This post outlines one of the key areas we should consider when planning a new website.
As well providing great practical advice at the early stages of your web build project this post also identifies areas of opportunity for ‘Search’ even before your website is built.
A sitemap is visual representation of the structure of your website. It shows all of your website pages and the hierarchy of these pages.
Its important to understand this structure up front in order to get a birds eye view of your site and to make sure that all the topics you want to cover are included.
Building a sitemap should be pretty simple process yet there are plenty of pitfalls to avoid.
Getting your sitemap right, before you start the build, is vital to the success of your new product manufacturer website.
1. Look at the Data
Your analytical website data (captured by analytics software like Google Analytics) can hold vital information and insight into visitor behaviour, and how they find your site.
These search terms as well as generic keyword volumes searches can reveal gems of information that can help drive relevant traffic to your site.
For product manufacturer’s this could be long tail phrases like products for applications, or current and topical searches like legislative terminology.
2. Don’t Regurgitate
Too often companies are hell bent on including all their old content on their new website.
If there are pages that no one cares about and haven’t visited for a long period (over 12 months) why are they required in the new website?
Try not to get drawn into just reproducing a new website like the last.
A new product manufacturer website should be an evolution of the old site yes, but focus on what information your target audience wants, and what you want those types of prospects or customers to see and do.
Tip: Resist cluttering up the sitemap with pages that aren’t required to help convert.
3. Keep it Shallow
A deep site is difficult to navigate.
When I say deep, I mean a site that needs lots of clicks to get to the child or tail pages ie. the product detail pages.
The number of clicks is usually the largest on the product section of the website, as here lies the most detail.
Large complex product offerings are tricky to structure effectively and of course your product offering is to a large extent out of your control.
Try to keep every page within 2 clicks deep. This helps both your visitors and search engines navigate your site quickly.
e.g. Home > Product Category > Product
If your product range extends to 3 clicks you can to use clever navigation bars (such as mega menus) and side menus on product pages to help the user navigate through the site.
e.g. Home > Product Category > Product Range > Product
In other cases it might be more ideal to move your product range pages up a level to narrow the journey. Consider moving the 2nd tier up to the main Navigation.
e.g. Home > Product Range
If your product range would naturally fall into a 4 tier navigation, seriously consider restructuring the offering, or provide a really solid, user friendly searching mechanism on your site.
Show clearly where on the site the user is at any time and a way to return to previous pages easily, such as recently viewed items.
In addition, long structures can water down searchability. So imagine having a page 4-levels deep that you want people to find.
e.g. Home > 1st-level-page > 2nd-level-page > 3rd-level-Page > my-content-page
“my content page” now sits at the end of a url with multiple terms in it. The more terms, the less impact for search.
Finally, if you use product codes or product brands that nobody has heard of, try adding integration search terminology into these page urls.
For example a page like Home > Product > R4003 is only good for search if people are familiar with and remember the term R4003.
Tip: As a rule of thumb try to keep every page within 2 clicks deep.
4. Reassure the ‘Unaware’
The good proportion of your online marketing strategy should be geared towards reaching and converting the ‘Unaware’.
‘Unaware’ meaning, those visitors who do not know or have not come across your brand, company or products yet.
They don’t know you or your products until they hit your site on a non-brand related term such as a product type of category.
It’s vital therefore to provide a clear and engaging section about your company reassuring visitors that you are who you say you are.
Make sure you prove your expertise by including pages that covers your company details, clients you work with etc etc. Make the visitor feel like you are the right people for the job.
A well structured searchable case study section is essential to adding reassurance.
Tip: Pick good solid case studies with a story and structure them into a format that is broken down into an intuitive journey users can follow easily.
5. Add Personality
People want to deal with people. So keep your site personable by including a good people section with faces, names, key contacts, profile information, contributors.
Let the audience connect with who you are and be approachable in all the ways you would expect of your suppliers.
Key members of the board add credibility. Pages for sales staff provide an easy way for your customers to get in touch to buy your product.
Technical team contacts back up the support that you should be providing your core audience.
6. Make it Easy to Choose Your Product
Chances are, anyone visiting your site from outside the business won’t understand your product offering. To be honest, even some folks from inside the business won’t.
Work with your product managers to clarify your product offering so you understand it fully.
Then create pages that the “Unaware’ will need in order to select the right product that solves their problem.
A user comes to a site where there are 15 products within a given range. Each product has a page.
We don’t want them to read 15 pages, and then choose the product that’s right for them? Chances are they won’t hang around that long.
We need to make their life much easier.
Creating ‘decision’ pages takes the effort out of the process for the user.
There are a number of different techniques that can be used to do this.
- Comparison tables can help the user to understand offerings quickly.
- Creating product selector tools can also be useful to lead users the right choice.
- Application specific pages e.g. where there is a specific application for a product or number of products are vital.
All of these things should be considered when creating your sitemap. Make these pages easy to find eg. at a high level in the sitemap where possible.
Many of these pages will be highly searchable and therefore help to capture the unaware of your brand or products.
7. Tailor Your Page URLs
Structure your sitemap to aid search.
Page urls are important and any new site should make use of page structure by having friendly urls.
The naming of these urls should mirror key search terminology where possible.
Go back to your analytics results and use these to your advantage by naming your url structures around the most commonly used and relevant terms.
It’s important to note the word ‘relevant’ here.
We are trying to increase quality of traffic, not necessarily quantity.
So don’t just pick out generic search queries because they are high volume.
Think smarter and pick terms that are specific to your product offering or application.
Roll this out across your ongoing content as well as the initial site structure.
Tip: Use the information from analytics to structure blog category titles and article titles around key search phrases identified.
8. Document Your Unique Process
Lots of websites get their service offering right, but are let down by not selling their process, their added value.
Help your customers understand the engagement process from pre-sale to sale and post-sale and beyond.
Tell the customer what to expect at each stage of the process.
Let them know that you can support them throughout, starting with expert advice to help them find a solution that solves their problem.
And finishing with the reassurance that you won’t disappear into the abyss once they have purchased.
It’s also the part that is typically invisible. It’s unknown until customers have gone through it. So if it’s good, and you are proud of it, shout about it up front.
Tip: Describing and Selling your process is often overlooked and yet it is the side of the business that can set you apart from competition.
9. Where Can they Get a Takeaway?
Make sure your downloadable, shareable and useable (resource-type) content has a central place to live.
No doubt this information will be dotted around your site, attached to relevant pages. Brochure pdfs, technical documentation, related article links, nbs spec clauses are all great examples of downlaoded and ultimately measurable content.
A set of centralised pages dedicated to housing all this information is important to:
- Allow users to access all this gold dust without hunting around 15 different pages
- An opportunity to cross sell other products and make the audience aware of further products or documentation that may be useful to them
This section needs to be highly organised, accurate and searchable.
10. Privacy Pages, T&C’s, Accessibility and the Legals
The footer is an important part of any website and should not be left until the last minute.
Understand the job these important pages do and make sure they cover you explicitly. You should be including your terms and conditions, privacy policies, copyright information, cookie law declarations, group info and so on.
Consult your legal department and do it early in the process so you don’t get any surprises.
Quite a bit to get through there. I hope it illustrates just how crucial your sitemap is going to be in the success of your web build.
In summary, the two most important aspects to sitemap creation are user journey and Search.
Keep them in mind and build around those and your project won’t go far wrong.
We’ll typically start on paper, sketching out the core areas. Once we’re happy we’ll then find a wall and cover it in post-its.
Only when we’re satisfied will we jump on to a sitemap tool like slickplan and build a working model to share with our client for approval – if we’ve done our homework there won’t be too much more work to do from here.
Nb: Defining your sitemap offline (when starting a new web build) should not to be confused with creating your online website sitemap*
Of course, we’re always here to help, so if anything is unclear or if you would like any further information on our building products website build process then please do get in touch – 01908 671707 or on Twitter @PauleyCreative
*’Submiting’ an online sitemap is the process used to tell search engines what pages to index on your site. We’ll cover this process when we discuss launching your new website in the coming months.