Site Architecture: The Sitemap & User Journey
Have you ever been to a website only to get confused about where to go and what to look at next? There were so many things vying for your attention that it took what felt like a lifetime to find what you originally went there looking for? Chances are that this website wasn’t created with a look at site architecture, of information architecture. This is the way information and content on a website is organized in a logical and meaningful way – usually in a way that makes it as easy as possible for website visitors to use. It looks at all website content types and categories, and determines how it interacts with each other.
We build the sitemap and user journey at the same time because they are so intertwined in a website’s architecture. A sitemap defines what pages will be included in your website and their relation to each other, while your user journey defines how we want visitors to travel through your website in order to complete each of your primary and secondary goals.
These steps need to be completed before moving into the design phase of the website because they help us know what pages we need to create, and which calls to action should be on each page. The structure you determine here should be organized in a way to make it as easy as possible for someone to navigate to their website and find the information they are looking for.
Steps to Defining Your Sitemap
- Review Your Website Goals and Calls to Action: Knowing your goals and calls to action will help you categorize content in a way that drives visitors to complete your goals.
- Define Categories for Your Content: These categories are high-level categories and are how you generally want information to be defined on your new website. For the majority of websites, there will typically be “About Us”, “Our Products/Services”, and “Contact” categories; different industries may have additional categories but the general rule of thumb is that you don’t want to have more than 7 content categories.
- Evaluate any Current Content: Whether it’s on an existing website that you’re replacing, existing marketing materials, original business plan, or even possibly your financial statements, take some time to review what content you already have available to use. All different content can represent different pages on your website.
- Organize All Existing Content into Your Categories: Take all of the good and needs-to-be-adjusted content from the step above and place it into the different categories you’ve already defined.
- Determine Missing Content Pages: Look at each defined category and determine if there’s any additional content that should be included that you’ll need to create for your website launch – we’ll be helping you create some of this content in later chapters.
- Determine that Pages that Complete Your Goals: After reviewing your goals and calls to action in step one, take a look at all of the content that you’re going to have on your website and determine which of these can be used to complete your goals. For example, if one of your goals is to fill out a form to contact you, do you have a page in one of your categories that represents a form that can be filled out to get in touch with you? If not, be sure to add a new page to the category it best belongs to or create a new category specifically for it.
The categories and pages that you’ve laid out here is your general sitemap. This will be used to craft your navigation structure; the easiest option available is to have your categories as your top-level navigation pages, with each page as a subpage for that navigational menu.
Creating Your User Journey
Once you’ve developed your sitemap, you’ll want to start taking a look at how people will be travelling through your website. The user journey shows the best paths for website visitors to travel down to complete the goals that you’ve set for your website, and will help you know which pages to link to from each page when you’re building your website. (Using the same example as above, if your primary goal is to get someone to fill out a form to contact you, you would want to consider including some way to get them from an About Us page to the Contact page.)
To start the user journey, you want to look at how someone first gets to your website. There are typically a few ways that someone can get to your website – going there directly from punching the link into the address bar, finding an interior page of your website from a search engine or social media, going to a campaign-created landing page, etc. From this point, there are typically a few reasons why someone is on your website: to learn about you, to learn about your product/service, to read something (i.e. a blog post) that you’ve published, etc. When creating a user journey, you’ll want to look at each entry points, and look at how you’ll drive website visitors to information for every possible journey you’re creating, and then look at how you’re going to drive someone to complete one of your website goals.
For example, if someone is coming to your website to learn about you and your company, but they enter on an internal page through a search engine, how are you going to get them to learn about you? And from that point, how do you get them to complete your website goals?