Developing a Sitemap

Your sitemap shows the underlying structure of your website. It’s an outline, usually built in Excel, that lists all your website pages and describes their relationships to each other. 

Creating your sitemap is a great way to learn about your website content and set the stage for your content entryyou’ll need it to tell you what pages to create and where they belong. Sitemaps don’t need to explain all of the content on each page, but it is a good idea to have a sense of what that content should bethat way you know what you’re trying to organize.

Before You Create Your Site Map

  • Identify your content sources (current website, annual report, brochures, etc.). Make sure your team is in agreement and thinking about the answers to your content questions.
  • Think broadly about your content categories. They don’t have to be based on your department’s organizational structure, or the structure of your current content sources. The structure should be based on how your audience thinks about your content.
  • If you’re migrating or redoing an already existing website, don’t just copy your current sitemap. Chances are, your current site structure won’t meet the needs of your content going forward.

Organizing Your Content

  • Limit your main navigation to 4-7 sections. Too few and you risk overwhelming each page; too many and the pages may not be grouped efficiently. 
  • Keep your secondary navigation shallow. The pages that live under your main navigation items are called secondary navigation and appear in the left sidebar on internal pages. Some sites have pages three or four levels deep, but if your sitemap has more, it could be a sign that we need to streamline content. We can help you determine how many levels your navigation needs.
  • Keep your navigation labels brief. Lengthy labels can be confusing and visually crowding. Choose labels that are active, descriptive, and specific to your audience’s language.
  • Be sure to include “About Us” and “Contact Us.” (These are standard across the university, and users will expect to see them.) Put the “About Us” page first in your main navigation, and put the “Contact Us” page last—think of them as bookends for all your other content.

Creating Your Sitemap in a Spreadsheet

  • The outline should include only the pages on your website. External links, PDFs, Word docs, and other elements can be identified in the “Contents” column in your spreadsheet.
  • List all your pages. Yes, all of them. 
  • Number the pages in your spreadsheet:
    • The homepage is always labeled 0.0 and it does not have any subpages. 
    • After the homepage, number your main navigation items 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and so on. 
    • Secondary pages use 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc. Follow this same pattern for subpages by adding additional dots.
  • Try to fill out as much of the template as possible, but don’t worry if you don’t have the answers for all the columns. It’s intended as a guide—the more you know about your content and pages, the smoother your entire process will be going forward.
  • During this process, be sure to think like an Information Architect! Information Architecture is the practice of structuring information. This means organizing and ordering your content, usually expressed through a sitemap, content model, and/or wireframes. Clearly and correctly label your content, ensuring that content is findable and searchable, and arranging and displaying content in a logical, intuitive way. 

When you’re done filling out your spreadsheet, send it to your friendly neighborhood User Experience & Information Architecture Specialist. We'll review it to ensure that it matches the content planning that we've discussed, and supports the needs of your audiences. Finally, we'll collaborate with you to finalize the structure before turning on your pre-production site.