Don’t F#ck with the Sitemap

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

-Benjamin Franklin

Most people don’t build websites every day. To accommodate this, we have a workflow that eases you into the process. After we’ve gone through our initial “get-to-know-one-another” meetings, one of the very first tasks is to create a sitemap. It’s our blueprint used in the design and development phases. While a “sitemap” can mean a few different things to different people, for our purposes, it is a document that we work on together to outline your website’s needs. While it may seem to be a pretty simple document, I can’t stress enough how important it is to the potential success of the project.

In our “always connected” world, a brand’s website is your 24/7/365 ambassador. Barring unforeseen technical/network issues, your website never takes a vacation or gets sick. It is a critical component of an effective brand. Because of that, clients often feel overwhelmed and anxious when starting the website design/development process, especially if this is the first website that they have created.

The sitemap is the keystone to your website. And that makes it critical to your brand.

It accounts for everything that must be in a website. And the term “website” can mean many different things – a single page that is little more than a digital business card to full-blown e-commerce systems like amazon.com. So the sitemap must be specific. When a client wants a “website,” what all are they expecting us to deliver?

What does your website need?

We build WordPress-based websites, which helps to constrain the options a little bit but there are still many potential variables. How many static pages of content should the site have? Will you need a blog? If so, will you consistently post new articles? If you don’t believe that you will keep up, significantly out-of-date blogs can actually hurt more than they help. Will you need to have a staff section? You get the idea – even with the filtered number of options in WordPress, there’s still a pretty blank slate with which to start.

How should your website work?

Beyond the basic content types that WordPress offers (pages and posts) and potentially any custom content post types needed, the sitemap also helps us understand how your site will function. If search engine optimization (SEO) is important to you, we can add some tools to help with those efforts. Will the site need to integrate with other sites? For instance, if you have a third-party service that your clients log into, it’s useful to have the login form baked into the site, making it seem like all the same site. Or if you have some sort of data feed that you want to incorporate into your site somehow – we need to know that. We have to know your specific functionality needs as soon as possible. The sitemap is the foundation for those needs.

How should your website be organized?

The sitemap also helps steer the design process by prioritizing information. If the site has 6 static pages of content, they may all seem equally important to us, but that probably isn’t the case for you. When we know your priorities, we can organize a site that matches.

How much did you pay for this, again?

The sitemap is most important to avoid scope-creep (uncontrolled changes/additions). By spending the time in the planning phase to draft a specific and exhaustive sitemap, we can prevent costly changes in the later phases of design and development. We have yet to encounter a client that is willing to give us a blank check to cash at the end of a project (if you know of any, please put us in touch with them!), so the bottom-line cost of a website determines how we operate. In order to give you the most accurate cost estimate, it is crucial that sitemap be as detailed as possible.

Building a website is like building a house.

If a homebuilder decides that they want to add a bathroom on the second floor, when do you think that it would be most cost-effective for them to do so? After the builders have already built the second floor? Obviously not.

If you want to make changes after the site has gone into the design phase, it means we will probably have to throw away work that we have already done. The development phase is even more costly. It is possible but will likely mean even more wasted time and effort (and, most importantly, client money).

When we make a website, the client is an integral part of the process. As important as the designer or the developer. We all want the final product to be not just eye-catching but thoughtful – smart. A sitemap makes the difference.