Redesigning your website is more than picking out fonts, colors and spacing. So much back-end know-how must go on in order for your site to be user and SEO friendly. One of the most critical things that must be accomplished during a website redesign is a refocus on the sitemap. Your old sitemap served you well for a period of time, but as your business has grown and changed, and you’ve acquired new customers and a different demographic, you are most certainly in need of a new sitemap.
In particular, let’s focus on the importance of auditing site hierarchy, structure and content as each of these play a vital role in your website redesign.
Information Architecture, Sitemap, and Navigation
We’ll begin by defining a few terms before we get into the nitty gritty of the sitemap. An aerial view of these terms will help us define the new goals to aim for as we zero in on the restructuring of a sitemap.
- Information Architecture (IA): One of the first steps that will be completed in a website redesign, this actual design structure gathers all the information of the project including content, social channels, targeted demographic, and more as well as presents their relationships to one another. The goal of the IA is to show how all of these different entities can and should interact with one another, how content can be shared, how a user will navigate from one entity to another, and how the overall user flow will work. This information will be what informs the sitemap.
- Sitemap: A great place to start a new sitemap is to begin with the old sitemap and figure out the parts that need fixing. You’ll want to take any and all data and analytics that you have in regards to your site, coupled with business values and goals and get to work. The purpose of the sitemap is twofold: listing all pages (and their goals) that will exist within in the new solution, along with defining in-page information hierarchy.
- Navigation:Once the sitemap is done, you’ll need a good navigation so your users can get around your website in an intuitive way. There are many different kinds of navigation, and to explore the topic is the substance of another post. But what we must know about navigation and how it pertains to sitemaps is that while a sitemap tells us what pages are in a website, the navigation is what will get people to each of these entities.
Now that we understand this broader picture of a website redesign and how it pertains to creating a new sitemap, we can zoom into what a sitemap is, and how to create one that serves both you and the user well.
The Three Main Kinds of SiteMaps
Typically speaking, there are three main types of sitemaps:
- Sitemaps used during the planning of a website by the design team
- Human-visible listings, listed in a hierarchy by content and
- Structured listings that are intended for web crawlers like search engines.
For the purposes of this blog and the use of sitemaps in general, we are concerned with types 2 and 3. Now, within these two types of sitemaps, there are two further categories that every piece of content needs to be divided into: Utility pages and High Quality Content Pages.
- Utility Pages: Utility pages are a behind-the scenes information pages that are necessary to the function of the site, but neither for public viewing nor Google indexing. Your agency will know how to block these pages from being seen or accessed from the front end, but it’s important to note as you are planning your sitemap.
- High Quality Content Pages: Everything in this category will, and in fact, can be seen or accessed by the user and indexed by Google for SEO purposes. These pages, then, need to be written clearly using SEO keywords, compelling language, and include a clear purpose or call to action. In addition, this content must be organized in a hierarchy so that your user and Google see the most important content first.
Content Hierarchy and Structure
While this may seem like the “easy step” when it comes to developing a sitemap, it is actually the most vital, and here’s why: Google will index your site and list you in search result pages based on what it finds when it crawls it. To put it plainly: your website content must be structured based on common search terms or phrases that users are googling to find it. This is the same order that Google will employ to index your site. Therefore, in order for your website to show up in your most desirable searches, you’ll need to structure your site map based on specific content that gives answers to the questions that people are asking.
The organization of content, especially in a hierarchy, is not done in a vacuum. This is work that has requires teamwork. Ideally, the voices that should be present during decision-making sessions are people from every department, multiple job titles and management levels, as well as your digital agency. Having available data from a user survey would be an added bonus. Together with all your information and many viewpoints, you all will decide which parts of your company and mission need to be displayed first. Your current needs, future goals, and the demands of the user, will suggest the unique content that you want to list first.
Great Content takes Great Research
But how do you know what questions are being asked, who is visiting your site and what they want to hear? Because a visitor modal window is just one of the many ways to perform website research, we believe your sitemap must be made, challenged, moved around, challenged, and continually poked and prodded with the advantage of multiple voices from your company putting in their two cents.
Once you have decided what this order will be, it is time to start writing. This, in and of itself, is a whole different ball game of language, form, and keywords. In fact, we’ve written multiple blog posts on the topic you can find here, here, or here. But for the sake of being diligent and thorough in this post, remember these few pointers:
- Quality content doesn’t necessarily mean morecontent. “Quality” is defined by achieving a clear and concise purpose that you set for the user on your page.
- Both keywords and long-tail keywords are key. You want your site to show up in mobile searches too, so think of your user from all angles.
- Just because you write it, doesn’t mean Google will index it. In order for Google to see your content as worthy of indexing, it mustanswer the burning questions of the search bar. Do your diligent research of your competitors, your users and your own brand to find out what those questions are and how your site can help answer them.
Healthy, functioning and purposeful sitemaps are essential to a healthy, functioning and purposeful website. As a digital agency, we help guide people through the process of collaboration and think tanks by facilitation and putting in our own ideas on current and upcoming trends, SEO and social research and much more. Don’t let your sitemap to be a last thought on your website to do list. Contact us today so we can partner with you in making your sitemap point to a successful website redesign.