How to plan a website structure perfectly
Planning a website structure before you get into the nitty gritty of coding is an essential step for creating the ideal user experience. It also gives you the opportunity to optimize your overall website architecture, information architecture and the very content itself resulting in a far more SEO-friendly site.
As the saying goes, “measure twice, cut once”
That's what you're doing by planning your sitemap structure in advance. Using visual sitemaps as a planning tool gives your team the ability to brainstorm ideas, test navigation and menus to hone the hierarchy, properly refine and implement your keyword research, iterate scenarios and redesign information layouts before all the pricey graphic design and coding takes place. And, FYI, it's much easier to perfect your map in sitemap builder than recode finished pages.
Here’s how to plan website structure the right way
It’s more intuitive and less tricky than you might think, here’s how to plan a website structure effectively:
1. Set goals for an effective sitemap structure
So, what are you actually trying to accomplish with your site?
Knowing exactly where you want to go is what helps you plan how to get there.
A good place to start in crafting your sitemap structure is listing the goals for your website, both big and small. These should be measurable benchmarks which can include things like; increased readership, eCommerce conversions, newsletter signups, donations, purchases, content engagements, etc.
Doing this will help you determine which content to place up front in those marquee locations.
2. Know the audience
Who are your people?
Compile pertinent information about your target audience(s). Find out what other sites they spend time on, where they shop, search volume for your keywords and the more granular demographic stuff like average age, browsing locations, country, language, etc. Learning about the behavioral characteristics of your audience goes a long way in everything from helping you plan your website to perfecting your page content and even to developing blog posts as well as conducting the marketing activities which support the overarching website plan.
3. Analyze the competitive landscape
Do you have competition? (You do)
What are they doing?
Finding out what your competitors are doing can help shape what you do and don't do. Take a gander at their sites and note what's popular, what's on their homepage, what content is getting the most engagement, how's their site organized, what's not working, what can be improved, etc.?
This isn't about copying or plagiarizing, this is standard market research that all companies should be doing. Rest assured, your competitors have scoped you out too.
4. List your content for a solid website structure plan
Chances are dang near 100% that your website structure plan is going to include lots of content of many different varieties.
List all the types of content you'd expect to put on your website and group them by similar characteristics. Assign taxonomies, or classifications, which'll allow you to further refine categories for your content.
5. Nail your information architecture
Modern content management system (CMS) platforms may make it easy peasy to build websites but rarely do they provide you with the best way to organize the content that will actually live on the site.
Information architecture (IA) is the part of your broader website architecture and site mapping efforts that focuses exclusively on the details of how content is organized and delivered to your user.
The sitemap is IA's primary reference document and it communicates both the physical layout of your new site as well as the navigation to designers, developers, team leads and/or clients.
Because each website is as unique as the company behind it, the information you present may require its own content structure, which is another reason it's so important to engage wholeheartedly in pre-planning.
When contemplating your website map structure, like everything else, you should have the user in mind first. Are you sensing a pattern here?
Depending on the types of content and the amount of it you'll load your site with, you can choose from a variety of standard information architecture structures or create your own custom variations. The world is your oyster in that sense and the only rule is to make it user-centric.
Example website structure diagrams:
6. Plan your website structure for content
This may sound similar to locking in your information architecture but there's a distinction here that matters.
To plan your website structure for content is to break down the information into groups relating to the topics, main categories and subcategories your site covers. This helps in establishing the hierarchy of information, going from generalized to more specific.
This is known as silo architecture, or index hierarchy information architecture if you want to impress someone, and its core advantage over other structures is that the resulting site is an incredibly instinctive one to navigate that's primed for SEO success.
7. Develop internal linking strategy
Internal linking is what brings your sitemap to life in a sense. Aside from your main menu, these strategically placed links – and they must be strategic – are a key way in which your visitors will navigate your site.
It's the roadmap you'd like them to travel and serves to make your site more user-friendly by putting qualitative content in their path with well positioned links.
Additionally, internal link building is crucial for enhancing link authority and spreading that link juice (link equity) around which can be a boon for your search rankings and search engine optimization in general. On top of that, it helps lower your bounce rate, increase page views and even boost conversion while doing away with orphaned pages.
8. Keep navigation depth shallow
Also known as click depth, this is about making sure your content doesn't get buried in a sea of pages and lost in never-ending clicks.
Ultimately, the idea here is to ensure that users can find the info they need in as few clicks as possible. This also allows search engine bots to crawl your site more easily leading to you showing up in more search results.
When in this development phase, strive to go no further than 3 or 4 clicks deep.
A quick note about submitting sitemaps directly from Slickplan; we intentionally left that out because, spoiler alert, most websites continue to grow and evolve well after this initial planning phase. Given that, we recommend installing a CMS plugin for website planning that auto-generates search engine XML sitemaps each time web pages are added, updated or removed so your search engine sitemap will always be up to date and in line with your current structure.
How to plan a website structure with Slickplan
Designing and planning website structure is a time investment that can pay big dividends when done with intention and a concerted team effort.
Just like an architect creates a structural plan for a house, website architecture uses principles of organization, functionality and aesthetics to hone the user journey and deliver a product that effectively meets the needs of your visitors.
Between setting benchmarks for success, competitor analysis, understanding your own audience better and doing a deep dive into your content, shaping your website structure involves a lot of moving parts.
Long story short, good site structure sharpens the good stuff and does away with the bad, allowing web crawlers (and people!) to easily understand how to use and navigate your website.
Slickplan's sitemap builder simplifies the process and gives you the tools to create intuitive sitemaps and structures that align with your mission, strategic goals and overall marketing plan.
Visually designing sitemaps is important in properly planning your website. Learn how a visual sitemap generator works.