March 27, 2017

The humble visual sitemap is a simple but effective tool to plan websites and apps. Here are 9 reasons why you should consider starting every web project with a sitemap.

1. A base to kick off the initial planning

Planning meetings about a new site can often end up going in circles with dozens of people providing their “top” priorities. This is especially true for in-house projects where many people involved don’t do this for a living.

If the discussion were to start instead with a base sitemap that a UX designer or project manager already created, it keeps the discussion more focussed and productive.

2. Identify instant opportunities to improve the user experience and flow

Want visitors to be able to buy products in 4 clicks or less? Creating a visual sitemap will help you understand how smooth the user flow of your planned site is (or isn’t). Remove any unnecessary steps, duplicate pages or confusing navigation to help your users achieve goals faster.

Too many options in the main menu? Too many clicks to get to the desired action? Important pages buried deep in four layers of pages and sub-pages? A visual sitemap will help you identify and fix all that, fast.

3. Get everyone on the same page faster

Ever gotten 70% through the development only to realise that everyone involved has a completely different understanding of the scope? Web projects often go over budget and exceed timelines because of a lack of clarity upfront.

Using a sitemap for discussing pages and structural elements early will save time and dollars
A sitemap is a centralised tool that creates a shared understanding of what’s included, and even more important, what’s not.

Without a sitemap, you spend a lot of time creating unnecessary pages, or designing sites that are more complicated than they need to be.
Remember, it’s less expensive (in terms of both time and money) to add or eliminate something in the early stages than to have to do so when your site is nearly complete.
– Sean Work, KissMetrics

4. Iterate and test a proposed structure and navigation fast

Instead of waiting till the wireframing or design stage to get feedback and suggestions, start with the proposed sitemap instead. It’s a lot easier, and cheaper, to iterate and change the structure here than in later stages.

5. Use it to assign tasks

For project managers, having a single base to work off when assigning tasks or responsibilities, is invaluable. If you work in sprints or organise tasks based on pages/screens, a visual sitemap will help you do it better.

6. Accurately scope project budgets and timelines

Responsible for scoping a project’s timelines or budget? It’s never an easy task. A visual sitemap is a great starting point for estimating projects. Helping you work out the time and resources required based on the number of pages/screens in the project.

7. Show how confusing an existing site is

Need to convince someone how “broken” or confusing an existing experience on a site is? Create a visual sitemap highlighting the current architecture and show them instead of telling them.
Make it easy for others to see that the 13 screens between the home page and the checkout page are likely having some negative impact on the conversion rate.

8. Keep future additions in check and organised

Work in-house? Next time someone asks you to just throw on a few pages in the main menu for X purpose, update the sitemap instead — and use that to show them how this might negatively impact the user experience, and conversion rates. Then create an alternative to show them a better path to incorporate those new pages on the site.

9. Keep a “blueprint” of your site as it evolves

Every time you update your site with a new page, do it on the sitemap first, including for logged in areas, the blog and other parts. This way, there’s always an up to date “blueprint” of your entire site to help with future planning.

There are just some of the benefits of starting web projects with a visual sitemap. How do you use them?

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