By Jeff Kline and Tom Rivett

Blog

Guide: Creating a Sitemap for your Economic Development Organizationís Website

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

It’s time to create a new website for your economic development organization, and making a sitemap of how a user will navigate your website is the first step. It seems easy, but like visiting an unorganized and congested website, you don’t know where to start.

In this post, we will outline simple steps for building a sitemap for your EDO’s website. While the focus is on economic development content, many of the principles throughout this post can be used for associations, real estate, non-profits, jewish community centers, or anyone else who is starting to build their website.

A website with intuitive navigation will help build a better user experience for your customers -- leading to more conversions, stronger leads, and better overall customer satisfaction.

A website with poor navigation, however, will leave customers frustrated, confused, and disoriented -- all symptoms of high bounce rates for your site. An unorganized menu can also cause visitors to miss important information or direct high traffic to your least important pages.

You can avoid all of this with some simple planning on how users will navigate your website. By using a sitemap, you can build a website that works FOR your customers, and not against them.

What is a Sitemap?

A sitemap is a great way to layout exactly how you want your website to be navigated. It is the blueprint for where content will be located on your site.

You can also think of it as the wireframe or information architecture of your website.

During the web design process, many people get caught up focusing on what the website will look like aesthetically, and less on how it will actually function for the user navigating it. While the graphic design may look great, it is not the only factor for a beautiful website. 

The intuitiveness of how your website’s content is organized can play a huge role in accomplishing your goals. This is where a sitemap comes in.

Your sitemap will lay out each menu item and the type of content it will contain. Put simply, it details the different paths a visitor can take to access each page of your website.

This doesn’t have to be a complicated web of menus pinned up on a wall with string linking each page. Take a look at an example of Wikipedia’s basic site map. Exhausting, right?

 

The good news is that most websites do not require such a tangled web of pages charting every possible route.

We like to keep it simple at Accrisoft. For most of our clients, a simple excel spreadsheet gives you a good idea of how menu navigation will work at each level of your website.

A spreadsheet is an easy way to outline where content will occur on your site. You can even use our sample template to help you get started.

Getting Started

First, It is important to understand the intent of your website in order to properly design how its navigation should operate. Otherwise, you may have the most beautifully designed website on the internet, but it will be worthless if it doesn’t help accomplish your organization’s goals.

For this reason, you will want to develop a sitemap based on your audience’s needs. Tailor your content so that your audience can quickly navigate to the information they are looking for.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

What are my most visited pages? What questions do my customers ask most often? What are the goals of my client? What are they hoping to accomplish by visiting my website?

Organize menu items so users know where to go even if they’ve never previously visited your site.

Most often, you can break this down into three navigation levels:

  1. Main Menu/Top Level (Home Page)
  2. Secondary Level
  3. Tertiary Level

Outside of these levels, you may also have a Utility Menu, a Footer Menu or both.

Main menu- Top Level

Your main menu items will serve as lighthouses for related groups of content which the user can come back to anytime they are looking for guidance. Each item on the menu should have a clear description of what type of information you can expect to see by clicking through.

Your main menu can also be your first impression. Tell what you do at a quick glance and make your site clear and concise about how you are here to help.

Creativity can be useful as you name your main menu items, just be mindful not to become too vague.

A limit of five to seven categories is a good rule of thumb for your main menu. More often, less is better. Users can become overwhelmed with a large amount of options to choose from on the main menu. It can also frustrate them or cause them to miss important information.

So when it comes to your economic development organization’s website, the most common main menu items look something like the navigation below.

 Doing Business Here -- Key Industries -- Living Here -- About/Resources


You don’t need to follow this exactly, but almost all of these topics are covered somewhere on an EDO’s webpage. And for good reason. They are all things that your audience wants to learn more about.

Remember: We are building a site based on our audience’s intentions and goals, not our own.

EDO’s are hoping to attract new businesses and residents to their area. So all of the menu items above relate in some way to the audience’s goals. The information they want to find can then be located under one of these four topics.

Additionally, these menu items are concise -- quickly telling the user what they can expect to see if they were to click on each. Once they click on a main menu tab, we’re on to the next level.

Secondary menu

Your secondary menu contains content broken down into more specific landing pages relevant to your main menu item; where the customer can identify and choose the specific information they would like to see.

Take a look at the chart below which outlines secondary menu items most commonly associated with the main menu topics.

Doing Business Here

Key Industries

Living Here

About/Resources

Major Companies

Health and Sciences

Cost of Living/Utilities

Mission and Objectives

Talent and Workforce

Federal Contracting

Sports and Recreation

Vision

Professional Development

Technology

Arts, Culture, and Attractions

History

Incentives/Taxes

Renewable Energy

Shopping and Food

Success Stories

Demographics

Finance

Entertainment and Events

Services or Resources

Affordable Utilities

Food and Agriculture

Education

Staff/Team

Infrastructure

Manufacturing

Philanthropy/Civic Engagement

Board of Directors

Real Estate/Site Selector

Business Services and Headquarters

Health

Investing

Entrepreneurship

Retail

Housing

Facts and Figures

   

Visitors

Contact Us

Industries listed are not an exhaustive list and may vary depending on your region.

This is purely an example of how you can map out the content on your economic development organization’s website. Depending on your audience, region, content, and resources/services you provide, you may find that some of these topics can be moved, consolidated or eliminated.

For a template already filled out with everything you need to start your EDO’s sitemap, download our free excel spreadsheet.

Secondary menu items help to improve your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) as well. By creating multiple landing pages, you also create multiple entrances to your website. So visitors who are using a search engine for something specific will be directed to an individual landing page within your site, and not necessarily through the homepage first.

And for those times when a subject really needs to dissected...

Tertiary menu

A tertiary menu is reserved for getting even more specific with your content, but when there is too much information to keep it neatly organized on a single landing page.

A tertiary menu looks a little something like this.

 

This type of menu may be useful for a topic such as key industries, where more navigation may be required to highlight each specific industry on an individual landing page.

Another example would be your education page. Here you can use a tertiary menu to create individual landing pages for each level of schooling: K-12, Private Schools, Higher Education, Trade Schools, etc.

Utility Menu & Footer Menu

Include sections for a utility menu and a footer menu within your sitemap as well. These are menus with additional navigation options located on the top and bottom of your website, respectively.

Your utility menu will include quick links such as contact us, follow us, login or sign up, subscribe, share, etc.

 

The footer menu can also include these links but is more often reserved for contact information, back to top navigation, resources, and even your sitemap itself in a simple layout.

 

 

Modules, URLs, & Notes

Depending on what platform you are building your economic development organization’s website on, noting what module a page is built on may be relevant for your sitemap.

Additionally, include URLs for each page so that you can link to these pages internally.

Finally, include an area for any notes you may have relating to the content or special instructions on a page.

Summary

A sitemap is a crucial first step towards a beautiful website in both looks and functionality.

A well-organized site lets you follow the user’s journey and learn what they are interested in. If someone clicks through to a page with multiple services or information, you will have very little insight into what your customer’s goal was upon entering that page.

Rather, by creating individual landing pages for specific content, you will be able to better interpret what your visitor’s intentions are.

So get in the customer's frame of mind. Why are they visiting your EDO’s site in the first place? A business considering relocating to your area wants to know what? Presumably, what doing business is like in your area, of course. The same goes for families or individuals considering moving to your region. What is life like for residents? What is available to them?

Your sitemap navigation should answer these questions beginning with larger subjects on your main menu navigation, and ending with more specific content as a user navigates through your secondary and tertiary menus.

While you may have information that you want the customer to see, rather than the customer seeking this information out independently, it is still best to design your navigation with the consumer in mind. There will be opportunities to promote yourself but have your website ultimately work for the visitor.

In the end, how you organize your menu items is up to you. Or, if we’ve learned anything from this post, up to your customer.

If you’re still having trouble getting started, take a look at our free EDO excel sitemap that already has some basic menu levels laid out for you.

Where to go from here?

Now that we know where the content will exist on your economic development organization’s website, we have to fill those pages with actual words. Paying a web design company to create content for your website can be a costly service.

So why not do it yourself?

It’s not as easy as sitting down at your computer and laying a few paragraphs down on the page. Luckily, we have created a free content guide for EDO’s looking to develop content for their website. Because who knows more about your economic development organization than you?

To find out exactly what content your EDO should include on your new website, download the free ebook now.

Ebook: Economic Development Organization Websites: A Do-It-Yourself Content Creation Guide

In the ebook, we will cover how to create content for topics such as:

  1. Business or Doing Business Here
  2. Key Industries
  3. Life/Lifestyle or Living Here
  4. About Us/Resources

Plus, we offer visual examples from our favorite economic development organization websites.

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