What Are Site Maps, 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 site map is an important step in designing a site that is functional and meets user expectations.

A site map 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.

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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 site map 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 site map 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 site map 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 site maps in the web design process.

What is a site map?

A site map 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. Site maps identify site structure and – to a limited extent – page types. Site maps show us what goes where, and how certain pages are connected.

sitemap_example

Site maps are useful to:

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

Site maps do NOT:

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

Why do site maps matter?

Site maps 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 site map. When reviewing the site map, consider whether all pages are represented. Does the organization of the pages makes sense? We often recommend clients think through common use cases of their various personas. Does the content listed in the site map address your users personas’ key needs? Think through these questions carefully and 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.

Case Study: The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College

See how eCity upgraded Walnut Hill College's outdated website design to better engage current and potential students.