It’s tempting to jump straight in to design and create a set of amazing experiences, but it’s important to take a step back and start with the basics. And the sitemap is often the perfect place to start.
The site map is typically created in conjunction with the design process, so that the team are able to see exactly how the pages will link together before they begin to design. If the site map is clear and obvious, it creates a known list of pages for the design team to work from – making for a more focused process.
For small sites, creating a site map can be pretty straight forward in collaboration with the internal client team. And it’s not unusual to go through the process within a few interactive meetings. However, for many of our projects that consistent of a multi-site structure of maybe 30, 50 or even 70 websites, it can get a bit more complex and time consuming.
1. A sitemap helps to ensure you have a clear structure
The sitemap is typically seen by everyone involved in the project, which includes the development team, the project manager and client, so you have to make sure that it is clear and easy to follow. A good way of doing this is by colour coding to make sure everyone can distinguish between the various pages, e.g. parent and child pages. It also helps everyone see which pages are linked and you can easily track the journey that your client will be taking to reach certain pages.
Before getting to that point, deciding which pages will be appropriate and needed in the site is key. Then a simple workshop with coloured post-it notes stuck up on a wall that can be moved around, added to, manipulated in some way or ripped up, is a great way to get people thinking about the pages and initial structure.
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2. Don’t over complicate it
Keep your sitemap, and your user journey, simple. You don’t want your main navigation to have hundreds of pages as it would be overwhelming for someone visiting your site and make it hard to find the information they need. Instead try and keep your main navigation to around 4 to 5 pages. Although we know that sometimes this isn’t possible.
Also if there are too many it might be a bit boring for a reader to scan through them all! If you feel like there are too many then why not try using subpages or a drop down menu under certain headers. This not only makes the header look less cluttered but also makes it easier for your client to find what they’re looking for.
We use a few different ways to display sitemaps. We tend to default back to an Excel file because everyone is familiar with using them – but we do use online tools such as Miro, too. Other more advanced tools such as Flowmapp which allows you to not only determine nav structure and site maps, but also about the flow of websites from page to page, and function to function. It can be useful for large-scale projects with adequate timelines.
3. Don’t forget about footer pages
Even though they are in the footer, they are still very important to include in your sitemap!
There are often a handful of pages that can only be accessed from the footer, for example the privacy and cookies policy or terms and conditions. An example of this would be in the Amazon footer below.
These links are often not found in the main tree for the site and so it’s important not to forget them off your sitemap as they are still vital and need to be added in!
Sitemaps are primarily to capture the pages to be created as part of a site build, but there are other uses. Sometimes clients need to see the components and structure of a page, while others look to incorporate global, or shared page elements in to the sitemaps. It all depends on project to project, but we’ve seen it all and can help whether it’s a microsite, or global multi-site multi-shared site set-up.
But as an intro, here are a few tips to get started. So when you’re starting to create your next one, make sure to keep it clear, simple and as easy to follow as possible – remember there is no need to over complicate it.