When it comes to kicking off a web project, there is no more valuable resource to prepare than a sitemap.
What’s a sitemap, you ask? A sitemap is a structural breakdown of a website. It outlines out each individual path a visitor can take from any page on the site, with your primary navigation sort of acting like a tree trunk and the pages found within each the branches.
The ball should get rolling on a sitemap lay out early on in the web design process through a conversation with the client, the content team, and the web team. The process of hashing out the details really isn’t that intensive or time consuming, but it is vital to the success of the project.
Without a sitemap, the web design process lacks much of the guidance and structure necessary to complete the project in a timely fashion while also meeting the unique needs of the client. That’s not, however, the only reason a web design project needs a sitemap.
Presents the site in a more digestible form
When you are trying to identify what pages you have, what pages you don’t, what pages need to be added, what pages need to be removed, and all the gaps in between, just scrolling through your website isn’t the most effective way to do so. Sure you can easily track down all your key landing pages from the navigation, but what about the branching paths from those pages or pages you can’t reach directly from the navigation?
Taking the time to create a sitemap that plots out every single page and the individual paths it takes to get to them is the perfect way to take stock or inventory what pages you have and what pages you need. It is also an easy way to evaluate page paths, fine-tuning the best possible experience for visitors and perfecting a natural flow of information.
With all the page information needed in one location, deciding where to start, handing out assignments, and figuring out where you need to start filling in blanks.
Chance to evaluate important keywords
Some businesses may want to undergo a web design or web content project simply because they want to improve their search results with more robust content. That’s great! You should always be thinking about your content and how people are going to find you with online search – which is all the more reason to create a sitemap!
Early in the design process, have a client and content team brainstorming conversation about what keywords and search terms the client considers priorities. Then, with the entire site laid out in front of you, page titles, URLs, meta descriptions as well as the content on the pages can all be evaluated through the lens of valuable keywords.
What changes to existing copy need to be made to accommodate these changes? What new pages or sections need to be written? A sitemap helps answer these important questions.
Keeps everyone on the same page
Different people have different skills, for instance, a great web designer may not be the best at writing copy and a copy writer may not know much in terms of building on the back-end. To help people play to their strengths, a web project rarely involves just one person and typically employs multiple parties handling multiple aspects of the project. That’s where it’s nice to have a sitemap everyone involved can reference.
A sitemap isn’t just an outline of the site, it’s also an outline of the work involved. A designer, for instance, can learn what pages need to be designed and when, what copy can just be transferred from the old site, and what the purpose of each page will be just by looking at the sitemap.
Another thing I always like to add to a sitemap is an area for status updates on landing pages. As multiple parties go in and out of the document, designers can check to see what pages are finished and laid out, content writers can see what pages they need to turn their attention to next, and the client can see what pages are pending approval. Not only is this a nice project tracker but it’s an easy way to help keep the project on course and keep corresponding parties accountable for their responsibilities throughout the project.
So, how do you get started preparing a sitemap? There are a handful of tools available online (some free, some not). But, my suggestion? All you really need is a Word Doc, or better yet an Excel spreadsheet, and you can start plotting out a sitemap yourself!
Roundpeg doesn’t just design websites, we work with you to help flesh out a strategy and sitemap to make a site that will grow with you. Let’s chat!