Creating a Website? You Need A Site Map
Creating a simple blog can be easy. Setup doesn’t take too much work — especially if you go with a pre-designed template and a user-friendly content management system (CMS) like WordPress. Creating a well conceived, optimized blog, on the other hand? Not so simple.
This is Part Two in a three-part series on my adventures in creating, launching and nurturing a personal blog. In Part One, I outlined how to identify your personal brand. In this post, I’ll walk you through why and how to create a site map.
Why is a Site Map Important?
Creating a site map is the single most important step I took in getting my blog off the ground. Yet, it’s one that many people skip. Taking time to layout my website’s internal structure is crucial for three reasons:
- It forced me to think intuitively about what information I wanted stored, where. Drop-down menus, second-tier pages, blog post categorization — these were all things I had to consider.
- I wanted my site to be a place where visitors would return often. When people visit, I want them to know their way around without feeling confused or overwhelmed by the layout.
- I had to think hard about how I wanted to interact with them. (This led to me place my social media buttons at the forefront of the site.)
How to Create a Site Map
Building a site map is a lot like solving a jigsaw puzzle, so it’s important to stay flexible through the process. My own site map strategy has changed no fewer than five times as I’ve streamlined my navigation and post categorization processes. And I may decide to tweak it again in the future.
For a personal blog just getting off the ground, that’s perfectly fine. What matters most is that I’ve got the “bones” of my site in order.
In the end, my site map ended up with six top-level sections in the navigation bar. A few of these top-level sections also dropdown to important sub-sections.
Here’s how my site map looks:
Homepage: First Impressions Matter
The Homepage is one of the most viewed pages of any website. As such, I want to ensure that it’s a welcoming experience that let’s people know exactly what they’re getting themselves into right away.
I had two choices when mapping my homepage:
- A static page, pointing visitors to the various sections of the site. With this option, the homepage functions like an “About” page, containing a site description, links to social media and my other writing platforms; compelling visuals; and some brief biographical information. However, it also comes with a huge limitation: a lack of dynamism, which means that visitors would have to click around to find content.
- A dynamic page that highlights all the recent activity on my blog (this design is also popularly known as magazine style). Essentially, the page would become a compilation of my blog posts, organized by date published and theme, with the goal of getting people right to the meat without much distraction or hoopla. It wouldn’t include a site description, though — so visitors might be unclear, initially, about where they’ve landed.
To figure out which homepage style to choose, I thought about the websites I visit most often in my free time: TomandLorenzo.com, AVClub, Variety, Cracked, and Slate… All popular websites that have a lot of new content rolling out regularly, with the freshest content placed front and center — the first thing visitors will see.
I chose to follow suit and make my homepage dynamic for similar reasons. At the end of the day, the blog is the heart of my website, and that should be reflected in my homepage.
The next two sections of the site separate my postings neatly into two categories: Film and Et cetera. Because this is a website about film, giving film (and its subsections) its own category sets it apart from the miscellaneous subjects I’ll be writing about less frequently.
The About Page
I went with a dynamic homepage, so I needed to also create an About page. An About page is practically mandatory for a website these day, particularly a blog. Even if you’re writing anonymously, you’ll want to give your visitors some information about the intent of the blog.
This isn’t related to the site map, but a tip in creating an About page: while the setup process of an About page is fairly simple, the content itself requires serious consideration. I split my content into three sections for a clear and clean delivery:
- The first paragraph talks a little about my life, profession, and education.
- The second and third paragraphs include my blog’s mission statement, and why I started the blog.
- The final section includes a little more interesting personal information about me — something to capture the attention of my readers, help them connect with me, and make them want to know more.
The Contact Me section doesn’t have much personality, but its functionality and importance made it impossible to exclude from my site map. A simple contact form makes it easy for visitors to send me a note, letting me know their thoughts or asking questions. Alternatively, this page can be rolled into the About Me page, if that is your preference.
Social Media Buttons
Having social media buttons front and center on my homepage is perhaps the most important functionality my it can provide. I’m unable to post to my blog as prolifically (and quickly) as I can to, say, Twitter. While my blog posts must be well-structured and planned — my random thoughts about movie trivia, casting decisions, source material, weird plot beats and everything in between don’t. So, followers of both my blog and social media channels with get a full, dynamic experience.
I’m still in the process of setting up my social media channels, which will include my existing Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Google+ page. For the moment, I’ve included a link to my Twitter account in the site map. Eventually, the site will also include prominent social media buttons in the header or sidebar; but for now, it’s functioning the way I need it to.
While my site map includes categories I believe are essential to any good website (a dynamic homepage, About page, Contact page, and social media buttons), your site map should be personalized to fit your own strategies. So, experiment! Try different things. Ask your friends to check out your site and compare its navigation to their favorite blogs. See how your favorite blogs solved the jigsaw of their sites and think about what makes them successful.