Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Sitemap: The Backbone of Your Website Design

One of the first deliverables in a website design project is the sitemap. This seemingly simple document, usually no more than a page in length, often causes a great deal of confusion. The sitemap is a critical piece of every website, so it's important to understand it.

The sitemap is the spine around which your website will be built. The sitemap dictates-or rather, it demonstrates-the navigational structure of your new website. Here's a breakdown of what the sitemap contains:

Parent Pages: These are the pages that appear in the top-level navigation. The pages that appear in the navigation bar are those that your clients are most likely to be interested in. Remember, it's a hard fact of business that clients and prospectives care more about themselves than they do about you. Having one parent page about your company is good-having three relating only to you, not so good.

Child Pages: These are the pages that belong "under" the parent pages. Sometimes a child page can have its own child page. Anything beyond a "grandchild" page is unadvisable, as it can make your website look messy. Make sure the child page is a good fit for the parent page. Putting your Team Bios under the Services page is a sure-fire way to confuse your visitors.

Top Links: This is typically reserved for social media links. We won't discuss here the pros and cons of the various social networks. Suffice it to say that you should only post a link to social media accounts if you plan to update them regularly. A Facebook page that hasn't been updated since February 2010 is worse than not have a Facebook page at all.

Bottom Links: These links are typically overlooked. They include pages like Privacy Policy or Legal. While you may think no one reads this information, it's important to include it nonetheless. Your visitors have a right to know what information (if any) you're collecting from them and how you're using it. A Privacy Policy is especially important if you have a contact form or an email newsletter sign-up.

Even if you aren't developing the website, it is just as important that you understand the purpose and value of the sitemap. Every website project should start with a sitemap. Without it, you risk your website becoming a wobbly, unstructured mess. When selecting a web designer be sure that a sitemap is included in the project plan.

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