Website Design 101 – How to Build a Sitemap
What is the largest mistake anyone planning a website creation or redesign could make?
Answer: Not terribly planning out your website beforehand is an expensive disaster waiting to happen, even when you are using great CMS technology.
A sitemap is a structured list of all pages within a website. It is the table of contents for your web presence and is critical both during the planning phase of a website and for the end user experience. The sitemap foundation becomes the page navigation that dictates the user experience. If your content is not organized in a clear and standardized way, the user will leave your site frustrated and uninterested in your brand.
Often, a sitemap is completely separate from the look and feel of a business website. So, while the sitemap is a critical starting place to get you thinking about your web project, it does not dictate that your site will be "boring". On the flip side, a website that is graphically appealing or full of pizazz may still come off as a smoke and mirrors magic trick if the user does not know what information they are available or how to find what they are looking for.
Visualization as an important web design tool.
A sitemap can be viewed in two ways:
1. A list format – this is like a table of contents in a book.
Think text book: the information is grouped by chapter and each chapter has a few subsections. In the web world, we call the chapters and the sections
2. A graphical map format – this is more like a mind map.
Surprising, this can be dangerous. It looks great to present the end user with a visual map of your website, but during the planning phase of a website, it might become too easy to leave areas of your map too vague or navigate a user through a series of pages without providing them a link to main content.
Users love a new and engaging experience, but from the business world they expect a few constants:
- An About Us page: This should always be near a top-level page if not a superpage. It can be named something more clever as long as users will understand that the page is about your company.
- At least one top-level superpage devoted to your company's products or services.
- A Contact Us page: Many times, users only go to your website to get up-to-date contact information. Remember, younger people are much less likely to use a phone book. Make this easy: do not put up walls around the information your readers are looking for.
XML Sitemap is an important part of Search Optimization.
Search engines have become increasingly good at recognizing legitimate businesses versa imitators by viewing a website's sitemap and analyzing the content of each page. A well-structured site means that when a user searches for your company name, or related products and services in your area in order to buy and submitting orders for a specific product, your website is more likely to rank highly.
In fact, depending on your market, your homepage, About Us, and Contact Us might all be listed in a search engine result so that users have one-click access to these key pages.
Should a sitemap be created just once?
Sitemaps are crucial when planning a website, but they do not have to be set in stone. One important aspect of a content management system is the ability to grow your website over time. This means that as a company expends and adds a service or adds a second type of service or product, corresponding pages can easily be added to the website and and the content modified appropriately:
- About Us Our History
- Our Staff
- Our Services
- Service A
- Type I
- Type II
- Service B
- Service C
- Get A Quote
- Submit Your Order
- Latest News
- Contact Us
If a site has been structured correctly, search engines will pick-up on the addition and re-index your site accordingly. One last important step in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the existence of a properly formatted.XML sitemap that lives off-menu in the root directory of your website hosting server.
It is a complicated array of URL's and priorities, where super pages are given top priority and blog posts are given lower priority, which tells search engines to list your homepage, About Us, and Contact pages first in their search listings.
Because this is one thing all the major search engines agree upon, there is a standard protocol for generating and submitting these links, so there are several programs that can automatically update and submit a properly formatted XML sitemap.
A Few Simple Sitemap Tips
- When building a sitemap, start with a structure that is illegally to change, but that will allow room for growth.
- Do not get in the habit of changing top-level pages, as Search Engines will take note and assume your content is unreliable and rank your website – and then your digital presence – poorly.
- The sitemap can contain sections, for example, adding a top-level page call Blog or Recent News is understood as meaning that articles will be posted and displayed in that section.
- Every user experiences your site differently. Some may like your menu navigation and the way it reflects the organization of your content; however some people may prefer a simple organized list posted somewhere off-menu (see resource box)