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How a Site Map Template Can Help You Build a Better Website

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Published: November 27, 2021

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Site maps are essential for creating websites. From design to development, and even for user browsing, they can help you understand the page order and hierarchy of any site. Understanding what a site map template looks like can help you better arrange the order of your online content and improve your search engine optimization (SEO).

What Is a Site Map?

A site map is the outline or list of all the pages on your website. Some site maps simply list the page names, while others include more information, like the date of the last page update. Creating a site map or using a site map template can help you visualize the construction of the site while it’s still in the planning phase. Google recommends creating a site map for large websites with 500 pages or more, but they’re useful for smaller sites, too.

Why Should I Use a Site Map?

Site maps can help make creating, browsing, and understanding your website easier in ways such as:

Organization

If you intend to create or restructure a large website, you may have many pages that need to find a structural home within it. Like when you have too many documents in your cloud drive or books in your library, you need an organization system to save you time and frustration when trying to find things easily. Even if your site starts small, it has the potential to grow as your business expands. Creating an organizational structure from the beginning makes it easier to add new pages later.

Design Process

Having a site map can help guide the actual web design process if you’re starting from scratch. For example, if someone asked you to design a flyer for an event, but they didn’t give you any other details, it might be pretty difficult to get it right. Similarly, if your only plan is to create a website for your business, but you don’t talk about any of the details like content and pages, it’s tricky to create a framework. The site map can help you figure out what exactly to add and where it should go.

Purpose

Because a site map lets you set up pages in a hierarchical structure, the template helps highlight your website’s exact purpose. Is your primary goal to provide informative articles for your audience? Maybe your e-commerce store is trying to make sales? By using the site map to set a priority for each of your pages, you can determine what you hope people do and experience when they come to your website.

SEO

Though SEO is an ever-changing process, there are some basic things you can do to help your chances of appearing higher in results. One of these is creating a technical site map. This file is one tool search engines use to crawl your site and learn about the content. This helps the search engines make better matches to user queries. Without the site map, it’s harder and takes a lot longer for the bots and crawlers to do their jobs.

What’s the Difference Between a Site Map and Navigation?

Though both list the pages and links available on your website, site maps and navigation are not the same thing. The site map helps you structure the navigation. The hierarchy you develop in that document helps build the menus users access to browse your site and content. Different from the menu or navigation bar, the site map may include hidden pages or those that don’t appear in the navigation, but as links within other content. While there are two or three most basic types of site maps, depending on how you categorize them, there are many types of navigation, including:

  • Header
  • Sidebar
  • Footer
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Hamburger menu

What Is a Site Map Template?

A site map template is a pre-designed outline you can use to build your visual or technical map. It gives you suggestions of the pages and structure necessary for the best user experiences online. Templates give you starting ideas if you’re unsure where to being with the website creation process. They can also remind you of any features you may miss through your own planning.

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Image via iStock

Types of Site Maps

There are two broad categories of site maps and three specific types that you can choose from when creating one for your site, including:

Visual Site Map

A visual site map is a guide that establishes what pages you want to add to your website and the order in which they appear. Think of this type like an outline you’d use for writing a paper, or an interior design blueprint with moveable pieces of furniture. This planning tool lets you see how the hierarchical structure of your site may look when complete or reorganized. It also makes for easy editing to let you move pages around to find the most logical flow for viewers to follow.

XML Site Map

An XML site map is one type of technical site map you can use within website design. It’s a physical file that you add to the directory to include information about all your pages. Search engines use this type to index all pages and understand your organization and structure. Having an XML site map can help your SEO and improve rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). You can view any website’s XML site map by typing “/sitemap.xml” at the end of its URL. Don’t believe us? Try this trick for CopyPress’s website!

HTML Site Map

An HTML site map is another type of technical site map to use in your design. Similar to XML files, an HTML site map also helps search engines categorize your website and make it more accessible to both users and crawlers. Different from the visual site map, it lists additional information like the date of the last page update. The biggest difference between HTML and XML sitemaps is that the HTML one focuses more on making the site user-friendly for people. The XML one is just for search engine bots and crawlers.

Creating a Site Map for Your Website

Use these steps and ideas to create different types of site map templates for your website:

Creating a Visual Site Map

Creating a visual site map follows a process similar to the one you may use to create a company flow chart or another preparation document. Use these steps to design yours:

1. Select Your Team

Creating a site map is usually a group project rather than an individual one. It involves members of the web design and content teams, management, and other stakeholders with an interest in your website. First, decide who’s on the planning committee for the website, or whom you’d like to be on it. Extend an invitation for them to come to an informational meeting about the project. During that meeting, you can discuss the website and map creation, and decide if everyone belongs on the committee or if you’ve overlooked an important source.

It’s beneficial to have a team on site map design because it allows you to get opinions and insights from multiple sources and create the most user-friendly experience possible.

2. Pick Your Pages

With your team, figure out which pages you want to feature on and include on your website. For a brand new site, you may start from scratch. During a reorganization, you may look at the pages currently available and their statistics and traffic. Can you combine pages to make things more streamlined? Are there pages customers ask about that you don’t offer currently? Most basic sites have a home page, and an about us, or a company page. Other pages you may include on your site are:

  • Services
  • Products
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Testimonials
  • Contact
  • Blog
  • Press releases or latest news
  • Privacy policy
  • Terms and conditions
  • Search results
  • Job listings
  • Events

The number and types of pages you have may depend on your audience, industry, and company size.

3. Organize the Pages

After you’ve decided what to include, figure out where each page lives and how visitors access them. Often, your home page or a specific landing page loads automatically when someone visits your site. That page would be at the top of your site map hierarchy. From there, you can decide which main pages appear in your primary navigation and if other pages fall within those broader categories.

The organization phase is also the time when you decide which pages don’t go in navigation but have links elsewhere, like the privacy policy or terms and conditions in the footer. The goal is to sort the pages into an order that makes sense for someone browsing your website. Where is the most likely place they’re going to look for a specific page? If you’re unsure, you can browse other websites to see how they’re structured to get an idea of some of the unwritten structural rules of the internet.

Creating an XML Site Map

Because an XML site map is a file, not a visual document, it’s less about the steps used to create one and more about the creation method. Options for generating an XML site map include:

1. CMS Plugin

If you use a content management system (CMS) to run your website, many have plugins or add-ons that you can use to create your XML sitemap automatically. This can be a helpful tool if you have all your information already loaded into the CMS. Simply follow the steps as directed by the CMS and the plugin to generate the file. Make sure you back up your site and check compatibility with the preferred plugin before you install or download anything.

2. Website Code

If you can’t use a plugin, you can create your own XML file using your website code. It’s best to leave this task to a web developer from your team or company to ensure it’s done properly. In this method, you code the file manually and then save it as an XML file and add it to the root folder in the directory.

The downside to creating the file with code is that you must change it or add to it every time you create a new page or blog post. This may be a better option if you don’t intend to expand your site too much after initial creation.

3. Converter

If you’re looking for a quick option but don’t have access to a plugin, using a converter may be the next best option. An XML site map converter is an independent website or tool that allows you to input your website URL and the program generates the file for you. It doesn’t matter whether you use a CMS, or which one you use, or if you’ve built the site yourself. All these programs need is a URL to work.

After creation, you can download the site map file and upload it to the root directory for your website. If you use this option, review and edit the file before you upload it. Some converters may mistake which pages are the highest priority. You can make those changes yourself within the file if you find an error. Some options for XML site map converters include:

Creating an HTML Site Map

You can use many of the same methods to create an HTML site map as you would for an XML one. Remember, the biggest difference between the two is the programming language used and if it’s built for users or crawlers. You have the option to use plugins, converters, and manual creation to develop the HTML file and upload it to the root directory.

20 Visual Site Map Templates

If you’re looking for a pre-designed visual site map template to help you get started, try these sources from around the web:

  1. Mural Site Map Template
  2. Canva Site Map Templates
  3. Template Lab 20 Awesome Site Map/Website Structure Templates
  4. Miro Site Map Template
  5. Venngage Visual Site Map Template
  6. Venngage SaaS Site Map Template
  7. Venngage Creative Agency Site Map Template
  8. Venngage Startup Site Map Template
  9. Lucidchart Site Map Generator
  10. Moqups Site Map Templates
  11. Creately Site Map Templates
  12. Slickplan One Page Site Map Template
  13. Slickplan E-commerce Site Map Template
  14. Slickplan Real Estate Site Map Template
  15. Slickplan University Site Map Template
  16. Milanote Site Map Template
  17. Template.net Printable Web Site Map Template
  18. Airtable Site Map Planning Template
  19. SpeckyBoy E-commerce Website Flowchart
  20. Visual Paradigm Online Simple Website Site Map

Site maps help the user browsing experience and your performance on SERPs. Both concepts are important for not only attracting people to your website but keeping them there and returning. Including tools like a site map on your website can increase your web traffic and ultimately your conversions and profits.

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