What Are Sitemaps, and Why Do We Create Them?

Whether you’re working with an agency to build a new website from the ground up or undergoing a website redesign, creating a sitemap is an important step in designing a site that is functional and meets user expectations.

A sitemap is generally the first deliverable in the information architecture (IA) phase. In a typical website project, information architecture comes after completing stakeholder and user interviews, creating user personas, and stakeholders have agreed upon a content strategy to move forward with.

web_process_horizontal_sitemaps

If you aren’t already familiar with the term, information architecture involves structuring things (in this case, web pages and digital content) in a way that helps people understand their surroundings and find what they’re looking for. Once a sitemap is complete, the second part of IA involves building out wireframes (but we’ll save that for another blog post).

At eCity, we like to think of the sitemap as a blueprint for the website. It’s a high-level overview of the site that will lay the foundation on which we will build the final product.  Instead of mapping out rooms in a building, we’re essentially mapping out what the navigation of your website will be. To ensure a final product that’s optimized for your ideal users, it’s crucial to understand what a sitemap is, why we create them, and what kind of feedback we’re looking for from our clients regarding them. Read on to learn about the uses, limitations, and importance of sitemaps in the web design process.

What is a sitemap?

A sitemap is a hierarchical diagram that allows you to visualize the structure of a website. They’re used to define the site’s taxonomy by grouping related content together. Sitemaps identify site structure and – to a limited extent – page types. Sitemaps show us what goes where, and how certain pages are connected.

sitemap_example

Sitemaps are useful to:

  • Show how the navigation should be structured
  • Identify top-level unique page types
  • Show the relationship between different pages

Sitemaps do NOT:

  • Indicate website design or layout
  • Identify user paths
  • List all website content

Why do sitemaps matter?

Sitemaps are important because they’re one of the first tangible steps in creating a new or updated website. They help define the building blocks of the user experience by ensuring content is in places users would expect to find it. They’re also used as a reference point for wireframes, functional specifications and content maps.

Because of how they influence the final product, it’s important for clients to provide accurate and honest feedback in regards to the sitemap. When reviewing the sitemap, consider whether all pages are represented. Does the organization of the pages make sense? We often recommend clients think through common use cases of their various personas. Does the content listed in the sitemap address your user personas’ key needs? Think through these questions carefully and offer feedback as necessary. These recommendations can save a lot of time and trouble down the road by ensuring the project is headed in the right direction to best meet your users’ needs.
Walnut Hill College Case Study