Sitemaps play an important role before and after you launch your website. What is a sitemap though? If you aren’t a website developer, chances are you may not know what a sitemap is or how to create one.
As part 1 of our five-part website development series, building a sitemap will act as the foundation. In this series, we will discuss the website development process we use at Outspoke. We have perfected our process over the years and it has been applied to hundreds of successful website builds. The five-step process is:
- Create a Sitemap
- Create a Wireframe
- Create a Prototype
- Develop Your Website
- Launch Your Website
Be sure to stay tuned and read all five posts so you can implement this fool-proof website development process. Let’s get started!
What Is A Sitemap?
Sitemaps are important, both before and after you launch your website. In order to properly define what a sitemap is, we need to look at its role in both of these phases.
Prior to launch, a sitemap acts as a guide for you, organizing your pages and content so you don’t get lost. A 20+ page website has a lot of moving pieces. A sitemap is your first opportunity to organize the hierarchy of your website.
After you launch a sitemap acts as a guide for search engines. While technology is getting smarter and smarter, search engines like Google still need a little help. By submitting your final sitemap, you give these search engines a literal map of your site, ensuring they don’t get lost.
Why Do You Need A Sitemap?
Prior to launch, you need a sitemap so you can organize your website as efficiently as possible. Think of it as an outline. When you start writing without an outline, the end result is usually a disjointed piece of content. Developing your website without a sitemap has a similar result.
A great sitemap will make the remaining four steps of the website development process much easier. A bad sitemap or no sitemap at all, however, will make your life much harder as you progress through the steps. Put simply, this is the foundation for your entire website. Take your time. It is easy to want to jump straight into development. Don’t do that.
How Do You Create A Sitemap?
Start by hand
The first place we always start is the giant whiteboard in our office. If you don’t have access to a whiteboard, a piece of paper will do. The first step is to list out all of the potential website pages you may need. Be liberal with this first list. Most websites, at a minimum, have these basic pages:
- Home Page
- About Us Page
- Product/Service Page
- Contact Page
Some websites are this simple, but most aren’t. Create your list and you will be ready for the next step, which is organizing your content into buckets. As you audit your list you will notice a couple of things. First, you will identify pages that can be combined. If two or more pages can create a stronger, more cohesive page together, then combine them. Just like that, your list is getting smaller.
The next step is to group the remaining pages into buckets. A general best practice is to have between 5-7 main navigation menu items. This means you need to find a way to group all of your pages into 5-7 buckets. Not an easy task, but a required one.
A sitemap has a simple hierarchy. Your homepage will be at the top of your map and below that will be your main navigation menu items that you identified. Below each of the navigation menu items will be your sub-pages. Fairly simple. Simplicity is the name of the game at this point in the process. The more you can simplify now, without taking away needed functionality, the better. That means less work during the later stages when things get a little more complicated.
Find a sitemap tool
Now that you have narrowed down your rough-draft sitemap, it is time to turn to technology. Specifically, a dedicated sitemap tool. While you don’t have to use a sitemap tool, we highly recommend it. Here is why. With a dedicated sitemap tool, you can not only create your sitemap in a clean, concise manner that can be shared amongst team members, but you can also attach documents, take notes, and much more. Doing so will make it much easier when you get to the development process. Again, a sitemap prior to launch is your guide and organizational tool. A sitemap tool just makes it much easier to organize everything effectively.
We have used quite a few sitemap tools over the years, but below are a couple of our favorites.
Depending on your needs and the complexity of your project, one of these tools may be a better fit than the others. Take some time to do your research so you make sure you find the right tool for your needs. Armed with your hand-drawn sitemap, simply recreate it within the tool. If your tool supports notes and document attachments, go ahead and start adding these as well. A great sitemap tool can act as a single place to organize all of your assets.
Just like that you have a sitemap and are well on your way to developing the website of your dreams. In part two of this series, we will talk about Wireframes. Your sitemap is a guide to the high-level hierarchy of your website. Wireframes have a similar purpose. Wireframes plan out the high-level structure of your individual website pages. This outline ensures you aren’t flying blind when it is time to start development. See you in part 2!