Sitemaps: An Overview


Sitemap: aka website hierarchy, site architecture, or site structure

When creating a new website, especially one with a lot of content, developing a sitemap is an important step. It creates an organizational structure of the site and helps to set the project up for success by identifying exactly which pages live where.

However, sitemaps, as important as they are, don’t get as much attention as they deserve, and we often find they get confused with other website elements. To shed some light on the topic, we’ve created a basic guide outlining sitemap basics and best practices to help you get a head start on your next website project.

Sitemap Basics

A website is made up of a group of individual pages. A sitemap, in its simplest form, is a list of these pages. Sitemaps can be shown in a document or in an app/program and are typically found on a page of your website.

Sitemaps can sometimes be confused with website navigation. To clarify, a sitemap is a list of pages, and the website navigation is how you get to those pages. Navigation examples include links, search, and menus—these all get you to the page you want. Your sitemap dictates where that page ‘sits’ on the website.

At Upanup, we often create sitemaps at the beginning of a website redesign project in a spreadsheet, where each cell is a page. This allows for easy adjustments and sharing with our clients. Here is an example:

Purpose of a Sitemap

Creating a sitemap is an important step in a new website project process because it ensures all existing site pages have a place on the new site. It also provides a visual representation of how the pages will be grouped—in child pages and parent pages.

Child pages belong to or ‘sit under' parent pages. For example, "Mayor and Council" and "Bylaws" are child pages under the parent page, "City Hall". In this example, the parent page, "City Hall" has two child pages.

Often in an old site, pages have been added over time and they aren't necessarily grouped in the best way. A site redesign is also a good opportunity to revisit this sitemap structure and take a fresh approach.

When a complete sitemap is included on a page within a website, it also helps search engines ‘read’ your site and understand how content is grouped. This helps search engines index the information on your site and is a best practices approach for ensuring your website is properly optimized.

How many levels should a sitemap have?

Ideally, all pages within a site are accessible within three clicks. Therefore, we recommend keeping your sitemap to a maximum of three levels. If you have fourth-level pages on your existing website, there are a number of design and functionality options to get this content to the third level while keeping it easy to read. For example, you could use accordions, styling such as titles and headers, or anchors.

Sitemap Best Practices

  • Group similar pages together
  • Don't duplicate menu items
  • Keep to three levels

Also, remember to use the terminology of your audience—your customers or community—rather than that of your internal departments, or jargon. This will ensure users can easily find what they are looking for and will create a better overall experience for users.

Lastly, if there are several options for the name of a page, pick one then include its synonyms within the page's body content so users can still find it in your search.

Sitemap Benefits

Creating a sitemap is important stage of a new website project. It keeps content organized, it helps with usability, and it creates an opportunity to develop an effective process for adding new pages in the future. When incorporated into your new site, it also ensures your website will be recognized by search engines.

At Upanup, we have extensive experience creating sitemaps. Whether it be complex sitemaps for enterprise-level websites or small, concise sitemaps for brochure sites, we have the knowledge and expertise to help guide and develop a solid structure for your next website solution.

Need help developing a sitemap for your website project? Contact us, we’d love to help!

By Amanda Hemingway
Marketing & Communications
November 27th, 2017
Disclaimer: Our team members contribute to this blog in their own voices. As such, opinions expressed in this post are not necessarily shared by Upanup. If you are curious or concerned, please contact us.