Let’s be honest. The sitemap probably isn’t the first thing you think about when designing a webpage. After all, it’s much more exciting to imagine the shiny graphics or your colour scheme – heck, even how you design your navigation toolbar is probably more interesting. But if you don’t think about your sitemap right from the beginning, you could be making a big mistake. Why? Because the sitemap is essentially an outline of how your site is going to look. It tells you if the flow of your webpage makes sense and if each page actually does what you want it to do.
Without a sitemap, you’re a trapeze artist working without a net. Sure, it might be more exciting for the people watching (although the chances of someone watching you create your site are probably slim), but if you make a mistake, it’s going to be a lot harder to clean up the mess.
What Goes into a Sitemap?
When most people think about sitemaps, they imagine the kind that some people include on their webpages for visitors. You’ve seen them – at their core, they’re just lists of the pages on the site. That’s part of what we’re talking about, but sitemaps in this context are a bit more. Your internal sitemap should be a way for you to look at each page individually and confirm that:
It’s encouraging traffic with good use of SEO.
It’s helping to push your visitors down the tunnel towards conversion.
Different types of pages should use different types of keywords and say something different and specific to visitors. Let’s look at SEO first.
Sitemaps and SEO
Using a sitemap is a great way to plan your SEO integration because you can ensure that you only use certain words or types of words on specific types of pages.
Generally speaking, you only want your primary keywords to appear on your homepage. They might show up every once in a while in other sections, but this is where they live. Secondary keywords should be included on any pages that describe your products or services, and tertiary keywords can go into blog posts.
Some people like to add keywords into the About Us page, but it’s not necessary. The goal of this page shouldn’t be to get traffic directly from a search engine. Instead, think of this page as an opportunity to let your “true colours” show to visitors that end up on your site through other pages.
For a similar reason, SEO shouldn’t be a primary concern for a contact or checkout page. These pages should focus on conversion. You want to make it as easy and efficient as possible for people to make a purchase or hire your services.
Different Keywords for Different Purposes
How do you know the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary keywords?
Well, let’s say that you have a business that sells geeky t-shirts. It may seem too obvious, but “geeky t-shirts” is probably a great primary keyword for your homepage. The phrase encompasses everything that’s in your inventory (or at least the vast majority), and if someone is searching for “geeky t-shirts”, there’s a very good chance you want them to visit your site.
Secondary keywords that appear on your product pages will reflect those products. For example, “Star Wars t-shirts,” “Doctor Who t-shirts,” and “Nintendo t-shirts.”
And your tertiary keywords used on your blog are likely to be things such as “t-shirt collecting,” “geekiest t-shirts,” and “displaying your t-shirts.” Or these tertiary keywords may have nothing to do with t-shirts at all, instead focusing on lifestyle-related words, such as “Game of Thrones finale,” “Plan a D&D Party,” or “Wii-U Review.” The goal is to produce content that attracts visitors who are in the right demographic for your products but may not be specifically looking for it. At their heart, Keywords are about creating awareness and getting people to the site.
Sitemaps and Conversion
Of course, just getting eyeballs to your site is only half of the equation. A sitemap can also help you to clarify what you need to do on each page to push people to take action and turn them into actual paying customers.
For the most part, here’s what each page should communicate to people:
Homepage – This gives visitors a quick overview of what you do, and hopefully why they should believe you’re really good at it.
About Us – This page tells people why you do what you do (e.g. what you believe in).
Product and Service pages – These pages are specific examples of how you accomplish what you do. If your business is lawn care, maybe you have a page selling a particular lawnmower or describing your lawn-mowing service.
Blog – Your blog should help people to see that you know what you’re talking about and make them view you as a trustworthy expert.
Check Out or Contact page – Pretty simple here. You want your visitors to feel like this part of the process is a cakewalk. Only make them input as much information as you absolutely need, or you could end up having people leave in frustration.
Sitemaps and the Buying Cycle
What is the Buying Cycle? It’s the process that people go through to become actual paying customers. The three main parts are Awareness, Consideration, and Action.
At this stage, you’re educating people. Perhaps this means you are describing a specific product, or it might be general information on your homepage that gives them an overview of what you offer. Blog posts can also serve as Awareness “entry” points in a different way – they set you up as an expert in this area and someone worth paying attention to.
You still want to continue to educate, but by the consideration stage, you should be dealing with people who like you, your brand, and your message. They are on the hook, so to speak, and they’re thinking about taking some kind of action. These people will be looking at products and services more in-depth, and may even check out your About Us page.
Action – Okay, they like you and they like what you’re doing and what you’re selling. Depending on what calls-to-action you have set up on your various pages, the “action” that they take could be downloading a free eBook, adding themselves to your email list, or even making an actual purchase. All of these things are good, because at the very least, they give you another chance to make your sales pitch to them.
The content on each page should be geared towards its purpose in the buying process. Those focused on awareness need a big focus on educating and entertaining with very little selling. As visitors move onto pages in the consideration stage, you can afford to be more specific and more salesy, but you still don’t want to push. Sell the product, not the fact that you’re selling something. Once people finally get to the action stage, you don’t have to worry about either of those things – just make it as easy as possible for them to do whatever it is that you want them to do.
Imagine the sitemap as a funnel where you have lots of entry points for people to find you and learn about you and what you’re selling. A good number of people may spill out of this top part of the funnel, but many will also continue on if you’re smart about how you present yourself and what keywords you used to get them there.
The thing that you absolutely do not want to do is “trick” people into coming to your site with keywords that don’t reflect what you do. That helps no one, and will likely make people frustrated.
By creating your sitemap before you design the actual site, you can ensure that you create content that reflects the keywords you want to use so that both things will be working in tandem to encourage visitors to stick around and move towards taking an action.