Why a sitemap is key when planning any construction website
As a construction marketing and PR agency we’re often asked to create websites for clients. When we sit down with them to discuss the site, one of the first questions we ask the client is “have you got your sitemap?” to which we often receive a blank expression or the response “eh, no”. All too often the sitemap is completely disregarded and very little, or no, consideration has been given to the planning or structure of the website. The sitemap is the most important part of planning a website, yet is often the most overlooked. It is an effective planning tool that can help organise and plan the content of your website and should be the starting point for the website design.
It helps you identify duplicate content; it aids the user journey; it helps finalise the content and most importantly saves you time and money!
Construction companies undervalue a good sitemap so the below tips will hopefully help you see the value, importance and difference a well thought out sitemap can make.
What is a sitemap?
Put in simple terms, a sitemap is the page structure of your website. It shows every page of your website, how these pages are linked and the various levels of content within your site. It illustrates how everything in your website is connected.
Why is a sitemap so important?
- It makes you think about the content you place on your site and plan how users get to this content.
- It prompts you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask “what do I want from this website and how do I find what I need?”
- It provides you with the opportunity and means to dictate the user journey. Sitemaps make visitors follow the path you want them to.
- It allows you to determine the number of clicks a user makes to get to a particular part of your website and then provides the opportunity to amend the content path if this proves to be a high number – remember the 3 click rule!
- Sitemaps influence design. We’re often asked to produce designs before a sitemap has been created and whilst we can do this, we don’t recommend it as the design often changes as a result of the sitemap. You wouldn’t design a kitchen without planning where best to place the appliances and the type of cupboards you want etc. so why design a website before you’ve planned the structure?
- It’s crucial for helping deliver a website within budget. Producing a sitemap makes you think about why you want a new website, the content, the user journey and more. If you can finalise this before you start the design and build, it can save you money as changes = cost.
- Sitemaps help search engines to index your website as accurately as possible. A clear, well-planned sitemap leads to more efficient crawling and more accurately displayed search results for your website.
How do you start creating a sitemap?
Sitemaps take a lot of planning and research. We suggest you ask yourself these questions:
- Why do you want a website? Do you want to sell products, generate leads, raise brand awareness etc.?
- Who are your target audiences and what do they want from your website?
- What are the measurable goals/calls to actions the website needs to achieve (for example, sample requests, marketing literature, bookings etc.)?
- What do your competitors offer in comparison to your company? How do you differ from your competitors?
- What information and level of information do you want to provide?
- How do you want to present your information (for example case studies, brochures, technical sheets etc.)?
- Do you want any sections/items of content to be searchable? If yes, what are the search criteria and can they be achieved via your CMS?
- Where do you want the user journey to end? For example, once a user has found the service they’re interested in, does their journey end here or do you direct them to relevant case studies?
- How do you want to group information?
- How many clicks does it take for the user to complete their journey?
Once you have all this information you can begin plotting your sitemap. Start with your site’s top level navigation. What should these main sections be? Refer back to your objectives and what your customers want to help establish this. Remember these will be visible throughout the site so they need to be right. Try and keep things simple – with the number of sections and their titles. You want the design of the website to be clean and impactive so bear this in mind when deciding on the top level navigation.
Once complete, you can look at the secondary pages – these tend to be where the more detailed information is held. Again, think about the user journey when planning these and how you want to provide information. Remember too many dropdown menus can be off-putting for users.
Review and amend
With your sitemap complete, you can start to visualise your website and the user journey. Ask others to review it as a fresh set of eyes can provide valuable input. It can take several attempts to get a sitemap right so don’t be afraid to make changes or to invest the time needed to get it right for your business.
A final note
Sitemaps really are the most important part of planning a construction website. They can aid with the planning and production of content, the user journey, timescale and budget, design and more. Investing time in producing a good sitemap won’t be wasted, so give it a go and reap the benefits