Web Design: How to Create a Sitemap

The outline you create for your website directly translates into your sitemap. The sitemap helps you visualize the structure of a website — its information architecture before you build it. To create a sitemap, you translate each main idea and subcategory from your outline into a diagram of boxes connected by lines and arrows to show how the pages interconnect.

A sitemap is critical to the construction of your website, and you’ll refer to it often throughout the development process.

To transform your outline into a sitemap, follow these simple steps:

  1. Start with a huge piece of paper.

    On paper you can quickly sketch out ideas and you have plenty of available design space. Find a large piece of paper and work in landscape orientation. (You’ll find that you need a lot of horizontal space.) After you work out the map’s details on paper, you can re-create it on the computer to make a nice, clean copy that you can distribute to both the client and the team.

  2. Draw a box for each web page.

    Starting with the home page, draw a box to represent each web page of the site. Put the home page box at the top of the paper. Then start a new row below and draw a box for each of your primary, secondary, and tertiary navigation group titles.

  3. Draw the subcategories.

    Begin a third row and draw a series of boxes for each page within the main sections. For space concerns, you may want to stack these pages vertically beneath their respective main idea boxes.

  4. Number the sections and subsections.

    An important step is to number each section so that you can refer to it more easily in the future and match it up with the official page index you create.

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A good sitemap foreshadows usability problems before your site goes into production. If your map has too many primary navigation categories that are each a little thin on content, you end up with a site that overwhelms the user with choices and clutters the screen without providing a lot of depth of content. Conversely, if your sitemap has just a few primary categories that each have a ton of stuff, you end up with a site that takes forever to navigate, making people click too many times as they drill down to the info they need.

The best balance to have is five to seven choices within your primary, secondary, and tertiary navigation sets, and content should be no more than two levels deep within each category.

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