How to create a good sitemap

The site map, or site structure, is like a map that plots out where the information on your website will go.

Sitemap example

Written by Smokeylemon Team

13 January 2020 | 4 Minute(s) to read

The site map, or site structure, is like a map that plots out where the information on your website will go. By having a good site map, you can determine what content is most important to the viewer, how to structure the navigation, and lets you know what content you need to provide your web designer.

The best time to develop a sitemap is before you create your site. However, if you’re upgrading or redesigning your website, it’s a good time for you to rework the whole structure. 

We have put together the two main reasons why you should take your time to design the best possible website structure as well as some tips and templates to help you out.


Reason 1: user experience (ux)

Think about it as a web user. You enter a website looking for something. You can either use the search box (if there’s one), look at the home page content for any reference to what you’re looking for, or use the navigation menu. The navigation is the element on the site that will best reflects a website’s structure. 

If the navigation doesn’t show you a category that is even close to what you are looking for or contains ambiguous categories that aren’t clear enough, you’ll get frustrated. Eventually, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you’ll leave the site. 

An effective site structure has a clear hierarchy, is simple and easy to understand.


Reason 2: search engine friendliness

The more appealing your site is to users, the more appealing it is to search engines, too. Google’s algorithm uses information from visitors to rank your site. If they leave right after landing on your site because of not being able to find what they’re looking for, Google will understand that your website isn’t helpful for that search query and therefore lower your search ranking from the results on future searches. If users land on your site and they stay, Google will believe your site helped them find what they needed and therefore show your site on relevant positions.


Our suggested website structure

Although each business is unique, we have a standard structure that could help you get started. Most websites should have a ‘pyramid’ structure with the home page at the top, followed by categories. If needed, you can also have subcategories and under these you can place individual pages (e.g products, services or blogs).

  1. Homepage
  2. Categories or sections
  3. Subcategories (only for larger sites, like e-commerce sites)
  4. Individual pages and posts

All your content should fit into this structure. If there’s content that is relevant to more than one section, you might need to review the sections naming or split the content into two separate pages, each under one single section.


Tips for creating a good sitemap

Hierarchy sitemap

The first thing you’ll need to do, based on our suggestions above, is creating the site hierarchy. When designing the hierarchy make sure you follow the tips below:


1. Keep categories simple

Avoid sophisticated names, don’t try to be ‘different’ here. Users should understand what each category contains straight away, by reading the menu. For example, don’t use names like ‘where we work’ for the contact page. By convention, users understand that all your contact information will be under a page named ‘contact’ or ‘contact us’. Why change it then?


2. Don’t use too many categories

You should be able to organise the website structure in a way that all your content fits in up to 5 main categories. Having more than 5 would confuse users and frustrate them. However, some sites like e-commerce websites might need more categories. As we said, this is just a suggestion that you can customise to suit your business’ needs.


3. Categories have to be unique and mutually exclusive

This is the rule of thumb for website structure design: All your categories should be unique and mutually exclusive, to allow for a quick understanding. Avoiding generic and ambiguous category names will help. Don’t make your users think!


4. Test your sitemap

Get someone from your business to check your sitemap. This type of internal feedback is key as nobody else (not even web experts) will have a better understanding of how the business works than your team. Once it’s approved by them, get advice from experts. We can help you make your sitemap as user-friendly as possible.

Ready to start? Download our sitemap template and play with category levels and names.