A sitemap is the foundation of a new website, or the restructuring of a current one. Without it, it’s like writing a book without a plot, characters, or title. Just as a writer wouldn’t start a new novel without an outline of how the story will unfold, don’t try to build (or revamp) your website without a sitemap.
Start with Your Value Proposition
What does your business bring to the table that your competitors don’t? Think about how you differentiate yourself and demonstrate your unique value proposition.
Ask yourself a few key questions to better understand the value you provide:
- How do I want clients to feel when they work with me?
- What do I want to leave my clients with when we have completed this project?
- What do I want the impact of my work to be six months later when the project is over?
- When I do periodic check-ins during the project, how do I want my clients to feel?
These questions can start teasing out the intangible value that you are providing, and can strengthen your pages’ messages. Rather than being rooted in service-based lingo, your content can be focused around the connection you make with your clients, and the long-term impact it will have.
What are Your Services?
Rather than simply making a list of all the tasks your team can handle, start by zooming out a level:.
How do you solve increasingly complex problems for your clients?
Allow me to explain with a simple example.
As a digital marketing agency, a lot of our work focuses around websites. However, we also have team members who are skilled in marketing strategy, email marketing, graphic design, content creation, SEO, SEM, amongst many other talents.
A simple navigation bar on our website would contain a Websites tab (since it’s our primary offering) as well as a general Services page that contains all the “other stuff” that we do.
However, we looked at our clients and determined what problems we are solving for them:
- Websites: This is typically our “foot in the door” with clients. We build a website and assist them with other marketing strategies after it launches.
- Digital Marketing: In addition to building websites, we can help companies with their overall digital marketing strategy, and how to get customers to their website (and stay there). This is typically the next step for companies after we build their website.
- Partners: We have another group of clients that we serve by providing our team as an “arm” of their existing company to help expansion efforts (ie. a company might be selling websites, but doesn’t have the team to support this effort).
The complexity of the problems we solve for our customers increases for each page in our sitemap. Once we define these three buckets, the rest of the content falls into place.
Go through the exercise of defining the customers’ journey through multiple years working alongside your team. Labeling the steps in that growth process will showcase what problems you’re solving for customers along their journey.
Create the List of Pages
Start simple – it’s a lot easier to manage. Open up a Google Doc and start making a bulleted list. Your list could look like this:
- Service Tier 1
- Service Tier 2
- Service Tier 3
The “About” and “Contact” page should be angled appropriately based on the line of business that you are in.
When you list out the Service Tier pages, a common thought may pop up: “Since we bucketed our services into these problem-based tiers, there is a lot of information that we could talk about. We have a variety of products/services that we want to spotlight. Where should those go?”
That’s where subpages become a necessity.
Let’s go back to our example above. With all the other marketing services we could provide, our sitemap now would look like this:
- Web Design Process
- UX Research
- Digital Marketing
- Email Campaigns
- Blog Writing
- Social Strategy
- Staff Augmentation
- Sales Assistance
- Building a Team
As a customer scrolls through a top-level page, if they want to learn more about a sub-topic that interests them, there will be a plethora of links at their disposal.
Think about your page hierarchy this way:
The deeper a customer dives into the sitemap, the more detail they want to know.
The first-level pages should be more about connecting emotionally with customers and empathizing with their pain points. If someone clicks a link to learn how you specifically work and the processes you offer, they want more details. The subpages come into play here, as the prospect looks for more information.
Conversely, if you try to put every detail about each service on your top-level pages, there will be too much content, it will be overwhelming, and a customer will not know what to do.
Third- and Fourth-Level Content
This is where we start talking about very specific questions that customers could have. Take your list of second-level pages, and write down a list of specific questions that customers have related to that topic. Finding these topics could come in a few different ways:
- Talk to your sales team about common questions customers ask
- Use a tool like SEMRush to connect keywords to questions
- Do some Google searches around the topic and pinpoint blog post titles that are near the top
This content should live inside of blog posts most of the time. Doing so will allow you to elevate the viewpoints of your team members by showcasing how much knowledge they have on particular topics.
Let’s take a look at two second-level pages from my example above: Email Campaigns and Analytics.
- Email Campaigns
- How to Set Up MailChimp
- 4 Tips on How to Find the Right Email Drip Cadence
- Should I Send My Blog in a Weekly Email?
- How Can I Use My Email Campaign to Drive Traffic to My Website?
- How to Set Up Google Analytics
- Analytics 101: Terminology
- How to Read Heatmaps
- How Much Traffic Do I Need to Make Testing Decisions?
While those topics aren’t SEO-optimized (and could probably be tailored a bit better), the goal is to answer key questions that your sales team can use with potential clients, offer information that your web visitors want, provide good SEO value to your website, and act as a point of reference within other pages of your website.
In summary, I look at the content depth in a simple way:
- First-level pages (ie. Home, Websites, Digital Marketing, etc): Pages that live in the navigation bar and whose driver should be to emotionally connect with your audience.
- Second-level pages (ie. WordPress, Email Campaigns, etc): These are pages that provide a more detailed look into a particular service/product
- Third-level pages (ie. How to Setup Google Analytics): These should be blog posts that start showing your team’s knowledge depth.
Defining Core Sections of Each Web Page
Now that we have our sitemap completed, it’s time to define key areas of each page. This will help when we start wireframing and designing the pages themselves. If we know the story we want to tell on each page, laying out content is a breeze.
In all the sections I talk about below, don’t get too detailed. The goal is to write a single sentence for each section. This allows enough direction when the design process begins.
- Problem Statement: What is the single problem that this customer is trying to overcome?
- What does Failure Look Like: Showcase that you understand what lack of action looks like without getting too dire.
- How To Guide Them To Success: What path are you going to take customers on and which services will help them overcome this problem?
- What Other Customers Have Said: Find a testimonial from a client that you have helped in this fashion. You want a customer to think: “Oh yeah, that sounds like me!”
- Call to Action: What action do you want someone to take (fill out a form, click a specific button for an offer, call, etc)?
If you have gone through and answered these questions for each page on your sitemap, you are ready to start the wireframing process or restructure the content of your website. You can pass this document off to all parties involved: content writer, designer, and developer so that everyone is aligned when updating the website.