The sitemap as a tool for web design: 4 reasons why you should always create one

Summary: Designing a website can be overwhelming, but not if you've got a sitemap! Discover why you should never design a website anymore without a sitemap.

Designing a website can be overwhelming.

What pages do we need? What information do they need to contain? How will everything be interconnected? Is there a logical flow between pages? What's the main goal of the website and how will the structure reflect that goal?

If you jump into designing a website head over heels, you're going to miss the mark on most of these questions.

But what if there was a tool that could help you answer all these questions and get buy-in from everyone involved regarding the structure of the website, ultimately resulting in a smooth design process?

Luckily, such a tool exists: a sitemap.

In this article, we'll define what we mean by that, its overall place in the web design process, and lastly, we'll go over 4 reasons why you should never design a website again without first creating a sitemap.

1. What is a Sitemap?

Before diving in deeper, let's take a moment to define the term. There are three types:

  1. A sitemap for search engines — a file on a website that can easily be read by search engines (for example, a .xml file).

    An example of a sitemap for search engines in XML format
    An XML sitemap on getkirby.com/sitemap.xml
  2. A sitemap for website visitors — a page on a website with an overview of all the links to its pages allowing a visitor to quickly scan the contents of a site.

    A sitemap that lives on a website page
    A sitemap for website visitors on the uk.tommy.com webshop
  3. A sitemap for web design — A visual document used in the web design process. It provides everyone with a clear overview of what a website will contain and how everything will be structured and interlinked.

    A sitemap for web design of a small service-based business
    An example of a simple sitemap for a small web design project

In this article, we'll be talking about the third type. It can be styled to your liking, but technically it at least needs to contain all the pages of a website, the content on those pages, and how everything is interconnected.

2. The place of the sitemap in the web design process

The sitemap has an important place in the process of designing a website. It allows everyone involved in the project to be on the same page about what the website will contain and how everything will be structured. All before even designing a single page of a website.

Therefore, its place is at the very start of the process. After the web designer has gotten a clear briefing and analyzed all the information. It's the first step in getting buy-in from everyone involved.

3. Why you can't design a website without a sitemap

As was made clear in the title of this article, you should never design a website without first creating a sitemap. Why? Take a look at these three reasons:

Reason 1 - You'll make sure everyone's needs and expectations are met

When you design a website, you have to align multiple people's needs and expectations:

  • The owner, founder, or CEO of the business
  • The target audience of the business
  • Other parties involved in the project (marketer, partner, ...)

By designing a sitemap, it'll become clear early on in the process if there is an agreement about the scope of the project and if the needs and expectations of all partners involved are met.

It gives everyone a tangible document they can use to make sure nothing was missed, ultimately contributing to a smooth web design process.

Reason 2 - You'll save time

If you start designing a website based on assumptions, you're going to have a bad time. More than likely, unnecessary (parts of) pages will get designed only for them to be scrapped later. This leads to time loss in the overall project.

The sitemap helps you reflect on what exactly needs to be designed. This saves everyone time because the design stage of the project will be more efficient. Only those pages that need to be designed will be designed. Nothing more, nothing less.

Reason 3 - You'll be able to focus on your goal

All great websites have a specific goal. And more importantly, the structure of the website is focused on reaching that goal.

Don't know how to set goals for your website? Read our ultimate guide on website goals.

But if you don't take the time to reflect before designing, how will you optimize your website to reach that goal?

By mapping out the structure of your website in a visual sitemap, you'll be able to tailor it to your specific goal. On the other hand, it'll also allow you to scrap parts that don't contribute to your overall target.

Reason 4 - You'll avoid duplicate content

Duplicate content is a waste of your time and resources. A visual sitemap will help you get a clear overview of all the content on your website and makes sure you'll avoid duplicate content.

3. Conclusion

A visual sitemap is a powerful tool that is used at the very start of the web design process. It allows you to strategize and define the overall structure of your website without already committing to a design

That means it's very low-stakes. You can easily adjust it, move things around, scrap certain content, or add new pages. All with the goal of focussing on helping the website better reflect the needs of all parties involved and the goal we want to reach.

Getting buy-in from all parties involved by using a visual sitemap ultimately leads to a more efficient website and a smoother web design process. You'll be able to make sure that it's tailored to everyone's needs and expectations, that it only includes the content you need, and that it's focused on reaching your goals.

What's not to love?

Maarten Van Herendael

Maarten Van Herendael

Maarten is Heave's founder. His passion is to help businesses like yours do great things with a website that looks better and sells more. You can find Maarten on LinkedIn.