Economic Development Website 101: Making a Visual Sitemap
January 15, 2018
If your organization is embarking on a redesign of your economic development website or even refreshing just a few webpages this year, the very first thing your design and development team is going to ask you for is a sitemap. We know that many economic development websites are inherited from one marketing team to the next, so you may likely be asking yourself, what is my current sitemap, how do I make a new one and why does it even matter? Don’t worry, we’ve put together this handy guide for all the sitemap-related info you could ever wish for. It will help you get started on your website journey or simply help you take inventory of your current site’s content layout, and as a bonus, make you sound super-smart when working with your website design team.
I’ve Heard of a Sitemap, But What is it Exactly?
Think of your economic development website as the home of your EDO. And the sitemap is your home’s floorplan. It visually outlines all the buckets of content on your website and shows the user how to get from one section to another, just like a floorplan shows you how to get from the front door of your home to the living room, kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and even the garage and laundry room. The sitemap is essential for both organizing your EDO’s content and acting as the roadmap for how you want the user to navigate through your website.
To clear up any confusion about the term “sitemap” you may have heard – there are three types of sitemaps that your website requires. The first is the visual sitemap that you and your web team will use to outline the site’s navigation, or floorplan per se. Then there’s an XML sitemap, the actual file of code, which is installed on your website by your IT team or server administrator, and is crucial for boosting your economic development website’s SEO. Lastly is the HTML sitemap which is mostly to help users navigate your site and help search bots crawl webpages for content. For the remainder of this blog, we will refer to the visual sitemap only.
Okay, But Why?
Whether you’re starting from scratch building your website, or plainly feel like you’ve lost all control of what information is on your website and where it is, the sitemap will help you get your organization’s content back on track by prioritizing key messages about your location, important resources for your audience and other key information about your community. It will also outline the most accessible route for a user to get to your most relevant webpages. Here, we’ll build a visual sitemap together so you can see how all the pieces of your website link together.
Let’s Talk About Structure
Continuing with the house metaphor, let’s think of your economic development website as a new home you’re building from the ground up. Because the sitemap outlines content and navigation, you’re going to want to think about what type of content pages you need, as well as how many clicks it will take to get to each one. First you need to make the foundation and ground floor of your website. This is your homepage, and the starting point from which a user can get to all of the other webpages, or rooms, on your website. The homepage is always the foundation, or base, of a sitemap, as you can see below.
Next, you’ll want to plan your top-level navigation webpages, or the main rooms in your home (kitchen, master bedroom, living room, etc.). The top-level navigation webpages are typically a mini-landing page that provides access to related sup-pages within a content bucket. For example, on economic development websites, standard second-level navigation pages are along the lines of “Doing Business,” “Major Industries,” “Living Here,” “About Us” and your blog, etc. On your sitemap, these subpages will fall just below the homepage in terms of structure:
While the top-level navigation pages are helpful in organizing your website’s main buckets of content – and general navigation flow – the second-level navigation pages outline exactly which type of content your organization needs a dedicated webpage for, and exactly how a user will get there. In our home construction, think of a second-level page as a room that you can only access from another room. Say, the master closet through the master bedroom, or the pantry via the kitchen.
Top-level navigation pages are broader content types, while the second-level subpages are more specific. For example, second-level navigation pages under the “Doing Business” navigation section would include webpages dedicated to “Major Employers,” “Transportation,” “Workforce,” etc. See how our sitemap is starting to come together?
So How the Heck Do I Make a Sitemap?
There are lots of tools to help you visually outline your sitemap, as this concept is an extension of mind mapping. We’re partial to Gliffy, a free software which lets you easily illustrate and export all types of ideas, but you can also make one using any other tool you find after a quick Google search, in an Excel document, or even draw it out on your biggest white board and take a picture! My advice is to use whichever tool or method your brain is naturally drawn to and go from there. Start from the homepage down and you’ll be just fine.
Need more help determining the sitemap for your economic development website redesign or refresh? Contact us for a free website audit or more information about how to get started. We’d love to help you build your location’s economic development digital blueprint.