Home > Articles > Web Development > Content Management Systems

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Step 5: Sitemapping

In SEO we talk a lot about the word “sitemap.” In most SEO contexts, however, we mean the sitemap.xml file that needs to be submitted to the search engines on a regular basis to aid the robots in crawling the site after it’s built. We’ll discuss this in Chapter 4. In this case, we’re discussing the information architecture aspect of sitemapping. The IA act of designing the sitemap involves identifying web goals, existing content, web properties, and web traffic (and, hopefully, SEO and keyword input) to achieve a completed website according to objectives.

What is IA and where/when does it apply? As we’ve mentioned, IA stands for information architecture—the process of strategically identifying how your site can best be constructed with navigation, third-party tools, and so on. Early on in the process, I start discussions with clients about a new website with a standard, basic sitemap layout in Excel—although Microsoft’s Visio is a more common IA and UI package for these purposes, and PowerPoint is another poor man’s alternative. We discuss, and the client takes and adapts for further discussion. After the client approves page count, basic layout, and architecture, we proceed to web design and/or if necessary, wireframes. For large clients and websites, this can be an elaborate, time-consuming process and even involve professional IA personnel. But for small business WordPress websites, this should be included as part of the price and standard web design process.

What makes the SEO unique here is that a good optimizer can direct the website architecture for easy crawlability. And a website should not be architected without SEO in mind. Why design and build a website that the spiders can’t crawl? For example, it may be tempting to build a website with deeper and deeper pages, getting further into more detail about a specific topic. In fact, theoretically this idea sounds good for SEO as well—why not dive fully into your niche content? The problem is, all these deeper layers can inhibit spiders. Some SEOs will argue that if cleanly architected and linked, these deeper pages are very valid for SEO. Maybe so, but the closer to the surface of your domain, the quicker the crawlers can find it. What we’re discussing here is a shallow architecture. For most WordPress websites (which have fewer pages than large corporate Fortune 1000 sites) this can be the best approach.

Another SEO opportunity in the sitemap design is to assign SEO-friendly menu page labels. This has to be a delicate maneuver, because the longer the menu labels, the more it can visually break the menu (especially when web visitors zoom in on their browser). So the web developer will want menu labels as short as possible (and rightfully so), while for the SEO, the more keywords integrated, the better. Again, there must be compromise. Regardless of the top menu, the SEO should have his way on the footer menu. Strategic footer menus are great for SEO, and I recommend fleshing those out with full keywords in the pages’ listings (even if they don’t exist on the top menu). Often you will see gray-hat SEOs abuse the footer with links such as these:

  • SmallTown lawyer | MainStreet pain attorney | BigCity attorney

Not only are these much heavier SEO tricks and less for usability (and don’t fit the top menu at all), but they also often link off the site to SEO landing pages. These are the kinds of things search engines are cracking down on.

Here’s an example of the Excel spreadsheet I consult with clients on. In this case it is very keyword friendly (see Figure 3.7).

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 Simple Microsoft Excel drawn sitemap.

For either scenario, you’re still finding the balance of page-level URL length. You want to maximize the keywords in URLs for SEO, but at the same time the URL can’t have an unlimited length (even in the age of URL shorteners). You’ll assign the page-level URLs in SEO page form, but a good guide is not to exceed 115 characters, and also not to use “stop” words in your URL, such as “the,” “of,” “and,” “to,” “with,” and the like. Remember not to duplicate your keywords, or do keyword-stuffing, within a page URL. And longer URLs can dilute a specific keyword. However you go, you definitely don’t want dynamic URLs (a rarity in WordPress) or default WordPress permalinks. For more on URL length, here is a great post: http://moz.com/blog/should-i-change-my-urls-for-seo.

Although shallow sites are a good SEO goal, you still want the site’s content, on a page-to-deeper-page basis, to venture from light, intro, and marketing “fluff” copy on surface pages to in-depth content on the deepest page. For example, I always highly recommend that a site should have sectional landing pages or navigational pages. These are intro pages to a section and listings of its page contents and URLs. Although the links are already accessible via the menu, these navigational pages provide good bytes of info for those unsure of where they’re going—and they’ve become a web standard. So if your site has a section on “zoo reptiles,” that sectional intro page, accessible as the top-level navigation item, can tell you about the pages within it on snakes versus lizards versus turtles (good things to know!).

Set sitemap/customer journey goals: If you’re redoing your website, chances are you also need to redo your sitemap. Navigation trends change. For example, it used to be popular for jump menus to allow users to select their preference of what type of content to visit next (outside of the menu navigation). And breadcrumbs are not used nearly as much these days as they once were. Remember? That list at the top of your page showing you started at Home, then went to About, then went to Foot Corns Services, to Foot Corns Induction and down the yellow-brick road to Oz, and all of that was how you got to where you are now? From a web usability standpoint, if you already have good menu navigation (and for larger sites, both top-level navigation and section-level side navigation), a detailed footer menu, as well as a call-to-action or list of relevant links within your current page content—well, how many menu navigation options do you need? Is your site that confusing? And what about the added consumption of real estate? Some SEOs feel that breadcrumbs are another good opportunity for valuable anchor text.

Personally, I place emphasis on the aforementioned anchor text locations that you already have and have strategic control over. Additional links might dilute the more strategic anchor text, such as in your page text calls-to-action. At times you may need to consider such elements because of other SEO barriers. Perhaps you have a corporate site founded on an ERP, or an IT-heavy hosting platform template that is SEO prohibitive. In these cases, you need all the help you can get. So if, for example, you are not able to rename dynamic URLs, such as http://www.example.com/7=fekl?12#$J90n, but are able to use breadcrumbs, that might help your overall SEO.

Regardless, a goal for your new sitemap should be clean, simple navigation (and shallow navigation is a good SEO goal as discussed). But gauge your other IA and web marketing goals to help drive your new sitemap along with your SEO goals. Do you want to get visitors to the shopping cart more easily? Does the nav not do justice to the library of content resources customers are asking for?

A common IA upfront approach is to survey; customers, company representatives, or those completely unfamiliar with your site can all have valuable input. From this research you can glean priorities of content and functionality. But this is also the time to do your keyword research. Do the survey results suggest keywords and desirable web content in line with the keyword phrases being searched online? If not, why do you think there’s a difference?

The last thing I’ll say on this point is to serve your target audience. Your existing customers and staff know what they expect from your website, but this should be very different from that of a prospect visiting your site for the first time. Past visitors will know what they want from your site, where (roughly) to find it, where to find your contact info, and so on. Unique visitors (first-time visitors to your site) will not. So how can you attract them, incentivize them, and move them through your site to achieve the objective? Let your website plan identify and prioritize these aspects.

A common web marketing motif is the funnel; I like to discuss the digital marketing funnel with clients and how it applies to their website. Namely, your website goal is the bottom of the funnel. The primary start, when Google users search and see your listing and click through to the home page, is the top or mouth of the funnel. From there, what is the optimal journey to filter visitors down to the spout or goal? What was the typical journey on your previous site? How can it be better? Keep in mind that this is also how to think like Google Analytics, which provides a funnel as part of its reports (which we’ll dive into in Chapter 7), showing the most common paths web users took and how they aligned with your desired paths to the goal.

Don’t look at those lost along the way as failures. Your website needs to serve those as well, and if it’s any good, it already does. This is why I discuss having light, marketing intro copy to sectional entry pages, and deep industry copy deeper into the site. You will have web visitors who are not yet ready to purchase or call you; they have to think about it. Maybe they’re new to your industry or the sales cycle and they need to learn more on their way up. Maybe they’re reviewing info information from a number of different vendors to rate and compare before purchase. How are you serving these prospects? Do you have the web content to give them now and keep them coming back later? You always want to keep your funnel full, hence serve prospects at all levels. Take this conceptual figure to heart and into content and page planning for your new site (see Figure 3.8).

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 The Customer journey and website goals.

After you have objectives nailed down, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of the sitemap design itself and all its fun issues. One issue with redoing your sitemap and site content is that typically the page-level URLs change as well. Again, this is a good thing; you have probably altered SEO keywords since your last website build. Your new page-level URLs should reflect these new keyword phrases, and you should have all this in your updated SEO strategic planning. You just have to ensure that you have set up the new pages and their URLs with 301-redirects from your old website’s indexed pages. 3-oh-what-what-whats? Relax. We’ll get into implementing 301 redirects in Chapter 4.

The point here is that you want to be very clear about what existing pages you have coming up in Google for what keywords and what reader content. You’ll want to know where to direct search engine bots, and your web visitors, to go instead. All this should be represented in your new sitemap documentation and SEO page forms. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what exactly this site you’re creating is supposed to achieve.

Suppose you’re a small business in B-to-B (business-to-business, in contrast to retail business-to-consumer) and you want your website to facilitate lead generation. How can a website serve you leads? By capturing web visitor contact info for follow-up or by inciting customers to contact you. One way to incentivize info capture is to offer industry-specific, valuable content that requires login registration. So if a business sells high-end display monitors, it might have a video demo on the future of 3D monitor technology for business or a whitepaper on rating and comparing functionality of monitors for video conferencing (which could require registration/login to view). A real customer would find this information valuable enough to provide contact information in order to access.

As smart as this lead-capture approach is, however, it doesn’t help SEO. Spiders can’t crawl to the other side of lead-generation forms, leaving valuable content out of the SEO and SERP spectrum. From an SEO perspective, you want your best, most demanded content optimized. But again this shows the balancing act of SEO when presented with alternative web roles, goals, and personnel.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020