Web Development | October 16, 2020

3 Main Types of Sitemaps and Their Impact On Website Development

Sitemaps are an exceedingly important aspect of website development. They are essential for SEO reasons, pure UX and web design purposes or even simply for frontend users who may be trying to find a more obscure page.

We’re not making a baseless statement here — we speak from experience. Here at Oangle, we’ve built hundreds of websites, many of which were revamps of existing websites that did not have sitemaps. In this article, we will look at the breakdown of 3 different types of sitemaps and their impact on website development as a whole.

Firstly, let’s be clear — sitemaps are not the main job of a web developer, nor are they a part of the typical development process. However, the presence of a sitemap and ensuring that one exists is an important aspect of the web development process, because having a proper sitemap right from day one saves the whole team a lot of trouble later on.

A sitemap is a very specific word that really just means what it says — a map of the site. However, they come in many forms, and here at Oangle, we believe that we can categorise them into 3 main types. Firstly, we have site architecture maps, mainly to streamline the web design and UX process and give clarity to web developers to plan how the site should be built. Secondly, we have HTML sitemaps, and lastly XML sitemaps. Let’s take a deeper look at these 3 main types of sitemaps that are involved in any web design and development process:

1. Site Architecture Sitemaps

These sitemaps are for UX purposes and should be created at the start of the web design phase before development starts. This sitemap is critical to web design and should heavily influence UX decisions made during the web design process. This sitemap is also a full-fledged architecture of the site. As this will determine how the site will be built, it should be communicated clearly to the development team before development starts. Public and private pages (including admin only or user account pages) should also be listed in these sitemaps. At times, this is first provided to us by the client as a wishlist of sorts, or suggested by the web designer and amended heavily throughout the web design process. 

2. User navigation sitemaps (commonly known as HTML sitemaps)

These sitemaps are frontend-only and are more commonly found in bigger websites with a lot of pages and deeper hierarchies to their page structure. This does not replace the user navigation menu but complements it with secondary and even tertiary pages listed. This is useful for users who want to find something more specific without remembering the keyword to search. In these sitemaps, not all pages need to be listed, and usually, only public pages are listed. There should only be one of these sitemaps in the frontend and is usually built by the web developer during the development process.

However, not all websites need an HTML sitemap. For example, if your website is a microsite and only has one page, you do not need an HTML sitemap as there is no other page for the user to navigate to. Likewise, if your website only has a few pages which are all clearly available and easy to find from the main menu, you do not need a sitemap. HTML sitemaps work best for websites with a lot of content and pages.

3. Sitemaps for Search Engines (commonly known as XML Sitemaps)

These sitemaps are highly critical for Search Engin Optimisation (SEO) — in fact, they are the first step for SEO. This is because such sitemaps allow search engine robots to crawl the pages in your website immediately. There can be many XML sitemaps in a site, but there should always be a master sitemap that lists all the secondary sitemaps. Without an XML sitemap, your website may have fewer pages indexed on search engines than it should have, which is detrimental to a website in today’s context. Only public pages that you want to be indexed on search engines (i.e. pages that you want people to be able to find through search engines) should be listed on XML sitemaps. These sitemaps are usually created by the SEO team, using sitemap generating software or SEO plugins/modules (for CMSes). This is important to the web developer as there are many web development bugs that can cause an XML sitemap to not work correctly, causing the search engine bots to be unable to crawl it.

In summary:

Sitemaps are not part of the web development process, but it isn’t a stretch to say that the web development process starts and ends with a sitemap. Therefore, it is inherently critical to web development. Whether your web development process goes smoothly or not hinges greatly on how well you flesh out your sitemap. Of course, sitemaps do not have to be permanent. As your website goes live and traffic to your site increases, use your web analytics data to make informed decisions about your sitemap as well.

All websites that are built and developed by Oangle start with a sitemap (for web design and communication) and end with a sitemap (XML). If you are unsure whether your website has an XML sitemap, you can try visiting the following links:

E.g. if your domain is ‘oangle.com’, go to:

oangle.com/sitemaps.xml

or

oangle.com/sitemap_index.xml

In most cases, the sitemap will be in either of these links. You can also try a sitemap checker tool (there are many tools freely available online) to check if your website has a sitemap.

Have questions for us?

At Oangle, we have created numerous sitemaps for various websites and we are happy to walk you through a site-mapping workshop process. We will answer common questions regarding sitemaps such as:

– What are the most important points to take note of?
– Should the Team page be under the About page or beside the About page?
– How does one create an XML sitemap and submit it to the search engines?

If you have questions like these, or if you need help with your web development to ensure that your sitemap is most effective, feel free to contact us. We’d be glad to help!

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