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How to Plan a Website Structure

How to plan a website structure

UX Research and SEO tools in website structure development. A detailed overview of the website structure designing tools can be found in our new article.

Contents:

  • What is a website structure?
  • Where do I start?
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Defining your target audience
  • Semantic core and clustering
  • Content development
  • User Flows
  • Forming a relevant website structure
  • Conclusion

What is Website Structure?

How to plan a website structure
The website structure is the actual display of the navigation plan on your site. Each element of your website structure implies a real page. By forming the structure of your website you develop the navigation and lay the foundation on which the design of your future site will be built. In a broad sense, the website structure is a treasure map in which the treasure is a product that you want to sell to a potential Customer. Optimizing a simple user route to make a purchase from your website is a priority for you and your business.

Where do I Start?

How to Plan a Website Structure
Planning the website structure is a very time-consuming process. For the most intuitive display of the structure, the ‘Visual Sitemap’ tool is used. A Visual Sitemap is a hierarchical diagram reflecting the actual structure of your website. The main reason of this tool’s popularity is the complete comprehension of the structure that it gives to the UX designer. At the beginning of development the site map diagram allows you to look ‘down upon’ your project, to estimate its scale and to work out errors. At the moment, the Visual Sitemap is the most convenient way to develop a website structure. It should be remembered that the benefits of the logical site structure affect not only the UX, but also the identification of the site by search engine algorithms, which directly affects the ranking of the site in a search engine. Unfortunately, high ranking in a search engine is not a panacea for your business, and if you want to create a successful Internet project, you should start with the most fundamental questions. Your business is not just a ‘relevant query’ in a search engine, but first and foremost a product that a potential Customer is looking for. You should start by defining the fundamental purpose of your business. This knowledge will further help you to define the goals in planning the development of your website.

Competitor Analysis

Competitor Analysis
Competitor analysis is an important step towards creating a good structure of your website. As in any competitive business, you should pay attention to the way your competitors do business. Such an approach can save you from unnecessary mistakes. In practice, there is often a situation when an entrepreneur neglects these simple but important rules, creating the website structure solely by intuition. Such actions often lead to wasted time and lack of results. This provokes unnecessary costs, audit and repeated development of the entire site, focusing primarily on the correct structure. Analysis of your competitors’ websites structure will help to fix and prevent errors that they had already made at the start. In order to create a detailed and flawless structure, it is necessary to analyze several competitors at once. Prepare a detailed table that compares your competitor’s websites. This will help you see and correct the errors of some sites using the structure of others. As a result, you will receive a working database, which can be further contextually worked out to create the optimal structure of your site.

Defining your Target Audience

Defining your Target Audience
Modern responsive interface development experience offers you a wide range of different tools. Interviews, A/B testings, working out the personas of your customers – this is only a small part of the tools available to the modern UX designer. The main focus of the UX methodology is aimed at defining the target audience and working with it. The correct and timely use of UX tools allows the designer to create a structural understanding of the target audience and identify its needs as precisely as possible. In practice, the Client’s perception of of his target audience needs is often fundamentally different from its real needs. It is the timely use of UX methodology tools that makes it possible to identify the true needs of the target audience, which often fundamentally changes the vector of the website development and eliminates the costs of developing any unnecessary functionality. The process of correct target audience defining plays a decisive role in website structure creation. Understanding the ‘true’ needs of your website visitors allows you to create the most intuitive navigation system by using which the user can obtain the necessary information with ease.

You can get more information about the UX Research in our ‘Planning the website development’ article.

Semantic Core and Clustering

Semantic Core and Clustering
Modern market dictates the rules of correct website structure formation for every Internet business. Therefore, there is always a need for the future search engine optimization. Competitor and target audience analysis is only a part of the preparatory work. The next step is the development of a semantic core and its clustering. The semantic core is a set of search queries based on key phrases that users use on the Internet when searching for a product or service similar to yours. The semantic cluster is a multi-level structure consisting of a group of search queries combined within a meaning. For example, let us consider the content of this particular article in the format of a semantic cluster. In this case, the semantic cluster of the first order will be ‘How to plan a website structure’. Inside the cluster of the first order there are clusters of the second order: ‘What is a website structure?’ and so on. There are also clusters of the third order, but in most cases it is sufficient to single out only the business-specific clusters of the second order. For example, the cluster of the second order for an ‘iPhone’ query will be a transactional (low-frequency) query of ‘Buy iPhone XS Max’. After working out the semantic core and its clusters, you will be able to process and structure the requests of your target audience in order to develop a content plan and refine the structure of your site.

Content Development

Content Development
What are the goals of the website? Who are our users? What information do they need? What does our analysis tell us?

If you follow the recommendations described above, then you will probably get answers to most of these questions. The knowledge that you will receive through the competitor and target audience analysis should be used at one of the most important stages of website development, that is the ‘content development’. Unfortunately, content development is often postponed for later, giving priority to other ‘more important’ matters, such as ‘Design’ or ‘Writing code’. In fact, saving time and money on content development is a strategic mistake. When creating a new website, it is important to remember that the content is of the crucial role to the user. There is absolutely no need for a good design if your site has nothing to offer to your target audience. If the site is useless to the customer, the code optimization and quick loading time will make no difference. When designing the website structure, the content that will be posted on it should be taken into account. Ultimately, you design the navigation in order to provide the user with the most convenient way to display the information necessary for him.
If you do not want to create a beautiful but useless resource, start developing the content as early as possible. Create a content plan based on the content matrix. To create a simple matrix, you need to build a table with intersections of customer types and their points of interest at different stages of product use. Use the clusters that you have discovered during the analysis of the semantic core for this purpose. Personalize user requests to identify their attitude towards the products. Determine the path that the user would walk from a ‘random visitor’ to a ‘regular customer’. Find out the user’s attitude to the work of your competitors at different stages of interaction with the brand. The received information will allow you to develop the most efficient content plan for each target group.

User Flows

User Flows
Designing User Flows is one of the tasks that needs to be taken care of in advance. Nowadays it is difficult to imagine that the main page is the only entry point of your website. The User Flow design tool allows you to consider different website entry points, highlighting the obvious shortcomings that the user may encounter. It is important to implement a User Flow Diagram to evaluate the interaction experience. You should use the obtained data when optimizing the structure of your site. It is also important to make the equally convenient navigation for users that are visiting your site from different entry points. Based on the User Flow Diagram analysis, the content should be optimized and changes should be made to the site structure accordingly.

In order to learn more about the purpose and experience of using User Flow Diagrams, read the article in our blog.

Forming a relevant website structure

Forming a relevant website
Once you have completed all the preparatory work, you can finally begin to build the structure of your website. The most popular form is the creation of a ‘Visual Sitemap’. A Visual Sitemap helps to define the hierarchy of the web pages clearly and accurately. Based on the data obtained, you can begin to develop a ‘Visual Sitemap’ diagram. As a rule, the hierarchy of a ‘Visual Sitemap’ is as follows: links from all pages of the site lead to the “Main Page”, links of ‘Subsections’ lead to ‘Sections’, and links of the website pages lead to ‘Subsections’. When forming the website structure, it is important to keep in mind that the page hierarchy is determined by the ‘weight’ (or ‘importance’) of the links. Statistically, link weights are a key parameter determining the site priority on the global Internet. The more there are links to a particular website, the more popular it is. The same principle works within a specific site. The more links leading to a particular page within the website, the more important it is compared to other pages. You should control the weight of links on your website, thereby determining their priority. Let us review the example of managing the weight of links. The website dedicated to the sale of smartphones can have a huge amount of information about the new iPhone XS Max, but with proper distribution of link weights, the page where this iPhone can be bought will have a priority in search results. If the links weight is distributed incorrectly, the user’s query ‘Buy iPhone XS Max’ will not lead to the page where the smartphone can be bought. Another rule to consider when planning your website structure is to control the ‘depth of viewing’. Design your structure so that the depth of your site does not exceed three or four clicks. This ensures easy user navigation, providing a clear and understandable navigation from any entry point without problems. The relevant structure of the site collects traffic and provides visibility for the search engine.

Conclusion

Development of the website structure is a serious work. In this article, we reviewed basic UX designing tools and touched upon the principles of SEO optimization. When starting to develop the site structure, It is important to keep in mind that right now there is an opportunity to work out most of the scenarios of how users interact with your website. You should consider the interface errors, and save yourself from spending money on reworking your website. Learn more about the integration of UX methodology in product development and maintenance, and you will have the opportunity to control and monitor the success of your project at different stages of product development.

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Example of a Sitemap

We have reviewed the specifics of the structure of the three most popular Visual Sitemap types. You can use the templates that were discussed in our article to design your own unique site structure right now.

Example of a Sitemap

Introduction

In this article, we will research an averaged structure of a Sitemap. Before proceeding with the Sitemap analysis, it should be recalled that the relevant website structure implies a consolidation of the amount of information obtained as a result of conducting and processing the UX research and the semantic core clustering. Any proper Sitemap begins with a clear understanding of the website’s target audience.

You can read more about the website structure methodology in the following article:
How to Plan a Website Structure

However, some common features may be present in different Sitemaps and provide familiar patterns of user interaction.

Sitemap of an Online Store

Sitemap of an Online Store

Online stores have a complex, branched structure. The actual place of an online store in the market and its volume of sales will actually depend on good, thoroughly-developed navigation system.

Typical elements of an online store:

  • Home (main) Page
  • Product catalog
  • Product card
  • Shopping cart
  • Order processing
  • Text Page
  • Account
  • Contacts

An example of a hierarchical Sitemap of an online store can be found here:

Home (main) Page consists of the key information about the online store. Online store Sitemap should start from this page. The customer should receive general information about the specialization of an online store and intuitively comprehend how to navigate through it.

Product catalog is the implementation of a thoughtful cataloging of the online store, that provides intuitive user navigation. Sophisticated cataloging implies a detailed understanding of the target audience needs.

Product card is required to provide the most detailed information about the product. This page should include product photos, basic characteristics, the comparison module and the “Add to cart” button.

Shopping cart is the page which consists of products that the user has selected for purchase. There, the user should see a list of goods that he chose to buy and pricing.

Order processing The user enters this page after confirming the purchase on the **Shopping cart** page. Here, the user needs to fill in personal data, select a delivery method and complete the purchase.

Text Page is a kind of a ‘Product Blog’ in an online store. This page displays the current information about the product that is selected by the user.

Account is the page on which the users can enter their personal information and set a preferable payment method. Entering this information will speed up the order processing.

Contacts page raises the level of user confidence. Contact information provides an opportunity for the user to get advice or clarify some details that were not described on the Product card.

This is the most generalized idea of the types of pages that should be included in the structure of an online store. It should also be noted that in any website structure there will most likely be standard information pages like ‘About us’, ‘Delivery and payment’, ‘Purchase returns’, and ‘Privacy policy’.

News Portal Sitemap

News Portal Sitemap Example

Considering the most obvious elements of the news portal structure, a number of specific features can be highlighted. One of these features is a huge array of information that comes through the news website every day.

Typical elements of a news portal Sitemap:

  • Home Page
  • News catalog
  • News Pages

Home Page implies the display of the most relevant news for the user. Being on this page, the user should easily find the news on the topic that interests him.

News catalog A large news portal is updated with a huge amount of information every day. Given the huge number of topics, you must create a dictionary of tags, and catalog the topics in accordance with it. Thus, journalists will have the opportunity to organize news on specific topics, providing convenient navigation through the website. When forming a dictionary of tags for a news portal, you need to rely on the research of the target audience. Make sure that it is fresh and up to date.

News Pages exist for convenient reading of news. You may also want to display the links to similar news articles here.

As a rule, the news portal does not imply wide functionality. However, a huge amount of regular updates makes cataloging a priority task. In addition to news pages, the information pages such as “About Us” and “Privacy Policy” may also be present on the news portal.

Corporate Website Sitemap

Sitemap of a Corporate Website
Corporate website is often used for presentation purposes. The main objective of this site is to introduce the user to the company and its products.

See an example of a corporate website Sitemap by clicking the following link:

Typical elements of a corporate website Sitemap:

  • Product/Service
  • Company’s news
  • About

Product/Service page shows all the information regarding the product or services offered by the company. The detailed information on such pages allows the user to get acquainted with the company and make a decision whether to interact with it or not.

Company’s news demonstrates the latest company news that may be of interest to both employees and customers of the company.

This page contains the history of the company, and there may be some photos of employees. it raises the level of user confidence and allows users to trust the company.

Corporate websites usually do not have extensive Sitemaps. As a rule, these sites are not meant to attract a lot of traffic. Corporate websites are needed for a convenient presentation of detailed information regarding a product or a service provided. The target audience of such sites, as a rule, are people already familiar with the company’s products or services, but they want to get more detailed information.

Conclusion


Different sites are made for different purposes and, as a result, have different structure. If you want to design a convenient website structure, you must first put yourself in user’s shoes.

This information allows you to design an intuitive interface that will certainly affect the User Experience in a good way, and as a result, the overall success of your project. To ensure clear navigation, you should also follow the basic rule of Sitemap developing – the ‘viewing depth’ should not exceed three or four clicks, depending on the amount of website content. In this article, we have provided examples of three popular types of Sitemaps. Naturally, these examples are not the only true ones, and may not be appropriate in your particular situation. However, you should accept niche-specific user interaction patterns when planning a Sitemap.

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SiteMaps: What Is It and How to Do It

 
Regardless of the complexity or purpose of your website, chances are that a sitemap isn’t the first topic on your agenda. Site admins and content creators often rely on practical, user-centric web and content development, without paying a lot of attention to the back-end side of things.

However, disregarding the importance of sitemaps is risky because they can help to accomplish a critical goal of making it easier for search engines to find your website’s pages. In other words, they’re a great part of your SEO, so not having one could be a disadvantage.

But how exactly sitemaps improve SEO? They let search engines know the literal mapping of your website’s structure, starting from the top (landing page/navigation bar) to the bottom level (articles, products, etc.). This makes indexing, therefore, choosing your website for search results, much easier.

Since sitemaps are so important, let’s explore them a little bit more by taking a look at how to create a good one and the ways in which they benefit your website.

Benefits of SiteMaps

Easier Website Management

To maximize the benefits of a sitemap for your website, you have to create one from scratch As you develop your website and expand it with different categories of content, it will become harder and harder to manage, so a dedicated sitemap can help to develop a more structured, organized website from the get-go. Things like server file management, remote collaboration and page structure modification become a bit easier as a result later on.

Customer’s Journey

A well-established sitemap allows to improve the experience of your visitors and customers by mapping of their journey through the website and giving ideas on optimizing it. For example, you might want to help your visitors find product pages as quickly as possible from the home page or a landing page. With a sitemap under your belt, you can create a flow which redirects them to that very section of your site.

How to create a Visual SiteMap

1. Preparatory phase

Creating a visual sitemap requires input from a web developer and manager because the latter can define business-related knowledge while the former converts it into a good sitemap.

Before starting designing a sitemap you should define:

  • The current goal of your business
  • The main areas of your business
  • Expansion goals that the business will pursue in the future.
Sitemaps: Preparatory phase

Answering these questions will help you to create a sitemap that will meet all the requirements of your future users, increasing sales, and improving the overall experience of website’s users, and therefore, achieve long-term goals.

Sitemaps: Create a Basic Structure

2. Create a Basic Structure

You should always start creating a sitemap from the Home Page — this way, you can create a clear hierarchy. For example, the Home Page can be the only first level page, and the second level pages – products, blog, contacts us etc. – should reflect the basic navigation.

3. The Second Level Design

The second level of the sitemap comprises a number of important site sections with a common theme such as categories of products. When designing, it’s important to look at it from the user perspective to make them easy to navigate, and providing the user with the ability to spend less time finding their way around.

Second-level pages should contain links to content inside so-called “child pages,” providing easy navigation to them. It is important that the navigation usually includes less than 10 pages of the second level.

Sitemaps: The Second Level Design
Sitemaps: Child Pages

4. “Child” Pages

Child or third-level pages are pages that contain the specific content focused on one idea. For example, if a second level page “Sports Nutrition” leads to a number of third-level pages such as “sports bars,” “amino acids,” and “protein”.

For most websites, 3 levels of page hierarchy are enough to include all content, but there are also sites where 4 or even 5 levels may be required. These are complex sites with a large range of products.

5. Testing

Once you have created your sitemap, the best solution is to create a duplicate to be able to test the performance of different options. This can help to create an intuitive and easy-to-use sitemap. At the testing stage, you can also experiment with different structures of the map and other ideas to find the best option to meet the needs of the visitors.

Sitemaps: Testing
Sitemaps: Page Content

6. Page Content

Once you have finished working on the structure of your website, you have to make it more detailed to make sure that you didn’t miss anything. For example, you can add descriptions to pages so you know what subsections will be added. By doing so, you’ll never lose the focus on the main goals and consolidate up-to-date information at all stages of development.

Author Bio

Elisa Abbott

Elisa Abbott is a freelancer whose passion lies in creative writing. She completed a degree in Computer Science and writes about ways to apply machine learning to deal with complex issues. Insights on education, helpful tools and valuable university experiences – she has got you covered 😉 When she’s not engaged in assessing translation services for PickWriters you’ll usually find her sipping cappuccino with a book.

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Professional approach to designing a visual sitemap

Professional approach to designing a visual sitemap

Sitemap as a first step to creating any web-project

Visual sitemap is a skeleton of a future website with precisely structured information about the website. Usually, it contains information about the structure of pages, tasks for developers as well as the project’s content.

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