A Guide to Viewing Sitemaps

A sitemap is the critical foundation of a website as it facilitates where information is located and how it is interconnected. Similar to a book, you can think of a sitemap as the table of contents for a website, but it shouldn’t be limited to that definition. It is much more comprehensive in that it also visually displays content relationships, navigation, site goals, layout and page template information, and much more.

Creating a sitemap is the first step in the architecture phase of a website project, and it establishes the framework for the navigation and content management of the site.


Sitemap preview


Overall Structure

  • A sitemap can be overwhelming, but it is organized like a tree once you pass the first sections of header, footer, and homepage elements.
  • The map is organized in tiers starting with the first tier navigation, which is what you see on the homepage navigation.
  • The second tier shows the options that will be shown under each first tier element. This is continued with the third tier, fourth tier, and so on.
  • Keep in mind that each element under each tier is not necessarily a ‘page.’ It may or may not contain content, but it’s a way to organize and categorize navigation on the website.


Header and Footer Elements

  • The elements of these two sections are more of a necessity than anything else.
  • The header elements usually consist of the logo, main navigation, social icons, etc.
  • The footer usually overlaps with the social media, and it also includes contact info, site links, and other necessary elements of a website.


Start with Homepage Goals

  • The goals are broad ideas about the new website derived from the inspiration sites provided by the client.
  • It is easiest to start with these because it gives the viewer an initial broad and visual perspective of the new website.
  • The homepage goals serve as a guide for viewing the rest of the sitemap.


Sitemap // First Tier

  • Remember to look at these from top to bottom because they should be in order of ‘importance.’
  • Keep in mind that one word titles for elements is key for a website to be aesthetically pleasing and easy to use.
  • The first tier navigation should cover all the bases that the company wants to exhibit on the website.
  • They should be broad, yet direct and clear for the user.
  • Lastly, there shouldn’t be too many so it does not crowd the homepage, but there should be enough to not crowd the other tiers underneath.


Sitemap // Second Tier

  • Everything on the second tier should be under its appropriate first tier element/category.
  • Again, keep in mind that not every element is a ‘page.’
  • These should also be listed in order of importance within each section.


Sitemap // Third Tier and Beyond

  • Overall, make sure there aren’t too many tiers or else pages and content will get lost in navigation.
  • Just as before, make sure every element is under its appropriate parent element.
  • One thing to keep in mind is to make sure every element is sufficient enough to be alone.
  • One more reminder—every element does not necessarily mean it is a page with content.


Widget Area // Highlighted Areas

  • Any highlighted areas on the sitemap usually indicate a widget area.
  • A widget area is a place to display created widgets, such as calendars, videos, etc.
  • There are two main reasons for a widget area: (1) To give things that don’t necessarily have a place to live on the site a home, and (2) To emphasize something important that should occur on more than one page
  • Since these don’t fit into the tree of the sitemap navigation, it is usually highlighted somewhere beneath the site map or beneath the goals. 


Leave Homepage Elements for Last

  • These are easiest to evaluate last because many of these elements feature parts of the page elements, so it is easier to understand what it consists of after knowing the layout of the site navigation.
  • Keep in mind inspiration sites while looking at this section, since some ideas are derived from them.
  • The number of elements on the homepage depends on the type of homepage design.
  • The homepage elements are also listed in order of importance, which is how they will be displayed on the homepage.
  • These elements should show the main aspects of the website and the company itself.