What is a Sitemap and How Does It Contribute to Information Architecture?
If you hired Spade Design to create your website, right now our team is laying the foundation for everything to come. In this article, we want to give you a glimpse into what’s happening now, at the beginning stages as we focus on information architecture and construct a sitemap to illustrate your website design.
What is Information Architecture?
Have you ever clicked on a search engine result and when the page loaded, you weren’t sure what you should do next? Most people just hit the back button.
If you were really motivated, you might have scrolled around a little or clicked on a few things. If you felt frustration that nothing made sense and you didn’t know where to go, you were experiencing an information architecture (IA) problem.
What we’re doing now is making sure that never happens to people who visit your site. From the minute they click on any of your results, they’re going to find exactly what they were looking for not just their first visit, but every time they come back.
Information architecture involves structuring the components of your site so they’re understandable and people can easily find what they’re looking for. It’s part of UX (User eXperience) design, a process that puts the person using the product, site or program at the very center.
Wherever users enter your site, our goal is for them to have a clear picture of where they are and where all their other options are in relation to their position. Our team starts by looking at the following:
- Your target audience – Who they are, how they find you, what they want and need and what they’re experiencing at the time they’re browsing your site.
- The data already available about your business and businesses like yours.
- What your website will contain – Your products and services, what makes your brand unique etc.
- The technologies related to your website – Not just the site itself, but interaction with third-party sites and software.
Simply put, good information architecture connects people to what they’re looking for. Bad or nonexistent IA creates confusion and frustration and ultimately costs you conversions. Our web design converts customers.
That’s why we start by planning a solid IA foundation and creating a visual using a sitemap.
What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is like a flow chart or outline that shows all the ways users can navigate through your website. It displays how content is organized and shared.
There’s more than one type of sitemap. An HTML sitemap is one you might place on your site to give visitors an overview of what’s on every page and how to get there. That isn’t what we’re talking about here.
A XML sitemap is another type of list you can submit to Google, Bing and other search engines to help them index your site effectively. Your site isn’t ready for that at this point.
The type of sitemap we’re talking about is for design purposes and looks something like this:
(visual here? I just put Pixabay image for example, I’m sure you have something way better.)
Basically, we get to know your business and decide the big chunks we’ll need for your site, the major stuff you do. As we go through the process, we’re thinking toward lifetime value so we can better steer users toward what’s most important.
Then we take that information and create a 2D image to show that structure. It’s a design layout in picture format. Some people sketch their sitemap on a whiteboard or poster board. Others use post-it notes. We use a computer program.
The thing is, visitors don’t all start at your home page. Any page of your site can be an entry point. They all must create a positive first impression, welcome users immediately and guide them along the path of becoming a customer.
Some of your pages have more weight and will receive more traffic than others. For example, let’s say you’re a clothing retailer. On your homepage, you might provide navigation to women’s clothing, men’s clothing, girls’ clothing and boys clothing.
Each of those pages is like a focal point or central hub. They’re near the top of your site’s organizational structure.
You would probably break each of those pages into more subcategories. Women’s clothing might have additional pages for tops, skirts, athletic wear and jeans. Your site hierarchy makes it easy for users to know where to look for a black pencil skirt, and it also helps search engines understand what’s on your site.
Your sitemap would show a visual representation of all that. It would also indicate how items are linked or related to each other. All the skirts are similar items under the category of women’s clothing, but they aren’t related to men’s pants.
How a Sitemap Benefits You
To some people, the days we spend analyzing, illustrating and organizing the flow of your site seem like a waste of time when we could jump right into the more visually attractive, seemingly useful elements of each page.
However, that would be like starting to build a house with no blueprints. Check out what’s possible when you start with a sitemap:
- Plan for SEO from the beginning – The structure developed through sitemap creation tells search engines what is your most important content.
- Drive conversions — We use the visual to create user journeys that lead your clients to what they’re looking for.
- Guide teamwork – Your future site no longer exists just in the designer’s mind. Planning allows the whole team to work more effectively as we turn your site into a beautiful digital experience. We use it as a communication tool to collaborate.
- Save time – Using a sitemap allows our designer to test a range of structures and scenarios before they start coding. We refine every aspect of the big picture so your site becomes an efficient traffic-generating machine.
- Be ready for future growth – We structure your site correctly from the beginning so you don’t need a redesign later on. As you add new content, services or products we add those pages to current navigation.
- Pre-plan content — A sitemap gives an overview of internal link structures and appropriate keywords for each page.
So there you have it, the first step of website creation at Spade Design. We’ve started with your site’s information architecture and we’re creating a sitemap that will serve as a blueprint for things to come.
If you haven’t already started working with us for web design and you wonder how your site measures up, get a free website score in 45 seconds or less. Then get in touch to find out how you can start growing your website today.