Sitemaps

Shownotes:

Planning a business website at first glance looks simple. You need information about you and your business on your new website and you have a lovely web designer all signed up to help you. However, have you thought about how many pages you’re going to have? Do you know what content you’re going to need on those pages? What happens when someone visits your website? What journey do you want them to go on? In fact there are many questions that you’ll need to answer and in this episode I talk you through how you can make the process more streamlined and more focussed with the use of a sitemap. Your lovely web designer will most definitely thank you for listening.

Transcript:

INTRO: This is the Help! My Website Sucks podcast – your bitesize guide to web design. I’m Amy Gumbrell, a freelance WordPress web designer and when I’m not building udderly functional and beautiful websites, I love talking about them. In fact I’m on a mission to make websites next level easy and to make sure that your website doesn’t suck.

Whenever I start a new website project, I may not know about what content is going to be included, how the images are going to be laid or indeed the final number of pages. However there is one thing that is sure to help and that is a sitemap. Today’s episode is all about that very topic – sitemaps.

Before I tell you why this is a great idea, let’s be clear on something. A sitemap does refer to a couple of distinct things albeit related. The first one is a file that you can add to your website for the purposes of letting Google and other search engine bots discover what your website is all about. Not all websites need one. In fact small websites and those that have great internal linking within the website. For most of this episode I’m going to focus on the other type of sitemap. The one that helps everyone involved in a website project visualise what the website is going to include and how it all links together.  However I will bring it back to the technical one too as you know what – it’s worth me telling you a bit about it just in case you hear it being muttered by your web designer (and they will at some point!) at least you’ll be able to nod and smile at them with a bit of smugness that you already know a little about sitemaps. 

Right from the get go my focus is always on the end goal of the website. I ask a lot of questions including things like what do you want people to do when they get to your site? What do you want them to do on your site? Do you want them to buy something/contact you/book an appointment/browse? This is when I start to scare people (I do try not to but I love a good q and a! Suddenly I’m asking the client to think about their website as having a purpose and not ‘just because my competitor has one’ or ‘everyone has a website so I thought I’d get one’ and that can be quite an in your face lightning bolt moment. By putting together a sitemap, we can clarify the website’s purpose and ensure that every page and every piece of content has a reason for being part of the site. I’m sure we can all think of websites that are difficult to use or where you can’t find the information you need as you dig through layers of irrelevant content and clicking numerous buttons going round in circles.  Seriously drives me round the bend. And if using a website gives you a poor experience – why would you go back? 

A sitemap is essentially a flowchart of pages from the homepage to the navigation menu and then any submenu items. This flow of content links to the goal setting – to use a fancy schmancy marketing concept of ‘conversion funnels’ -it helps you get your funnel super streamlined and increases the potential number of customers who do what you want in as few steps as possible – every button and link click is another possible move towards hitting the cross in the top corner when they say bye bye. Even if you aren’t building your website for profit and have a personal blog, wouldn’t it be nice if people stayed a little longer to read your latest blog post? 

Another advantage of a sitemap is to confirm what assets you are going to need for each page. By assets I mean images, videos, written content etc. It is so helpful for everyone to know who needs to do what and when. This can even help you identify any duplicate content. I often talk to people who plunge straight into building their website to find that their About page is almost a replica of their History of the Business page. They may only find this out when they come to update only one of the pages and the other page becomes outdated. This may cause confusion for your website visitors. Not good. 

Ok I’m going to bring it back to the techie type of sitemap – the one to do with SEO. As much as the world of search engine optimisation can be a tad confusing and feel like one clichéd marketing word after the next, it is vital in helping people find you and your business. I’m not sure what the current stats are about search engine usage but I can bet you many, many Vegas dollar bills that if people are looking for what you offer or sell and they haven’t been given a direct referral to you, they’ll use a search engine. A sitemap informs search engines about pages on a website that are available for crawling. By crawling the bots aren’t in baby-like positions, I’m referring to the process of finding new or updated pages to add to Google of course. It lists all the links from the website including info such as when it was last updated, how it links to other places in the website and even how often it changes. A sitemap can be a simple text file but best practice is to add a sitemap in XML format – are you ready for a breakdown of an acronym? XML stands for Extensible Markup Language and is used for structured information. The search engine bot essentially indexes each page as it follows the path around your website. If the sitemap was not available and it couldn’t find its way around, this can have a detrimental effect on your search engine rankings and in turn may affect your organic traffic. i.e. no one can find your business as it is so far down the rankings and as much as we don’t like to admit, people rarely make it past the first few pages of Google or other search engines on their quest to find something. 

Building a website is very much like getting in the kitchen and putting together a masterpiece meal. You can’t make that meal until you’ve thought about what you want to eat. Pasta? Baked potato? Salad? Steak and chips? What is your goal of that meal? And of course you can’t make the meal without thinking about the ingredients. Food related metaphors aside, a sitemap will help and if your web designer only mentions the XML type, it may be they have a different way of planning to make you a tasty meal (fair enough everyone has their own style) or it could be they like to get out all the pots and pans and pull out all the food from the cupboards and see what you end up with. I know what I’d prefer!

OUTRO: If you’re hearing this message, you’ve reached the end of another Help! My Website Sucks podcast episode. Thank you so much for listening – I really appreciate it. If you need help with your website, get in touch at twocowsweb.co.uk and until next time bye bye for now!

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