If you’ve ever looked at your website and wondered when its content and organization went off the rails, you’re not alone. For most companies, what starts off as a perfectly useful, functional website will slowly degrade as services change, communication styles shift, and new ideas emerge. In as few as 2 years, your perfectly functional website can turn into a soupy mess of content that no longer provides your visitors what they’re looking for or serves your needs.
But there are ways to prevent this. In our experience, there are 2 reasons a website starts to crumble: content structure and site map.
For information on how to tackle content planning for longevity, check out this other article.
How can you use the site mapping step to create more longevity for your website?
Be Intentional and Strategic
Sometimes the easiest step is the one most often skipped. Map out your website. Create a visual representation of every page on your site, and where it falls in the hierarchy of pages.
When we do this for our clients, we start with your current site. We take a few minutes to click on every link, every page, every button. We note the URL string at the top, and we map out your top level pages and any subpages that exist – sometimes 3 or 4 levels deep. We make notes about each page’s purpose (if it’s not obvious) and any content issues that jump out at us.
This step ensures we know what information currently exists, as well as how it was initially grouped. This is our launching point.
Some Changes are Obvious
Face-to-face with your current website structure, some changes are undeniable.
Programs that got added recently and crowbarred in because they didn’t quite fit anywhere.
Your service structure shifted, and when pages got deleted you were left with broken links or sections that no longer need to exist.
You realized you needed to do more to support staff recruitment, and there wasn’t a place for that so it’s cluttering up the homepage.
Those changes are easy to recognize. Add the pages you need, delete the ones you don’t. In the site map phase, we’re only thinking about content abstractly – if you think something should be a page, add it. Worry about the specific of what goes on that page later.
Consider Your Audience
The line between a functional site map and an enduringly useful website is user navigation pathways.
We recently redid the website for a venue/event rental space organization. Their existing website featured each of their rentable spaces individually. This was perfectly fine – after all, it makes sense that if you’re trying to rent venues, you want to feature the venues.
But imagine you’re visiting that website for the first time. You’ve never been there before, and now you’re faced with 25+ rentable spaces to sort through to find one suitable for your event.
- If you’re shopping for a venue, you have an event in mind already. A wedding. A conference. A graduation party. A meeting that warrants an off-site experience.
- Not every venue will work for your event. A wedding isn’t appropriate for a conference room. An outside venue isn’t a good choice for an annual board meeting.
We kept the individual venue pages, because people still need a place to get details about the spaces. But we added an Event Type section – pages that focus on the specific needs and commonalities of different types of events, and how this organization meets those needs. Then we recommend specific venues based on those needs, making it easier for people to find the right space.
By adding a new user navigation pathway, we’ve added flexibility to the site while making it more user friendly. As they develop more spaces and recognize additional types of events that are popular in their venues, the website easily grows to accommodate those shifts.
In summary, plan your site map to lead users through your website in a way that meshes with how they’ll want to use it.
Plan for Now, Keep an Eye on the Future
It’s impossible to future-proof your website, but there are certain assumptions that can be made based on your organization’s plans for the next 1-5 years.
- Are you planning to grow and expand your services?
- Are you thinking of entering a new vertical?
- Will you be opening additional locations?
- How often do you hire? Is that likely to change?
If service or program expansion is likely, you’ll want a site map that is flexible enough to easily add new service pages without disrupting the flow of other pages.
If you’re considering breaking into a new industry or vertical, make sure your site map is prepared to divide up information in a way that is useful to all your markets.
If you hire often, don’t let Careers get buried in an About section.
Knowing what’s likely to be added or changed in the near future allows you to make better decisions about the pages you’ll need and the best way to organize segments of information.
Websites That Stay Useful for Longer
Like many things in marketing, site mapping falls in that gray area between strategy and creative. It’s the foundation for your SEO efforts, but it’s also the foundation for your narrative.
The important thing is that you be intentional about this step, and don’t try to skip over it in favor of jumping into content planning or assuming you’ll figure it out as you go.
With a flexible, smart, strategic, intentional site map, you could see the expected lifespan of your website go from 2 years to 8 years without the need for a major overhaul.