Have you ever visited a website that you just loved the flow and layout of? Was it super easy to navigate around and only took a click or two to get to the information you wanted? This is a sign of a website with an excellent sitemap and navigation structure which all falls under the umbrella of a sound SEO strategy.
If you have an existing website that you feel is a bit clunky to navigate or lacks information flow then this blog is for you. Or perhaps you’re someone who is thinking about building a website from scratch? Either way, by understanding and implementing an excellent sitemap and navigation structure to your website, you can drastically improve your sales and profitability to set you up for the next financial year.
What is a Sitemap?
A great way to understand a sitemap is to look at it as a type of roadmap for your website. This map is read by search engines like Google who can then easily trawl your website in order to gain a better understanding of what your website is about. Google will then have enough valuable information to index your website on Google so that people can easily find your pages.
In more technical terms, a sitemap can also be referred to as an XML sitemap – the XML stands for ‘extensible markup language’. An XML sitemap is a file that list’s the important pages of your website (the map) giving search engines an understanding as to your website structure. It also tells search engines when you last updated your site, the frequency of updates and the overall importance rating of the page.
What is Navigation Structure?
The navigation structure is an important part of your website planning process. Without it, visitors to your page will struggle to explore your site, find the product, service or additional information they are interested in and inevitably result in a poor visitor engagement. A way to visualize a websites navigation structure is to think of a flowchart and how information fluidly flows from one section to another.
A golden rule of navigation structure is allowing someone to land on any of your pages in 3 clicks or less. The key to a successful navigation structure is ensuring that you are effectively guiding your customers through your online material whilst avoiding hurdles or unnecessary ‘roadblocks’ that will stem the flow of information and hamper the user experience.
With this understanding of Sitemap and Navigation Structure in place, we’ve come up with a few ways to create and implement a high performing website.
5 Ways to Improve Sitemap and Navigation Structure
Now that you understand your sitemap and navigation structure, the next step is to either assess your existing sitemap and navigation structure or understand how to create high performing ones.
If you have an existing website, reviewing your sitemap is the logical first step. This allows you to identify where issues lie as well as where opportunities exist. A good way to go about this is to view a website sitemap template to understand how your sitemap should flow.
The same can be said for your navigation structure. By evaluating your current structure and navigational flow, you can determine where issue lie and better ways to traverse your site.
2. Research Search Engine Sitemap Rules
Different search engines have different sitemap rules and requirements so be sure to research these rules and implement accordingly for optimal ranking performance. Google is the dominant search engine so best practice would dictate following their rules which you can view here.
3. Define Your Top-Level Structure
Your homepage should be viewed as the umbrella of your website which then flows down to varying other pages where visitors can easily locate what they’re looking for or be introduced to key pieces of information that will reinforce a sale of your product or service. As mentioned earlier, it should only take 3 clicks to reach any page from your homepage. This means you need to be smart with how your top line headings are laid out and organized as these will determine the efficient flow of your page.
4. Page Depth & SEO
It’s important to understand that from an SEO point of view, not all of your pages are created equal. Pages that are further away from your homepage will be harder to rank for due to the depth that they sit in your sitemap. So be sure to consider a sitemap that has a ‘shallow depth’ of your pages in order to give you a better chance of ranking successfully.
5. Don’t Let Design Get In The Way Of Usability
Many websites make the mistake of focusing on the design and aesthetic of a website than considering its usability. Hypertexts for example provide quick intext navigation to other pages so that visitors can navigate effortlessly. Some websites however do a poor job of highlighting the hypertext properly and visibly, often getting lost within text. Navigation bars are another example where usability should be an the forefront of a websites layout but sometimes design supersedes this resulting in a complex or confusing experience for visitors.
A website that flows beautifully and allows visitors to navigate effortlessly should be the definitive goal of every website. Failing to do this not only creates a poor experience for users but can also hinder how your website ranks with search engines and the overall profitability of your online business.