Designing a new website can be a daunting process, only made more complicated by the volume of information that sometimes needs to be organized and incorporated. Sure, designers might create wireframes and mockups to plan out the site before they get started, but what about non-designers? How do you get the structure of the site figured out before you turn everything over to your designer?
A sitemap can be an effective planning tool for both designers and non-designers alike. It’s a centralized planning tool that can help organize and clarify the content that needs to be on your site, as well as help you eliminate unnecessary pages. And a sitemap, because it’s basically just an outline or flow-chart of the content your site needs, can be created by anyone, regardless of their design skills. Read on for more reasons why a sitemap should be the starting point for your new website design.
Clarify Your Site’s Purpose and Goals
Every website should have a goal and a purpose. Sites without these are often unfocused, hard to navigate, and present poor user experiences. The visitor is left wondering, “what am I supposed to be doing here?” You never want your visitor to be confused when navigating your website or interacting with your content.
A sitemap can help you clarify what your site’s goals are before you start designing or creating content. By deciding exactly what you want from your site and then mapping it out, you can ensure that every part of your website is reinforcing your goals. Then it’s possible to cut parts that aren’t directly tied to the site’s purpose before they become an integral part of the site’s architecture.
Helpful Hint #1: All too often companies start with a “business card” website and later “Frankenstein” together functionality based off impulsive decision making. Instead, take a step back before the first company site is launched and determine the goals of the website. This can save an enormous amount of time, money, energy and resources. Here are some web design goal worksheets to help you think through your website goals.
Avoid Duplicate Content
Duplicating content on your website is a waste of time and resources. If you’ve already included something on one page, why not just link to that page from another place that needs the same information?
If you don’t have a sitemap, you may not realize you’re duplicating content. You’ll just create pages as you need them, without tracking what’s already been created. This can eventually lead to conflicting information on your site, as one page is updated but another is not. Simplify things by making sure duplicate content is combined into a single page, linked to from wherever the content needs to be referenced.
Helpful Hint #2: Duplicate content can create a situation where the search engines arbitrarily choose what they deem is the most important page between two similar pages. Don’t let this happen. They may choose to ignore a page that is designed to convert, and instead, index a similar page that doesn’t. Read this SEOmoz article for information on how to avoid duplicate content.
Streamline Your Conversion Funnel
You want the minimum number of steps from point A to point B in your conversion funnel. The more steps, the more chance a visitor has to leave the site without completing their purchase or signup.
Use your sitemap to figure out what the necessary steps are, and to combine steps where possible. A visual representation, like a flowchart, can make streamlining your funnel easier. Try one after you’ve got a sitemap drafted to ensure you aren’t adding extra steps anywhere.
Helpful Hint #3: Use a solid analytics product to analyze your conversion funnels. By setting up conversion funnel software before a website goes live, you’ll be able to immediately test and determine the most optimal sign up and selling processes. And obviously the sooner you are able to accurately track your conversion funnels, the more revenue you can earn starting day one.
Get Everyone On the Same Page
Rarely are websites built by a single person with no outside input. There may be a designer, a project manager, a developer or two, a copywriter or content creator, and someone from marketing or sales involved, and sometimes even more people than that. A sitemap makes sure everyone involved in the project is on the same page.
Your sitemap should be kept in a format that is accessible to everyone working on the project, and should be kept in a central location where those people can view it (and any changes made to it). Your sitemap isn’t a static document, and it’s likely changes will be made as the project progresses. The sitemap can serve as a central clearing house for tracking your project, what’s been completed, what still needs work, and what progress is being made.
Helpful Hint #4: Getting everyone on the same page is helpful for designing your company site. More importantly it reveals an important secret of how your company should operate. Having everyone in your company in alignment with your company’s core values, mission statement and high level goals has been found to lead to the highest chance of start-up success. Watch this results.com webinar to find out why this is true.
Without a sitemap, you may spend a lot of time creating unnecessary pages, or designing sites that are more complicated than they need to be. It’s worth taking an afternoon to sit down with the team responsible for creating your site’s content and figure out what’s necessary, how pages are interrelated, and what can be cut from your site, before you start designing. Remember, it’s less expensive (in terms of both time and money) to add or eliminate something in the early stages than to have to do so when your site is nearly complete.
About the Author: Cameron Chapman is a freelance designer, blogger, and the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.