Sitemaps – The first step to great UI/UX


Sitemaps are a vital component that impacts a website’s discoverability and usability. In this video interview, you will learn:

Interview Transcript

James: Sitemaps are a vital component that impacts a website’s discoverability and usability. Joining me to take a deep dive into this topic is Valeria, our Lead Designer at 729 Solutions. 

Thanks for joining me, Vale. 

Valeria: Hello!

What is a sitemap? 

James: Let’s kick things off with what is a sitemap? 

Valeria: Well, before I answer that, I would like to say… to make an analogy. I like to think about sitemaps as when you look into the star – into the star – into the sky and you see in, in cities it’s quite difficult to see the sky because we have a lot of light pollution, so we cannot see it.

And you’re looking for a star, and you still wanna look to a star, and you can’t because in the city it’s almost impossible. So this is the kind… what could, what could happen with your site, which means a sitemap is an, is a tool that helps you avoid that kind of situation. It means it’s a visual representation of your website to help users, how to find the information on your site.

It means videos, files, photos, every kind of information you have on your site is gonna appear in the site map, so users will never miss your star, which is your site in the worldwide web.

James: I like that analogy. And one of the things that I remember you and I talking about, getting ready for this conversation is that, that should never happen.

People should always be able to find important information on your website and the sitemap helps achieve that. 

What are the different types of sitemaps?

James: Let’s talk a little bit more about the different types of sitemaps, because when you and I were initially talking about this, I was thinking of one thing and then you were thinking of another thing, but they’re actually…

I mean, they’re kind of separate, but they’re kind of the same thing. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Valeria: Yeah, absolutely. I mean there, there are two kind of sitemaps. Normally, or we are, we… recommend everybody to use both of them. One is the XML sitemap, which is the one that is written for crawlers, which means for engines, search engines, bots, spiders.

And it’s not for users. It’s actually seriously just for engines or for search engines. The purpose is that they can read the information for your site and… And read each piece of your information to, to help, to help users find what they need. If you are, if you are looking for something, for example, in the site, in the, in the, in the browser, and you’re using a specific word.

The crawlers could read this word and take it to your site. So it’s all the information written, but in a file that is made only for, for search engines. 

The other kind of file you have, we can have is an HTML file, which is actually made for humans. This is one just for humans. I mean, it will help as well crawlers and search engines because, all of the sitemaps are made to help.

So even if it’s made for humans, the the bots can read this information and can help, uh, users arrive to what they’re looking for. So these kind of sitemaps are actually visual are not like that. The ones which are just data. This is visual information, and you can have different kind of HTML sitemaps. 

Regularly, we have it in the, in the footer. And you have… I mean we can, we can show an example. We have it actually, we were looking our, well, we were building this, this article or this interview, we realized, hey, our footer is not really a sitemap. And we were like, okay, do we need a sitemap? We don’t, we don’t need a sitemap.

What is really the point of a sitemap? So this is our actual sitemap, sorry, our actual footer, which is just a little bit of information and you have some, some links that contact to us or if you wanna work with us. When we made this footer, we were thinking about… more about people contacting us, not about showing a sitemap in our footer.

Then as we were making this, this, article or interview about sitemaps, we made a new one. It’s not implemented, but we wanna show what could be a real, I mean, not a real, a different footer. Or a real sitemap. We don’t have at the moment a sitemap in our footer. So the idea here is that you have each page of your site and the user will see easily all the content and will be, I mean, it’s really helpful information for a, for a user when he’s looking for something and maybe he’s in the menu and he’s not arriving where he needs.

So he will, he will always be able to go to the footer. See all the information together and arrive where they need. As well, there are other kind of sitemaps, which are not footers could be a mega menu. I mean, there is not only the way of showing. I mean, the, the correct way is not only a footer, you can have as well a mega menu like this one.

We are working on these mega menus since long time it’s not still implemented. That’s why we didn’t want to change our footer because the, the goal here is to have this mega menu. And as well in this mega menu, you can go to each tab. And in, in these tabs, users will have all the information they need.

Each page is linked and you can go straight to where you wanna go. 

James: Yeah, it’s a really important distinction. I wanna back up just a little bit here because the XML site map that you talked about earlier has a function that is about discoverability. It’s about search engines being able to index your website – such as Google. I mean, that’s an important aspect of it. The conversation that we’re having now about sitemaps, either in a mega menu or inside of your footer are also about discoverability, but it’s also a usability issue as well. So when we compare our old footer, well, I shouldn’t say old. This is actually our current footer, and we compare it to what we’re gonna be implementing. There is this aspect of it being much more usable to a user who is on our homepage as an example, and they end up scrolling all the way down to the bottom. And this footer, this version of the footer, presents much more functionality versus the current version of the footer.

And so that’s our goal is to be able to provide that additional usability for users and get them to the important pages that they want to get to. This footer, it’s not horrible, but you know, it needs to be kicked up a notch. 

Valeria: Yeah. Sometimes we think about sites as horrible or not horrible, this is the opinion of the client.

They arrive and we hear, oh, I have a horrible site. And maybe it’s not a horrible site. It’s not correct when you think about user experience and usability. So our goal is try to be better every single day about users and to help users how to achieve their goal. If you, if you wanna go to a site and you cannot find the information you’re looking for, you get frustrated and you leave the site even if it’s a nice site in the world.

So it’s, it’s not about if you have a nice site or not, it’s about how we can help users to, to achieve their goals. And I think that sitemaps – both kind of sitemaps – even if they’re for crawlers or search engines, will help users because as much as a bot can take the information, this information will, will arrive to the user always.

So it’s always a positive, even if you, you decide to use only an XML sitemap. 

James: Absolutely. And you know, the advantage with the HTML sitemaps when I think about link indexing and how Google might be interpreting how well our site can be navigated – if I’m not mistaken, I think they do weigh that into… it’s not a core vital, but they do, you know, weigh that into their search engine ranking.

So anyway, in either case, whether it’s the, whether it’s Google indexing the website or whether it’s a user actually using the website. They are equally as important. They go hand in hand in achieving both that discoverability and that usability. 

When is a sitemap not really needed?

James: So I think we get a good sense of when site maps should be used, but are there cases where a site map should not be used?

Valeria: If your site is too small and you have, for example, a homepage, I mean a landing page. There’s not really a need for a sitemap there, because user will will arrive to that landing page. Even though you help engines, or bots, if you have a sitemap, even if it’s just one, one page, you can always, you can always help, but as well, at the same time, if you have only one landing page or, or if you, your site is two, three links and they’re well connected. The important thing is that whenever you are navigating a site, you can ensure that users can go to one point to another without missing a page.

So if you have three pages and they’re connected, you don’t really need a sitemap. As well, If you, in, in your site, you have, let’s say, not much content, and of course no video, no images, no audio as well as a sitemap… sorry, a site that don’t need a sitemap. So there are a few that don’t need, but I mean it’s not much the time you have to invest on, on a sitemap and it’s really helpful.

Who needs a sitemap?

James: So we talked about the different types of sitemaps. I wanna take a couple steps back actually and ask you who needs a sitemap? 

Valeria: Well, actually it’s the opposite to what we say right now. I mean, if you… no, it’s, it is somehow exactly the opposite. If you have a really big site full of links or full of content, media content… if you have links that aren’t linked to other links as well. You will need a sitemap because otherwise bots cannot, cannot find those links. So if you have many pages, if you have too much media, if you are changing your content regularly, bots can see that and they can always put you in front, you know, in the top.

So if you, if you never… it’s, it’s somehow tricky because maybe you don’t need to update your side all the time, but if you do it, it’s an advantage because bots can read that and whenever they are reading information from your site, it will go to the top again. 

James: So almost everybody can benefit from using a sitemap if they have a website on the internet.

But if you have a, if you have a large website, you know, with a lot of pages on it, like ours, you know, ours is a really good example because we offer a lot of services. You know, different types of people are coming to our website, looking for different types of services. We have a blog, so a lot of that needs to be indexed on Google, but it also needs to be found by a human being as well.

They need to naturally discover those, those resources on the website and having a mega menu or a footer menu as a sitemap really does help with that. 

Valeria: Yeah, it’s fun because until you don’t see things done, you don’t think you don’t need them. So it was, it was a surprising thing for both of us when we were talking about this subject and suddenly we say, okay, we have this footer.

It makes us think a lot because we were working in a mega menu and a mega menu is a sitemap, so, even if we were working in that mega menu, we still think each, we think, think that, okay, what about if we have mega menu and a footer? And then you’re always helping. I mean, you’re not giving information that is not needed. It’s the opposite. It’s always needed and you’re always helping the user because if you don’t have the mega menu displayed, users cannot see it. But if you go to the footer, you can always see the information there. 

How should a sitemap be implemented on a website?

James: So let’s talk a little bit about the implementation of sitemaps on a website. Is there anything that should be taken into account when somebody is going to implement a sitemap on their site?

Valeria: Yeah, I mean, when, when you think about implementation, you, you have to think about what for, we need this? And I will say that main… the, the first thing everybody has to think about is the purpose of your own site. If you don’t know what is your own site for. It’s tricky because you’re not gonna be showing exactly what you need to show in your sitemap.

So if you, if you actually, sometimes you have a site and then you decide to make a sitemap, and this can provide clarification of your own site and say, Hey, like, like for us, we say, okay, we don’t have it, but. If we will have it, how it will be? So this can help a lot to your own site. As well. It’s a good… tool to avoid broken links.

This is what we say before. I mean, if you have links that are not connected to other ones, I mean not links, um, pages that aren’t connected to other ones, you will, you will have broken links. And a sitemap is a great thing to avoid those. As well, they’re a great conversation funnel… conversion, sorry, funnel, sorry about my English.

James: A conversion funnel.

Valeria: Because if you have a sitemap, it takes a user two, three steps to arrive where they want. So whenever, whenever you help user to, to achieve their goal fast is a way to convert a new user. As much as you make it work, it’s the user that you may lose. 

James: You know, that actually is making me think of something that I was… I was listening to a podcast recently, and they were talking about being clear and clarity.

Sitemaps help with that clarity. When people are trying to look for a service on our website, we wanna be as… we wanna make sure that path is as clear as possible for them to get the information that they need right through from, you know, when they go from our home page to seeing the services that they’re interested in and then going right into our contact page and, filling out that form and submitting it.

It’s about that clarity. So yeah, absolutely. I think in terms of implementing a sitemap, the purpose of your website is an important consideration, as you said, and that clarity of navigation and what is it that you want the user to get out of it and then do is another thing to think about. 

Valeria: Yeah. And as well, um, there is, um, we can say that there’s time saving because it is, it is connected with what we said before. If, if you have a sitemap, even if you didn’t implement it completely in your site, It will help you for the future. If you wanna update your side and you have a side map, it will help you to understand what you have to update and you’re not all the time thinking, okay, what do I need to, to update?

And is my site correct? If you have a, um, a complete site map of your site, or at least what you expect from your site, It will really help you in the future to to add pages or to delete pages that aren’t being used. 

James: Yeah, that’s a really good, uh, that’s a really good use of a site map I hadn’t considered.

Valeria: As well, it helps when you, when you create a, a sitemap, it’s help to understand the users. What… where are the users committing… where, where your site is committing errors. Which action you have to fix. Where is the biggest amount of traffic or where users never arrive? So these sitemaps will help as well.

What are you doing better or what you’re doing worse? 

James: That’s a really good point. When you think about constructing a site map, what a website owner should consider is your Google analytics. They should look at that and see… we’re not getting any traffic into this… into this area on our website. Why is that? Maybe there is something broken. 

Valeria: Yeah. The good thing is that with sitemaps, it’s, it’s a great tool as well of SEO strategies. Exactly because of that, because you can analyze the traffic of your own site and understand why is… why some pages work or why not. Or even if they work, how can you make them better or what are users expecting from those pages?

James: That’s the bottom of my list. I don’t have any other questions for you, Valeria. Is there anything else that we should know about with sitemaps? 

Sitemaps help your website shine like a star and be seen

Valeria: To finish with the same that we start is… I like to take into account the sky because it depends where you are in the world. You can see the stars or not.

It’s not that we are selling nothing here. We are, we are working and we like to talk about things and we would like to, to analyze what is going on with our site or how can we help each other, even in the team now when we work. So it depends where you are in the world and you see the sky, you will be able to find or not a star or a constellation.

For example, I live in Argentina, and if you go to the South, you can see incredible skies. It’s impossible. Or even to the north, I mean you have to go out from the center and to all the light from Buenos Aires, but you can see, I dunno, just the whole constellation, galactic constellation and it’s amazing. So for me, It’s like if you have a site, it should be shining all the time.

I mean, it’s not about only that you have the great content, it’s that users can find your site because otherwise you have a great site, but nobody can see it. And it’s, it’s sad because I mean, the constellations are there. 

James: That’s beautiful. That is such a great way to end the conversation Valeria. Thank you so much for joining me.

Valeria, Lead Designer at 729 Solutions. Thanks again for a great conversation. 

Valeria: Thank you, James. Very nice.

Make your site shine like a star

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