Second-only to your homepage, your sitemap is one of the most important and most visible parts of your website. What value is a website if people can’t find the content they are looking for?
A sitemap is quite literally a map of your website’s page inventory. Sounds simple right? As a content creator, you may know exactly where all of your content lives and how to get from Point A to Point B but to an unfamiliar website user, this may not be as intuitive. To complicate the process even further, creating a sitemap is not always black and white. Every website and its content is different, but there are certain steps you can take to develop the most user-friendly version possible.
Prioritizing Specific Content
Your first step should be determining what type of information will be available on your site, and more importantly how that information should be prioritized to meet business goals. First, it is important to conduct a content audit to take inventory of what is available to the user. Are you featuring lots of products? Are you trying to build up your thought leadership presence? Do you need a lot of information to educate users about your services, or will they already know about your area of expertise when they come to the site? Establishing your top three objectives for the website is a great place to start when conducting a content inventory.
After you have an idea of what kind of content your site will feature, you should take a step back and imagine being in the shoes of your target audience. What might your users look for? And how do they phrase their needs? While you might have an internal structuring of products or services that makes sense to employees with deep technical knowledge, your website is for a broader, often less specialized audience. Consult your SEO keyword strategy to ensure your menu labels match organic search teams. Added bonus: Google crawlers pay special attention to a website’s sitemap, making it a golden opportunity to embed top keywords. Make sure that any terms you use will be searched by your ideal audience and are likely to catch their attention on the website.
Establishing your Navigation Structure
Next, you will need to think about the most intuitive way to structure your main-level navigation in the menu bar. This navigation will be present on every page, and for ease of use, it should be relatively short (we usually recommend four to seven items). You can have many child pages under this navigation, but you want to make sure that those top-level items present a few clear high-level categories to organize the information below them.
Once you have determined your top-level navigation, it’s time to determine the child, and even grandchild, pages that will live below in the website menu. While it might seem like you need a new page for every topic, think critically about what could be on-page content and what should be entirely its own page. Some pages might fit under a couple of umbrella categories, but make sure that pages are neatly assigned and do not repeat in different areas of the menu. For accessibility reasons, you want each page title to appear only once. Menu duplicity is a common problem for companies offering both “products” and “solutions”. While the argument could be made to categorize a page under either one, you should strive to pick one.
Don’t Forget About the Utility Navigation
After structuring your main navigation, make sure you don’t forget to add items to your utility navigation as well. The utility nav is a great opportunity to pull out some important content that otherwise might get buried in your website. The utility navigation is the smaller links above your main menu and is always present at every step of the user journey. This is a perfect opportunity for ever-green content that appeals to broad audiences. For example, we often recommend putting careers in the utility navigation to make it easier for potential employees to efficiently find job listings and apply.
These steps will surely get your website sitemap off to a great start! However, keep in mind this is an iterative process and will need to be updated as needed. By tracking in-site searches in Google Analytics, you can see what users seem to have trouble finding through the navigation alone. If any term is getting significant search traffic, it might be worth changing the sitemap to make that content more clearly available.
Creating a sitemap can be challenging, and often benefits from a fresh, third-party perspective. Trusting a content marketing & user experience agency, like Bluetext, can help establish clear content goals and a reorganized sitemap. Contact Bluetext to learn about our experience creating intuitive sitemaps that will make your site shine.