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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Site Maps, or the Importance of Planning

A client recently asked me what a site map was. An excellent topic for my blog, I thought ! One can hardly overestimate the importance of planning, when it comes to web design.

One way to look at a site map is as a blue print, or the building drafts for your house. It is a graphic representation of how the website will be structured, and how the individual pages that make up the site will relate to each other: which pages visitors will see first, and where do they lead them? What are the main sections of the site? Which page links to what other pages? This will also determine how the main and secondary navigation menus are built and structured.

As a design document, the site map should also indicate any features that are needed: will there be a database, a login system, a search function? Any content that is dynamically generated? If so, what will be the sorting criteria available to the user? Will there be media files that require special treatment? Will parts of the site be built in Flash? Will there be feedback or enquiry forms, or will the users be able to leave comments and feedback? All these things should be at least considered, and hopefully decided, before work on the actual site design even starts.

The more thoroughly a site is planned out beforehand, the less risk there is of wasting time and money walking down a blind alley somewhere. The site map will also help the designer to give a more accurate estimate of the cost, and of the timeframes involved - particularly if it is a complex site with many sections and/or rich media and interactive content.

It is not only in at the planning stage that a site map is of use, though. It is a document that should be kept up to date as the design process develops - there are bound to be changes or additions at some stage, or things that seemed desirable initially, but may turn out a bit superfluous. A clear structure is user friendly, and keeping track of the site map ensures that this goal will be achieved. It will be extremely helpful when new sections need to be added to the site at some later stage!

Eventually, a site map also will be relevant to your search engine optimisation (SEO). Once the site is live, there should be a page that contains links to every page within the website. This will make sure that the robots which crawl the internet on a regular basis for Google and other search engines, will find and index every page that is part of your site. As you will probably have noticed when browsing on the internet, search engine results always return individual pages, rather than web domains - the page a potential visitor finds in Google may well not be your home page at all. So making sure that *every* page that makes your website is accessed by the search robots, and indexed, increases your chances of being found on the net.

Asni: Multimedia Art & Design:: ::

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