. This may also often lead to better search engine positioning and send more visitors to your site.

Having a well thought out HTML sitemap improves your visitors’ experience and helps them find the pages or information they want quickly.

By using both sitemaps in combination, you are helping your SEO while increasing the likelihood of visitor retention and return visits to your site.

International SEO – Google Offers a Helping Hand

Out of Beta and into the real world, international real world that is! Google has just announced adding a new section to Google Webmaster Tools, labeled “International Targeting”. If you operate a website that targets visitors from more than one country, and in more than one language then this may be of serious interest to you.

Webmaster Tools Dashboard

Dashboard in WMT showing the International Targeting Option

In an effort to respond to the public out-cry for help identifying issues with hreflang annotations (the markup that enables search engines to serve the correct language or regional variation of a page in order to provide more targeted results for searchers), Google offers webmasters a tool that makes note of two of the most common problems associated with language targeting and hreflang annotations:

Missing Return Links

The first issue Google helps identify is related to missing return links; if an annotation is not confirmed from the page it is pointing to, there will be an error. For example, if page A links to page B, then in-turn page B must link back to page A, otherwise the hreflang may not be properly interpreted by search engines. For each of these errors, Google identifies where and when detection took place as well as where the expected return link should be.

See the Example Provided by Google:

Example from Google Webmaster Tools of Missing Return Links

Identifying missing Return Tags

Incorrect Hreflang Values

The value of the hreflang attribute must either be a language code in ISO 639-1 format such as “es”, or a combination of language and country code such as “es-AR”, where the country code is in ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format. If the language or country codes are not in these formats then Google reports the issue and provides an example URL to assist with fixing the problem.

Unknown Language Code Report from WMT

Example of Unknown Language Codes in WMT Reporting

For more information on getting hreflang right checkout this recent article from David Scottimano detailing examples & insights for those who need and use international SEO for their website.

Showcase Your Vacation Rental or Real Estate Listing with a Floor Plan

Adding a floor plan of your vacation rental to show potential guests generates a measurable improvement in your number of bookings.
TruPlace, formerly Mouse on House, commissioned an independent study of over 1,400 vacation rentals that demonstrates a 97% increase in revenue from bookings for properties using their interactive floor plan tours. The amount of time it took to book the property also was measurably shorter. Likewise, at Blizzard, we find that properties with interactive floor plan tours on their property pages generate more revenue.
floor plans increase reservations

The reservation revenue per property for properties with interactive floor plan tours was 97% higher than for those properties without floor plan tours.

virtual tours and floor plans

The booking lead time for properties with interactive floor plan tours is 12 days shorter than for properties without tours.

What the study could not measure was the cost savings in phone calls. The number of phone calls that it took to book the property was presumably smaller, because anyone with questions about the layout of the property was able to find out the answer to their question online. Let’s look at why this is the case. Your goal is to get reservations. Once someone finds your website, how can you turn a looker into a booker? The websites that anticipate the traveler’s questions, and answer them, get more reservations.
Travelers’ questions:

  • Where is it located, exactly?
  • What’s the place like?
  • How much is it?

When it comes to what is the place like, getting a bird’s eye view of the floor plan answers that question in  a split second. In a glance, your potential guests can answer such questions as:

  • How noisy does it look like it will be?
  • Where can I watch TV in the middle of the night without waking up my family?
  • Where will I be relative to the kids? The other people we are staying with?
  • Does my room have a view?
  • Where is the balcony/deck relative to my bedroom? Relative to the kitchen?
  • What is the kitchen like?
  • Are there stairs?
  • How many bathrooms are there and where are they?

Real-Estate-Floor-Plan-Vacation-Rental

What’s the difference between an interactive floor plan tour and a 360 virtual tour?

An interactive floor plan is a floor plan that is clickable. It combines still photography with a floor plan of the entire property so that the visitor can have a high level view and navigate through the home. A 360 virtual tour combines videos or still images in order to provide a simulation of walking through a location.

Interactive floor plan tours can be made just from architectural floor plan renderings; the property does not need to be built yet. Also they are mobile friendly and load more quickly than 360 virtual tours.

360 virtual tours, on the other hand, can provide  a full 360 degree view of the rooms, and if when done correctly, are more entertaining content to put on your website.

Unlike videos and 360 virtual tours, a floor plan gives the traveler a great deal of information in a single glance. That is not to say, however, that videos and 360 virtual tours do not do well. Everyone likes to be entertained. However, if you have videos or 360 virtual tours, make sure that they are actually entertaining; or your potential guest will quickly grow weary of watching them!

Having entertaining content on your website, such as videos and 360 virtual tours, can increase your website traffic and the amount of time that people spend on your site. These are good indicators for Google and can increase your website’s position in search results. Having floor plans and interactive floor plans on your website can help potential guests decide whether to book a specific property. For that reason, interactive floor plan tours can generate more revenue than 360-virtual tours, because the potential guest can click on the floor plan and quickly answer many of the questions that they have.

Do you have a property owner who wants more bookings? Ask them if they are willing to pay for an interactive floor plan tour.

Blizzard University – July 24 & 25, 2014

Blizzard University - Glenwood Springs, July 2014 - Get signed up today!

Doesn’t a trip to the beautiful mountain town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado this summer sound like a wonderful idea? Why not make it a learning experience as well! Join us July 24 & 25, 2014 for another Blizzard University Workshop. Learn from the internet marketing specialists in this 2-day informative workshop geared toward beginner to intermediate internet marketers and vacation rental managers. Book Today or visit our workshops page for more information.

DIY: 3 Great Website Tools to Check the Speed and Health of Your Pages

With the dawn of the mobile revolution, it has become more critical than ever to have a website that is not only responsive by design for multiple devices, but also fast and mobile friendly.  Statistics show that in the hospitality world 30-40% of users are increasingly using mobile devices to research and book vacation rentals.  It is clear that Google rewards websites in both organic and paid search placements with higher rankings when a user does not use the back button after getting to a landing page.  While this is only one small factor in consideration, it makes a big difference from a usability standpoint when a customer is using a phone or tablet to open a website over a cellular network.  Gone are the days of testing page speed with your desktop computer as T1, T3, Cable, and Fiber connections are much more commonplace in urban areas.  So how can I really tell if my website will open fast for all my users?  How do I isolate the cause of those problems?

If I were you, I would not rely on just one tool to test my website.  Keep in mind, you will get varying results depending on server locations, bandwidth being used, time of day, etc.  So make sure to test a couple of times and get an average.  As well, in this example we will only test the homepage of a website.  I strongly encourage you to test new landing pages used for your AdWords campaigns as well as any that may have extra functionality, forms, widgets, or just a lot of pictures…All of these below are free tools!

1.  WEBSITE OPTIMIZATION For many years, I have referenced this tool as a starting point to get a quick glimpse of how the different objects on my webpage are being seen by crawlers.  http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/

The 2 main things I look at are:

dowload-times

page-analysis

Check out the red highlights in the analysis tool then ask your webmaster how they will address these items.

2. Pingdom Pingdom is great in many ways as you can sign up to get alerts when your website goes down via email or text message.  I use tools.pingdom.com to get even more in-depth with what objects are slowing my website down in addition to THE ORDER that they load.  Sometimes just having some objects load at the end allows a user to see the important stuff and gives time for the other secondary style sheets and .js calls to load.  You can drill down to see specifics, get a “performance grade” and it will also keep a history so you can see how well you have improved over time.

http://tools.pingdom.com/

performance-grade

 3.  Google Page Insights – Lastly, I will check Google’s Page insights to see what score they provide.  It is out if 100 and theoretically the higher the better.  The nice thing about Insights is that they break down all the links, server calls, and objects and let you know where your biggest opportunities are for optimizing for page speed.

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/

google-pagespeed

Remember, most times you can tackle 2 or 3 biggies – usually image size, caching, and order in which objects load to make a dramatic difference in your website’s page speed time.  In the end, the effort is worth it because it will result in a lower bounce rate, higher rankings, and a better overall user experience.  Many have said for years…you only have 8 seconds to make that first impression!  Now go OPTIMIZE!

The Chemistry of SEO : Periodic Table of SEO

The very building blocks of the Universe are represented by the Periodic Table: atoms that combine to form molecules which in turn combine to create real things we can see.

In the realm of Search Engine Optimization, the real thing we can see is a website ranking for a keyword or even an actual visitor to a website.  However, the small building blocks that cause those results are invisible to the untrained.  Check out the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors for an visualization of how the Universe of SEO is organized:

See How Easily You Can Learn About Google Analytics and The Power of Your Brand in Search

Blizzard has a few Webinars coming up. Hope to see you there:

Google Analytics Multi-Channel Conversion Tool
Monday, November 28th, 2011 10AM MST

Learn about the most exciting new Google Analytics feature to come along in years!  This may be the single most exciting online marketing development during 2011.
Learn how to setup and interpret this valuable new data which is guaranteed to shed new light on where your online bookings really come from and will most likely change your budgeting process in 2012. This is a 30 minute webinar.

The Power of Your Brand in Google’s Search Algorithm
Thursday, December 8th, 2011 1PM MST

Learn how your Brand is becoming an increasingly important component in Google’s organic search algorithm.  Google monitors your brand signals and will rank you higher and drive more search engine traffic to your website if your brand appears stronger than your competitors.

Learn about the brand signals Google tracks in its algorithm and what you can do to increase the strength and frequency of those signals.

Google Plus for Hotels and Vacation Rentals: Strategies, Tactics and Tips
Wednesday December 14th, 2011 10AM MST

Get a head start in the new Google+ social networking platform. Learn how to get your account going and how to get the most out of it.  Includes tips for newbies but focuses on strategies and tactics that will work in the world of guest marketing.

How Does Your Website Rank in Google’s Quality Rating

Jennifer Ledbetter, the author of PotPieGirl.com shared a great blog post last week abut how Google makes its algorithm changes using human raters to rate search engine results.

In a nutshell, Google has an army of humans that guide their algorithm changes by examining the “quality” of websites.  Those quality signals eventually become encapsulated into the mathematical algorithm and then roll out into the entire Google index.  Your website goes up-or-down based upon  your “quality footprint.”  The possibility even exists that your site could go up or down as a result of a manual review, outside of an actual algorithm change.

Here is a short video from Google explaining:

Is this scary?  We don’t think so. In fact, this really confirms what we have been teaching our clients for years: Focus on making your site the BEST site and your search results will follow.

The most fascinating element of her post is that she shared a “proprietary and confidential” 125 page document from Google that gives step-by-step instructions on how to do a “quality rating.”  Unfortunately, Google asked her to remove that link. (you can find it probably by searching for it)  Fortunately, we downloaded the document last week and will summarize the important bits for you. Read more

Integrate Your Google Webmaster Tool Data into Google Analytics

Connecting your Google Webmaster Tool account and your Google Analytics account provides better reports in your Google Analytics AND more convenience.  This feature was released last week on the Google Webmaster Central Blog.

I especially like having the “Queries” report right in Google Analytics which shows how many impressions my website received in Google search results (by Query), the Click-Thru-Rate and the average ranking. Pretty Handy.

Here are the step-by-step instructions… with a caveat: you must be in the “new version” of Google Analytics, not the old.  If your screens look different, you are in the old version.  The login to the new version is at the very top of your page.

Here are the step-by-step instructions to integrate these two accounts:

1) Login to Google Analytics and click on the gear to the right of the reporting tabs:

Read more

Google Plus for Business – First Glance

The early iterations of Google Plus are interesting to watch, but Google Plus is still only a curiosity from a business standpoint.  Not only is there not a business offering, Google has warned businesses not to setup a Google+ account for your business.

Officially, Blizzard recommends you wait a bit longer on Google+… but read on for more specific instructions.

That said, it is easy to imagine how a business could use the existing functionality to build a business page and create a circle of “friends” and clients to communicate with.  Right off the bat the Hangouts feature is a promising business tool.  Blizzard tested Hangouts this morning with a video conference call and it worked great.  It was an easy tool for a bunch of Blizzard employees and clients to get together at an appointed time and have a discussion.  Hangouts allowed just audio or audio + video.  Additionally, any user can share their screen.  Hangouts is limited to 10 people AND the organizer of the conference can’t control it. In this sense, GoToMeeting is a much better option for a more push-type presentation.  Here is a short video from Google:

We recommend that you:

  1. Get a GooglePlus (or Google+ if you prefer, I use them interchangeably) account for your personal business just to acquaint yourself with how it works.  Read Google + for Newbies if you want some great tips.
  2. Try the “Hangout” feature to see if you like it for business meetings with remote colleagues.
  3. Add the +1 button to your website, parallel to the “LIKE” button so early +1 users can start using it. Click here for directions on adding the +1 button to your website.
  4. Watch for the Google Plus business offering.

Google has released a first-glance at its new Google Plus Business Page with a demo by Ford Motors:

Hopefully, pages like this will be made available to all business soon!  Of course, it will be one more thing your social media and SEO marketing team will have to deal with. Sigh.