What is a sitemap?
The sitemap is, essentially, the blueprint of a website. Like a blueprint, a sitemap often doesn’t look like much; it’s just a two-dimensional depiction of what will become a multidimensional website. But like a blueprint, the sitemap’s beauty is that it defines the sites’ design and intended usage which will influence every decision that is made in the whole creation process.
How is a sitemap is laid out?
A simple way to think about the organization of a sitemap is in terms of parent and child pages. A sitemap lays out your website in the same way a descendant tree lays out the generations of your family. When you are at your family reunion, your grandfather and grandmother are the oldest generation. Grandpa or Grandma Jones is the home page. They have five children who are your mother and your four aunts and uncles. This generation is the child pages of the home page. Similarly, you and your cousins are the child pages of your parents generation. Depending on the size of the website this organization can go on for several more generations.
What does a sitemap do for the website creation process?
From the User Experience standpoint the sitemap acts to lay out the easiest navigation from site entry to user goal. When you arrive at site’s homepage you are on a freeway. From there you would choose your highway then surface streets then ultimately the street that leads to the specific address of your destination. The sitemap is designed to make your navigation as intuitive as possible and minimize the amount of wrong turns or complete U-turns you make.
To make navigation as easy as possible, it is very important for the design and marketing teams to categorize and prioritize all the information that the client wants to provide on their website into a very understandable and intuitive hierarchy of pages. Many businesses will divide pages into product or service types, then into model types or services grades, then ultimately into specific products and services. Other types of businesses, hotels for example, want their websites to serve as a business card or billboard that displays the features and location of their business. Every business is unique in its goals, its structures and what it offers. The design and marketing teams take all this into account and carefully tailor the sitemap organization to each business.
With the organization clearly laid out, the design and marketing teams will then know what information will be displayed on each page and how each page will be laid out visually.
From the Development standpoint a sitemap helps developers visualize the location of each page on a website. It determines out how the URL structure should work and how each page relates to every other page. It helps developers make intelligent decisions when they set up a site so that they can write reusable code and set up the optional page attributes correctly. Coding with a well thought out sitemap in mind will make a better site structure, make the site easier to maintain and will save time in the long run.
Just as a home builder relies on a blueprints to build a functional, well-designed home that doesn’t have a toilet in the kitchen, a developer relies on a sitemaps to build a website that doesn’t have links that go to 404 pages.
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