So you’ve rewritten your copy, written some new lines, taken some new pictures and maybe even added new pages to your site. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it? It should, because getting your content finished (well, as finished as it can be) before moving to the design phase of your site is important. Why? Simply put, your content really determines the way your site will look and function.

Generic Sitemap picture

But before you open your design application, whether it’s WordPress or something else, it’s a good idea to pause and draw a site map. I’m not talking about the site map that your application creates for you. I’m talking about literally creating a map of your site so that you know exactly what pages are in the main menu, which will be sub-pages and where links will take visitors. One way of thinking of a site map is just that: it’s a map. You start at one place and when you click on something it will take you to another place. You might see other interesting things along the way, but the main thing is to know where you’re going. You want to make it easy for everyone to navigate your site.

Creating a site map is pretty straightforward and it doesn’t require any fancy software. I sometimes use a design application to do it or even a word-processor like Word or mac’s Pages. But more often than not, I just draw something by hand and use different colored pens to indicate what’s linking to what, and for additional notes. By the time I’m done, I have a really good sense of how the site’s pages will flow, so that going forward or backward is always easy and always makes sense. And as you can see in this example, it can be a bit messy at times (this was not my final version) but getting messy is part of the process. If anything is confusing to you, imagine how confusing it will be for visitors!

Hand Drawn Sitemap

No matter how tight your deadline is, make the time to draw a site map. It’s a step that will make the entire process of organizing and designing your site so much easier.

Here’s a checklist of things to do to create a good site map:

  1. Write a list of your main pages across the top of a page.
  2. Below that list, write your sub-pages below their corresponding parent pages.
  3. And if you have any sub-sub-pages, write those below their corresponding parent pages.
  4. Draw lines between the pages to clearly indicate what links to what. You might also have horizontal links.
  5. Optional but recommended: Put notes wherever you can indicating if there are additional links within the body of the pages to other pages. For example, if on your About page you have a link in the text that says “Contact Me for details” then make note that that page will link to the Contact page.
  6. Redo / Rewrite / Redraw as  many times as you need to before you get it right. The more complete your site map is, the more efficiently your site design will go.

YOUR TURN: Tell me here or Tweet me! Are you redesigning your site? Have you drawn a site map? Did it help you? If not, will you give it a try? Let me know!