Building a website is like building a house. Okay, not really. I mean, there’s no mortar or drywall or overalls involved (well, sometimes overalls – they’re very comfy). But there are some similarities – especially in the beginning stages.
When you build a house, you don’t start by hammering 2x4s together as the first step. You need a blueprint to plan out the dimensions, how many rooms there will be, and where each room will go. The same goes for your website. B2B websites consist of several pages – sometimes dozens or even hundreds – so you must start with a plan to identify what pages to include and how they will relate (i.e., link) to one another.
When building a website, this “blueprint” is known as the site map.
What Does a Site Map Look Like?
A site map is a hierarchical list of all the pages on your website. Visually, it looks similar to an organizational chart. Here’s a sample site map, so you can get an idea:
How Should I Construct My Site Map?
A site map tells the visitor how to navigate your B2B website. Have a look at the sample site map above. You always want to start with your home page at the top, as this is the “front door” that most users will enter your site on. Then, you drill down onto the top-level pages, which is the first row of pages you see below the home page. Typically, the top-level pages of your site map serve as general categories that give readers a sense of what type of information they will find there. Below the top-level pages are the second-level subpages, which start to get more specific. Then you go to the third level and so on, with each level becoming more specific the further down you go (note: we don’t recommend going too far past the third level, as visitors may get lost and your site becomes unwieldy).
Most humans understand this approach of drilling down from the general to the specific. For example, say you go to Target looking for a canteen. You may look at the store directory to guide you. You locate the “Sports & Outdoors” section. Once there, you find the aisle with the camping equipment. After browsing around a bit, you see the shelf with the canteens and pick one.
Read more: Why B2B web design projects are emotional.
Keep It Simple – and Intuitive
A site map should be organized in a logical, intuitive fashion that visitors will understand. Don’t get too creative here – save that for graphic design and copywriting. For example, put all of your product subpages – and only product subpages – under the top-level Products page. Don’t just shove a page under a heading where it doesn’t belong because you don’t know what to do with it.
Take some time to plan out the best journey for your audience. The visitors coming to your site will have a lot of experience looking at other B2B websites, and there are certain conventions they have come to expect. Make sure it’s easy for them to find what they need.
Read more: Anatomy of a B2B website homepage.
Site Map vs. Navigation
Many people confuse a site map with the website’s navigation. While they are related, they are not the same thing. The navigation is a functional tool on your website that allows visitors to browse and click links relevant to them. Oftentimes, it mirrors the site map. However, a site map is an internal document meant for planning and organizing. The site map should include all of the pages of your site, while you may choose to hide some pages from your navigation.
A Word on XML Sitemaps
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the XML sitemap. In this article, I’ve been discussing the value of putting together a site map when you start to plan a new B2B website design. This is different than an XML sitemap (notice it’s one word rather than two).
An XML sitemap is a technical file submitted to search engines that helps them index your website pages. This is typically a job for your web development team. That’s all I have to say about that.