Sitemaps–a deliverable no large-scale digital web project should ever neglect, but yet, something that clients have a difficult time understanding the need for or proper use of. 

I have been lucky enough to spend the last year working on one of my favorite projects ever–a massive digital transformation of–taking the tired looking site from 1999 to 2017 (and beyond). After audience research, content audits, competitive analysis, and gathering insights from web analytics, my team was able to structure an extensive 10+ page document that would become the foundation of the new website. But why did we build this ginormous sitemap?

Initially sitemaps are excellent tools to:

  1. Confirm content prioritization and content organization make sense to actual users. (Is it easy for users to find the content they need to access? Is the terminology used natural to users? Is the point from A to B cumbersome?) 
  2. Align everyone on the future state of site content–new and existing. (Are all stakeholders on-board with the proposed structure?)
  3. Mapping pages to content copy decks (there should be no missing pieces/decks at the end of this)
  4. Avoid content duplication. (Duplicating content is bad practice. Don't do it.)
  5. Establish a flexible design (Make sure the architecture is scalable to accommodate new content over time). 


So, we had a sitemap and built a website. End of story. WRONG! We couldn't just hand the clients a document and expect them to know what to do with it. In order to give the clients the confidence in applying the`same thinking to maintain a consistent website structure going forward, we needed to provide them the logic behind our work.

To transfer our knowledge, I structured a 3-step presentation (with an interactive exercise at the end). Below is my handoff approach that can help you build your customer's confidence in maintaining their new shiny sitemap.

How to structure a sitemap knowledge share presentation

  1. WHAT
    What key information did you start with? Taking into consideration that not everyone at the presentation will have been part of everything done over the course of the project, everyone should understand, on a high level, the breadth of strategic research, the customer and stakeholder interviews, the site goals and guidelines, and the analytics and user testing. 
  2. WHY
    Using the aggregated research, why was the sitemap structured in a specific way? This is where you define the insights–what did you learn from the research that played into decisions on the sitemap? For us, we learned through customer interviews that account transactions (ie. paying a bill or starting/stopping service) were some of the primary goals of users on the site, so we needed to prioritize pathways to key actions. Through customer card sorting exercises, we learned that the VOC (voice of the customer) was important in helping users understand what specific content was. Based on user testing, we found many customers searching for content as a specific type of customer (ie. business vs. residential customer) and because of this, we segmented relevant content based on user type.
  3. HOW
    With a final sitemap structure defined, how can you maintain a consistent sitemap structure going forward? To help our clients, I defined several key questions for them to ask themselves when a new piece of content shows up on their desk. The derived questions could guide them through the thought process to access a proper places that would make sense to customers and also build on the structure we had defined. Some of our questions included:
    • Is this placement in-line with our guiding site principles?
    • What is the audience for this piece of content and does this placement work for those users?
    • Is this easily find-able for the target user?
    • Is this placement consistent?
    "I do, we do, you do" s a learning method of talking participants through a new concept, showing them how to do it, and then having them do it on their own. Research confirms this is an effective learning process. I started with a new hypothetical piece of content and talked through my reasoning of where I would put it in the sitemap and why (referencing the research and insights we surfaced). After doing another example together as a group, individual attendees took turns taking pieces of content and talking through where they would place it. Though there may be some struggles, this is a good method to allow participants to apply their learning.
I do, we do, you do: Group Exercise

I do, we do, you do: Group Exercise

In the long run, sitemaps are great tools for:

  1. Maintaining website consistency (making sure that categories/sections don't become dumping grounds for random pieces of content)
  2. Managing content ownership (for larger organizations where content is dispersed across teams, this is a place where ownership of content can be displayed)
  3. Prioritizing content (this continues to be of importance after launch as a site's content grows, items may need to be de-prioritized or re-prioritized)