Sitemaps are essential to a successful website. Yet, sitemaps are confusing and many of you have different ideas or concepts of what a sitemap is. Let's clarify what and why we are asking, or requiring you, to submit a sitemap to us. To do that, we need to start with some basics.
Two Types / Two Purposes for Sitemaps
Sitemap versus Site Map. HTML versus XML. Site build versus submitting to Google and other search engines. It's confusing!
Adding the confusion is the continual change and evolution that is constant in the world of building websites and online content. Right now, we are going to simply tell you that while there may be a technical difference between the spellings of "sitemap" and "site map", let's ignore that for the sake of this article.
Content Sitemap: foundation of building your website content - the architectural framework, the content organization. This is the first primary step you must embark upon in a new site or updating site project.
XML Sitemap: aiding search engines (bots) to indexing your website. This is specific to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) only, and is the XML sitemap output that you may be aware about. [More on this below.]
We'll focus most of this page on the Content Sitemap, which is any type of compilation (often in a spreadsheet format, but sometimes created as a flowchart, HTML file or other) that helps you organize your pages on your website.
If your website is going to have more than 10 pages you need a sitemap. In building a sitemap, you can identify what content belongs to what section(s) of your website, and then trace how many steps or how far your users will have to go to find that information. You can see how "wide" or how "deep" your users will need to go. You can also identify what content may be missing, or what content you have unnecessarily duplicated.
FaithWebsites requires a sitemap of ALL new projects, including existing customers who are updating their site and doing a Wrap. The reasons we require this of you includes being able to build your new site's architecture for you and if you are doing a Wrap, we must know where to move the existing pages to align with the new site design.
We also require this because its simply essential in building a successful website. In 12 years of business, we've never seen a site launch or be successful without at least a simple sitemap completed at the start of a project. In other words - this is for both technical requirements and for your best interest!
While you can use any tool to build and compile your sitemap, to submit to FaithWebsites, it must be in a spreadsheet format. We offer this template file as a basic worksheet for you - use this, or follow this model to provide an acceptable format file for us to build your website with.
1: Main Navigation & Directory pages
We would recommend the following steps in building your sitemap:
1. Begin with your Main Navigation / Directory pages
These will be all of your main navigation on your website design, and they can also include a few other directories, which may be linked to through other means on your website.
An example for schools may include:
Links noted with an "*" may or may not be main navigation, but are certainly directories. Directories are a defined section of your website where you will have a main page (landing page) and subpages.
An example for churches may include:
- Join Us / Services / Visit
- Connect / Community / Care / Support
- Sermons / Media
- Give / Serve / Donate
- Events / Calendar*
As noted above, you can create additional directories that may not be listed in your main navigation, but may be accessed through utility navigation or other links on your site.
2. Add Subpages
Now that you have your primary pages, you can build upon your sitemap with relevant subpages. Some primary pages, or directories / categories, may not require subpages, but most will.
You can have up to 3 level of subpages, also referred to as nested pages: level 1, level 2, and level 3. We advise that the majority of your pages should be Level 1 pages. Only use level 2 and 3 pages for sections where it's natural for the user to require more information. An example of this would include registration forms or enrollment information nested underneath the "about our event" or "about enrollment process". In this situation, the user is motivated to click again to gain the information they need.
Remember that links - both internal and external (going to another site outside of yours), can be level 1, 2 or 3 and should be included in your sitemap too. This will help you identify how you and helping your users move quickly from section to section, or content to content.
At this point, you can submit your sitemap to your Sales Specialist or Project Manager at FaithWebsites and we can build your initial sitemap for your new site project. We encourage you to continue to the next steps, below, to ensure successful website content creation.
3. Content Preparation & Organization for Each Page: Content Strategy
With your outline, or sitemap, of your pages, you can take that and start adding in content goals for each page. This step is optional, but without this step, you may end up with a bunch of pages with content and nothing else. If you look at successful websites, you'll often see a distribution of content, combined with related images, headlines, related pages/links and information spread in a visually pleasing manner throughout each page. You can achieve this organization, too!
Take your sitemap and expand it further to include the elements you want on each page.
Here's an example:
- Banner Image: property wide shot with people standing near doors
- Welcome message
- Right side: service times at top, link to contact us page below
- Image of pastoral team inserted to the right of the welcome message text
- History content
- Older building images, use captions to add dates
You want to define the banner image, text content, images on the page and certainly key links or next steps that should be worked into or connected to that page. If you aren't sure what images are available, then jot down pictures that would be ideal.
With this kind of a detailed content strategy, you create a checklist of what needs to be written, compiled, organized, photographed and more. As you build content for each page, you can then use this as your master list. It also can be helpful if you have a team of volunteers helping you build content!
Sitemaps are essential for proper Search Engine Optimization, and your FaithWebsites CMS will automatically generate a sitemap XML file. This is different than the Content Sitemap we discussed above.
As an option, you can submit your sitemap.xml file to search engines. It is still considered (as of early 2015) a good practice to submit your sitemap to Google any time you have recently revamped your site, and/or at the start of a new site build. Note that Google does state that submitted your sitemap isn't guaranteed to "make" Google crawl or index your site. While this is an area we'll leave to experts, we do recommend that you submit your sitemap shortly after taking a new site live.
If you are unsure how to generate your sitemap XML file, contact us at Support.
Sitemaps for Wraps - Existing Customers Updating Website Design
Current customers updating to a new design may elect to buid a new site or do a wrap. If you are electing a wrap process, we still require a sitemap.
During a wrap, all your current pages must be aligned to a new directory (or category) location. We need to account for all existing pages and we have to do this quickly while taking your site from the old to the new design. The sitemap worksheet you submit to us must note the new location of all current pages.
More information on new versus wraps >>