The Captain Coder Podcast

How to Define Website Structure with a Sitemap

February 09, 2022 Marisa VanSkiver, Captain Coder Season 1 Episode 41
The Captain Coder Podcast
How to Define Website Structure with a Sitemap
Show Notes Transcript

So you want to charge more money for the websites that you're building? Then you know that you have to provide the value to be able to charge more.

Well, you should be anyway.

We talked in episode 40 about adding value to the websites you're building and the first thing on that list was to improve your upfront planning.

Yea, the super boring part of any web design process (and I love planning!).

But, doing the upfront work does a lot to improve the websites you're building and helps you to have happier customers, so it's all worth it I swear.

Today, we're going to dive a bit deeper into that planning process and talk about how you can create one of the first steps to any website build - the sitemap.

Deciding on a website's structure with a sitemap not only makes your job easier because it's all laid out upfront, but it helps your customer feel aligned with the process and help to clarify the site's goals.

Ready to learn the most effective way to create a sitemap?

Mentioned Resources:
Search Engine Journal URL Structure Guide

So you want to charge more money for the websites you're building, then you know that you have to provide more value to charge more. Well, you should be anyway. We talked in last week's episode, episode 40, about adding value to the website's rebuilding. And the first thing on that list was improving upfront planning. Yes, the super boring part of any web design process, and I love planning, but doing the upfront work does a lot to improve the website you're building and helps you to have happier customers. So it's all worth it. I swear today we're going to dove a bit deeper into that planning process and talk about how you can create one of the first steps to any website. Build the site map. Now, deciding on a website structure with a site map not only makes your job easier because it's all laid out upfront , but it helps your customer feel aligned with the process and help to clarify the website's goals. Now, are you ready to learn the most effective way to create a site map? Let's dig in. When creating a new website structure, whether this is their first website or a total redo, a lot of lower level web designers will just recreate the current website structure or come up with simple pages to include. Why is this a problem? Because it doesn't take into account the goals or the objectives of the new website, especially if this is a website rebuild. There's a reason that they're rebuilding the website. Something isn't working for that business, and chances are it's not just the design. They don't like what they actually don't like is that their leads have slowed down or their sales have slipped. While a lot of businesses think they just need a refresh. What they don't understand is that their website is probably disorganized, or it's Frankenstein in a way that doesn't make sense to their target customer. That's where you come in before you start with anything, including the site map. You have to ask what the purpose of the new website will be. Are they trying to increase certain aspects of their business? Do they want to downplay another aspect? What's their top selling service that they need to keep at the forefront? Knowing the real reasons why a business wants to redo their website will help you to structure their website to deliver on those changes. For instance, I had a client that wanted to downplay her physical location in order to increase her online product sales. We changed up her site to include a shop option as the very first thing and her navigation. And we turned her location into more of a destination feel with a plan your visit page that then linked to three different sub pages. Her location was well-established in the local community, but she wanted to appeal to people outside of the locale to gain a broader audience. Simply changing up her website structure makes it more clear that she offers direct e-commerce sales. You now know the goals for our business and you understand the purpose the website is fulfilling. Now you have to break down exactly what the website needs to include. Page wise step one Review the current pages If your client has an existing website, you can certainly start with the existing structure, but don't stop there. Treat this as you would a new website and ask what pages you would need to align with the goals that you discussed. What will drive their customers to make purchases? And what pages do you need to make that structure make sense? Look at the pages on the current website and ask yourself if they're actually needed or not. Do you have pages that are extraneous or covering outdated services they no longer want to offer? Are there pages that seem like duplicates of one another? Now, let's talk about that last question for just a second. Taking a step back and evaluating a website's current structure can have one major benefit. It can help to prevent duplicate content a lot of businesses add to their website over time, trying to adjust for changes in their internal processes or in the market. But what can happen is that you have pages that cover many of the same or similar topics. If the website is a bit older or was written for location based SEO strategies, you might also have multiple pages with the same content, just with the city name or service swapped out. Now, while that was a valuable SEO tactic at one time, it doesn't really have that same effect anymore. And honestly, duplicate content can harm your SEO. Break down all of the pages a website has and asks. Is this a duplicate in any way of a main page or service? If so, rip it out. Less is more when it comes to you, X and SEO these days. Now step two, you want to start your new site map. You know the website's goals and objectives. And now you have a pretty good idea of where you're starting from. Now it's time to lay out the structure of the new site map with all site maps. You want to start with the home page. Every website has a home page, after all, and the most important pages will be linked directly from that homepage. So go back to your notes from step one and ask yourself What are the most important pages this client currently has? What can we trim out and what do we need to do to reflect new services or company changes? Now go to your site, map, outline and add the five main five to eight navigation items that you'll link and your main top level navigation. These don't have to be the final pages, but start somewhere with what you think are the most important products, services or pages to include. Now why only eight navigation links When you provide too many options up front, you can cause your user a lot of confusion. Keeping your main navigation simple will help them to get through your website and dig in to the main pages from those main pages you can link. Further into your website to sell products and services that they might be interested in. The key here, though, is to narrow down the choices so they actually make a choice instead of getting overwhelmed and bailing. Now Step three do some comparative research. You've got your basic structure in mind for the main pages. Now I want you to take a step back and do some comparative research. Now, why do I do this after I've done the first round of navigation items? I have found over the years that it helps me to stay focused on the business's unique goals to do my first draft of the site map at least the main navigation items first. This allows me to flesh it out without all of the other noise of other websites in their industry. But then I need to reaffirm that I'm doing the right thing, or I'm not missing something obvious that I didn't think of. So go to three to five competitor websites for your clients. Chances are they've already given you the websites of their competitors. What pages do they include? What do they list first, and how deep is their own navigation? Is there something you feel like you're missing? So now get that site back out and reevaluate, ad or adjust the pages, but ensure that you're still focused on the business's main goals. After all, not all businesses are created alike, even in the same industry. Competitors can help you get a good idea, but just because they did, something doesn't mean you have to step four fine tune the deeper structure. So now that you have your main navigation decided on, it's time to fine tune the deeper page structure. If the website your building only has five to seven pages, you might be able to skip the step now on each of these main navigation pages. You want to list out in the sitemap any sub pages that you might link to from that parent page that will remind you what links and buttons to add on to that parent page. To take users to the sub pages, but also help you place any pages that just weren't important enough for the main navigation. Let's break down an example for a service based business. one of their main navigation links could be a service page. From there, you may link to pages for each of their provided services. You'll want to make to note those sub pages in the site map and plan to add links on the service page to those sub services. Now, step five, decide on the URL structure, so you now have the pages you want to include in the main navigation and all of their sub pages decided. For many Web designers, they could stop there and pass it off to the client for review. But I highly recommend you do this next step first and showcase the actual you or all of these pages. Not only does seeing the actual slides tend to help clients understand the page structure better, it helps you to begin the SEO strategy of the website. Now it's a highly debated How much are URL structure impacts your SEO anymore? It's still a determining factor in your UX, which is a factor in your SEO. And let's be real. You girls tell users and Google quickly what a page is about. I always recommend that you use plain English names. The shorter, the better for your internal URLs. This helps customers be able to remember them, but also provides a cleaner experience. There has been a debate lately, too, on camel case URLs where you capitalize the first letter of different words. But not all servers recognize Misc mixed case URLs. The best method is still to separate any individual words in a new URL with hyphens and to include the keywords that actually reflect what the page is about. If you want to dig in more into your URL structure, best practices Search Engine Journal has an excellent URL structure guide that I'll link to in today's show notes. Now, when it comes to your sub pages, it's honestly on you to decide whether they need to be nested under their parents pages, URL or not. If that's a page really only exists under the parent, then you want to nest it. If not, and if it's linked to from other pages, you don't have to. A little confused. A good URL structure for a parent page can look something like your website dot com slash parent dash page slash sub dash service. For all of the site maps, I build my customers, I include the URL in the sitemap. Does this confuse some of my clients? Sure. But it also gives us a chance to talk about these URLs and make sure that we're on the same page where the main topic of a page. After all, the world needs to reflect the main subjects of that page, including the URLs in the sitemap. The review helps us to hone in and communicate. Now, Step six Finalize the site map with the client. OK, this is a bit of a given, but your last step in creating the site map and website structure is to review it all with your clients. Is it hitting everything they think it should? Is everything in the order from most important to their business and getting to clients to lease? Talking it through the lens of their overall goals and objectives will help them to understand what you're doing, but it will also give them a clear picture of where you're going with their project, especially if you're doing some major revamps to the website. Make sure they sign off on the new site map, too, so that when things come up later, you have that approval to point back to now without a site map and the proper planning structure up front. You can end up building pages that are outside of the scope of the original project, or you can spend time creating pages that a business doesn't actually need. Worse, you could be creating a website that's more complex than it needs to be. It's 100% worth the time to work with your client and plan everything out and get the structure in place before you start writing, copy or thinking about design. It'll only. It will not only save you money and make your website creation process more profitable in the long run, but it'll improve the end result you're creating to now . Thank you all for tuning in to this episode today. I hope to see you all again next week.