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Site Maps: Showing You the Way to a More Organized Website {Part 1}

By Jessica Brown

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If you’re embarking on an exciting new adventure, there are certain steps you take to prepare. You’ll need to pack necessities, make sure you have access to food and water, go over the itinerary for the trip, etc. And while you might just plug an address into Google Maps or a GPS, adventurers of the past used a good, old-fashioned map.

Building a new website can be a pretty vast expedition, and just like old-school explorers, you’ll need a good map in order to have an organized, user-friendly site. Luckily, they exist to point you in the right direction.

Not All Site Maps Are Created Equal

A site map is a list of pages on your site. The kind of visual site map I am referring to in this blog post is used for planning out your site, looking at hierarchy and deciding on things like navigation sets and how many sub pages each page should have.

There are other variations of site maps, too. Some websites have an HTML site map where users can navigate to any other page on the site from one, central page.  And then there are XML site maps, which tell search engines about the pages on your site and their relation to one another. You may also see these specifically called “Google site maps.”

The Perfect Planning Tool

In our kickoff meetings with clients, we try to come up with a basic site map. We discuss what the major pages of the site will be, what order they should be in, and what they should be called. But writing a site map isn’t as simple as that. There is a lot of strategy that goes into what is basically the foundation of your site.

Most of our sites have two levels of navigation sets that can be viewed from the home page: an upper navigation and a main navigation. The upper navigation usually includes navigation items that tell, “Who we are,” from a company perspective. This normally covers the “About Us” page, FAQ’s, contact information, etc.

The main navigation then explains, “Who our customers are.” All pages that cover customer needs and how your company helps to meet them go here. These include pages explaining your products or services, how your customer or client can get those products or services, and customer stories and testimonials so that your customers know that you are a trustworthy and established business.

Once a user clicks on a page, you will usually see a side navigation showing the subpages under this page and allowing you to easily navigate through them.

But Wait…

What if you are a doctor’s office? Wouldn’t the bios of your doctors make more sense on the main navigation, as their care is the service that patients will receive?

Here is where strategic planning is vital to mapping out your site. While some general rules apply when it comes to user experience and where users expect to find items, you need to think how your current and potential customers think, prioritizing what is most important to them.

Here are just a few of the questions you might not think to ask when mapping out your website:

  • Do all users know that clicking on a page’s logo will take them to the home page, or should there be a link that says home?

  • Should all of your team members be listed on one page, or should they each have bios on their own page?

  • Should we have a contact form that lives on a single page, or should there be a small contact form on the side of each page?

  • What are the best names for our pages that will help our users understand which items they will find there?

In Part 2 of this blog, we will look at the Imagebox approach to site mapping and how we take a site map and turn it into real site content and interactive navigations.