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What is a Sitemap in UX Design?

by Mads Soegaard | | 81 min read
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A UX sitemap is a visual tool that organizes a website's content and structure. It displays how web pages connect and relate. It identifies gaps, prioritizes content, and fosters a cohesive design so users navigate websites easily with a clear, logical flow. This guide explores sitemap creation, tools and best practices. Learn more about effective website content organization through practical examples. 

Imagine navigating through a complex maze. Each turn leads to discoveries, but you might miss hidden treasures without a map. This is like building a website without a UX sitemap. 

Your website is a digital maze filled with pages, blog posts, product descriptions, and contact details. Without a clear structure, users struggle to find what they need. A UX sitemap acts as a blueprint of your website's content layout. It helps you organize pages and ensures easy accessibility for each piece. 

In this article, we'll explore the essentials of UX sitemaps. You'll learn to organize your website's content effectively, from the initial map to best practices. Let’s learn how to create an easily navigable and user-friendly site. 

What is a UX Sitemap?

A UX sitemap visually represents the structure and hierarchy of website pages. People also call it an information architecture (IA) diagram or content outline. It provides a hierarchical overview of how web pages and sections interconnect. 

The visual hierarchy of a sitemap guides the user's attention and organizes content meaningfully. Watch Priscilla Esser discuss the importance of visual frameworks and hierarchy in web design. Learn how to apply these concepts for better design outcomes.

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A well-crafted UX sitemap guides users effortlessly through a website. It establishes a logical flow between sections to enhance the user experience.

In website development, a UX sitemap serves as a collaborative tool. Designers, developers, content creators, and stakeholders use it to align the website's layout with business goals and user needs. They identify potential gaps, prioritize essential content, and create a cohesive, user-centric design.

An example of a UX Sitemap of an eCommerce website.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

UX Sitemaps vs Information Architecture

A sitemap shows connections between pages and guides the hierarchy of web pages. You use this specific tool to plan and review the site's layout.

Information Architecture (IA) organizes, structures, and labels content in a better way. It aims to make information findable and understandable. IA shapes content grouping, user interaction, and labeling across the website.

While a sitemap specifically visualizes site structure and content flow, IA covers a broader scope. This includes organization systems, site nomenclature, and navigational elements. IA forms the foundation of a website's content strategy and user experience, with the sitemap as a visualization tool. These dynamic web design components help you present and access content on a website.

UX Sitemaps vs HTML/XML Sitemap

‘Sitemap’ typically refers to an XML sitemap primarily serving search engine crawlers. It offers a roadmap of a website's structure for indexing purposes. This sitemap guides crawlers on which pages to scan and the importance of subpages. It can also provide details like the last modification date of each page.

In contrast, a UX (User Experience) sitemap focuses on the human audience rather than search engines. It represents the website’s structure from a user’s perspective. The UX sitemap outlines the navigation and organization of content to create a logical flow that enhances user experience.

How to Create an Effective UX Sitemap

Creating a UX sitemap involves careful planning and thoughtful organization of your website's content. This guide outlines a step-by-step approach to creating an effective UX sitemap.

Seven steps of creating an effective UX sitemap.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

1. Compile and Organize Your Content

The first step in building a UX sitemap is gathering all your website content. List every page, URL, or title for future pages. Use a tool like Excel or Google Sheets for this task. This comprehensive list will give you a clear overview of what you currently have and what needs development.

Next, review each page and decide its relevance to the sitemap. You may only find some pages essential for the primary navigation structure. Identify key pages that users frequently visit or are crucial for your business objectives.

Group similar pages to streamline the structure. For instance, you can consolidate multiple 'Contact Us' pages with different access paths under one main menu. This approach reduces clutter and simplifies user navigation.

With all content organized, shift focus to user needs. This consideration shapes the next steps in your sitemap creation process. The sitemap must align with user expectations and enhance their experience on your site.

2. Define Website Goals and User Needs

The next step involves clearly understanding your website's purpose and target audience's needs. Knowing what your users expect from your website guides the entire sitemap creation process. Ask yourself:

  • What specific challenges do my users face?

  • What aspects of my website or product need enhancement?

To gain insights into these questions, leverage user personas. You can use these personas based on interviews with current or past users or hypothetical profiles of your target audience for new sites. You aim to understand user needs and preferences deeply through these personas. 

Personas play a crucial role in website design and development. They help you envision and understand your target audience. Watch Alan Dix, Professor and Expert in Human-computer Interaction, discuss the importance of personas in understanding user characteristics. 

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Ask users:

  • In what situations do you typically visit our site?

  • How frequently do you find yourself using our site?

  • What motivates you to use our site?

  • What changes or improvements would enhance your experience on our site?

This information will help you tailor the sitemap to address user problems effectively. It will ensure your site includes a well-organized and user-centric structure and content.  

3. Decide on Flat or Deep Sitemap Design

You have two options for creating a UX sitemap. Each option suits different types of websites. 

Several factors influence the choice between different sitemap designs. Consider the size of your website, the amount of content, and how you want users to interact with your site. Here’s an overview of the options and their considerations:

Flat Sitemap Design: A flat sitemap design features a limited number of hierarchical levels, typically up to four. It suits smaller websites with fewer pages. It facilitates quick and easy access to any page with minimal clicks.

  • Suited for smaller websites with about 10 pages.

  • Features up to four hierarchical levels.

  • Allows users to reach any page in four clicks or less.

  • Ideal for straightforward, easy navigation.

Deep Sitemap Design: A deep sitemap design features multiple hierarchical levels. It targets larger websites with extensive content. This design organizes numerous pages and categories. It provides detailed, comprehensive structuring for the site.

  • Best for larger sites, like e-commerce platforms, with 100 or more pages.

  • Contains deeper levels of hierarchy.

  • Accommodates extensive content.

  • Requires features like breadcrumbs for easy navigation of deeper content.

When to choose each design?

  • Choose a flat design for smaller sites where you want to prioritize simplicity and quick access. 

  • Opt for a deep design for larger sites that need detailed content organization.

4. Organize Primary and Secondary Pages

The hierarchy plays a key role when you organize your website. Begin with the homepage, which is the central hub or the primary page. From there, branch out to other main category pages. These serve as your primary pages. Examples of primary pages often include major sections like Products, Services, About Us, or Blog.

Secondary pages are the subcategories within these primary pages. For instance, under Products, you might have different product categories like Electronics, Clothing, Books etc. You can represent each as 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and so on in your numbering system. This methodical categorization helps you maintain a clear and intuitive website structure.

Additionally, consider the role of the footer in your website's architecture. You use this space for subsidiary but essential links like Contact, Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. The footer acts as a separate navigation area. It allows users to access important information regardless of where they are on your site.

Last but not least, people often overlook the inclusion of an 'Error 404' page. This page helps those users who land on a non-existent page within your site. A well-designed 404 page can help redirect users to relevant sections of your site. It reduces frustration and improves the overall user experience.

5. Link the Pages

Organize primary and secondary pages first. Then, link them effectively. This step forms the UX sitemap's backbone. 

  • Link all primary pages from the homepage. Ensure that you make these links visible and accessible. This creates an intuitive navigation path for users.

  • Connect secondary pages to respective primary pages next. Make this hierarchy clear and logical. This facilitates easy navigation for users. 

  • Focus on the user journey. Plan links to lead users to relevant, expected content. This enhances their experience.

Update the sitemap regularly. Add new pages and integrate them into the existing structure. Doing this will keep the UX sitemap relevant and efficient.

6. Test the UX Sitemap with Scenarios and Gather Feedback 

Once you have organized your sitemap, test it through various user scenarios. Imagine how different personas represent your target audience would navigate your site. This exercise reveals the intuitiveness and user-friendliness of your sitemap. It shows potential navigation issues and areas for improvement from a user's perspective.

A valuable approach to UX sitemap testing is tree testing. This allows you to evaluate your sitemap on its own. You create a list of objectives and ask users to navigate to where they think the required content would be. Tree testing services such as Treejack just require the details of your sitemap. They maintain statistics on user success rates and details of where navigation seems to fail.

Be sure to involve your team and stakeholders in this testing phase. Their diverse perspectives can provide valuable insights. Encourage them to give honest feedback on the sitemap's layout, usability, and effectiveness. This collaborative approach brings a variety of viewpoints and ideas to the table.

Feedback and testing help shape the product to better meet user needs and enhance UX design and usability. Additionally, UX involves various steps, like understanding user behavior and interface design. Watch this video for a comprehensive understanding of these elements.

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Use the feedback collected to make iterative refinements to your sitemap. This continuous improvement will ensure that the final sitemap aligns with user needs and business objectives.

7. Finalize and Document the Sitemap

Once you have tested and refined the sitemap based on feedback, finalize it. Document the sitemap for the current website structure and any future modifications. Ensure all team members can easily access the final sitemap for reference and implementation.

Toolkit for Visual Sitemaps

Visual sitemaps bring several advantages to website development. When you create a sitemap, having the right tools can make the process more efficient and effective. Various options cater to different needs and skill levels. Here’s a guide to some of the most popular tools for creating visual sitemaps.  creation. 

Top 6 tools to create visual sitemaps.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

1. Lucidchart

The user interface of Lucidchart

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Lucidchart specializes in complex diagrams like UX sitemaps. Its interface works well for both new and experienced users. The tool includes a variety of templates and shapes. Drag-and-drop functionality makes diagramming fast. Real-time collaboration lets team members in various locations work together. Lucidchart suits teams mapping website structures from different places.

2. Miro

The user interface of Miro

© Miro, Fair Use

Miro acts as a digital whiteboard. It supports easy brainstorming and team design. Teams work smoothly together, no matter their location. Miro includes features that help you create UX sitemaps, journey maps, and wireframes. Teams looking for an interactive, engaging design process will find Miro efficient. If you want the best sitemap tool or template for UX, then you have Miro as your go-to tool.

3. Figma

A sitemap on Figma

© Figma, Fair Use

Figma provides strong design and prototyping tools. Users can make more than static sitemaps. They can create interactive prototypes, useful for testing and demonstrating website flows. Figma allows many users to work on a sitemap at the same time. Teams that blend design with development find Figma perfect for a smooth workflow.

4. DYNO Mapper

A sitemap on DYNO Mapper

© DYNO Mapper, Fair Use

 DYNO Mapper creates, customizes, edits, and shares interactive sitemaps. It integrates with Google Analytics for content inventory, audit, and keyword tracking. The tool enables easy collaboration and website accessibility testing. LegalZoom and Adobe use it to generate sitemaps from URLs, XML files, or existing sitemaps.

5. PowerMapper

A sitemap on PowerMapper

© PowerMapper, Fair Use

PowerMapper maps, tests, and analyzes websites. Companies like IBM and NASA use this UX sitemap generator. The tool scans websites to capture thumbnails and metadata and creates visual sitemaps. Users can check their sitemaps for various website issues. It offers a free trial and supports both Windows and Mac.

6. Pencil and paper

A person drawing a UX sitemap using pen and paper

© WordPress, Fair Use

Pencil and paper offer a simple, effective way to plan sitemaps. This method requires no technology. Users can group content items easily. The method helps you optimize information architecture. You can also use whiteboards, chalkboards, or easels for planning.

Practical Aspects of UX Sitemaps

When you go into the practicalities of UX sitemaps, their design and structure are key elements. A UX sitemap should be clear, intuitive, and reflective of the user's journey on the website.

1. Visual Clarity

A UX sitemap must present the website's structure. It should utilize straightforward visual elements. Clean lines, easily readable fonts, and a straightforward layout are essential. These elements prevent confusion. They ensure users and developers can understand the site's structure at a glance.

2. Intuitive Structure

The structure of a UX sitemap mirrors the user's thought process. It logically groups related content to facilitate a natural browsing experience. This organization helps users navigate the site well. It links related pages in a way that feels natural and coherent.

3. User-Centric Design

User needs take priority in a UX sitemap. The hierarchy must make important pages easy to find and access. The layout should guide users to their desired content without effort. This design approach increases usability. It ensures a positive experience for all site visitors.

User-centered design focuses on tailoring the product to create a better user experience. Knowing what elements make up the user experience can make a lot of difference in your design approach. Here’s a closer look at the five elements of user experience outlined by Jesse James Garrett in "The Elements of User Experience."

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4. Scalability

Flexibility for growth characterizes a well-designed UX sitemap. It accommodates new pages or sections as the site evolves. This scalability prevents the need for major redesigns. It maintains the site's navigational integrity even as it expands.

UX Sitemap Best Practices and Examples

Following best practices in UX sitemap creation helps you design a better website. Let's explore the best practices and see real-world examples to illustrate these principles.

UX Sitemap Best Practices

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

  1. Keep It User-Centric: Design the sitemap with the user's journey in mind. Focus on how users search for and navigate through information on your site.

  2. Maintain Simplicity: Even for complex sites, strive for a sitemap that is as simple as possible. Avoid overcomplicating the structure, which can confuse users.

  3. Use Clear Labeling: Use clear, descriptive names and labels for categories and pages. An average user should have the ability to understand it. Avoid technical jargon unless it's common in your industry.

  4. Ensure Consistency: Maintain consistent categorization and naming conventions throughout the sitemap. This consistency helps users learn and remember how to navigate your site.

  5. Prioritize Key Content: Place the most important and frequently accessed web pages in prominent, easily accessible locations within the sitemap.

  6. Allow for Scalability: Design your sitemap for future expansion. Add new pages or categories without disrupting the current structure.

  7. Regularly Update the Sitemap: As your site evolves, so should your sitemap. Regular updates ensure that they reflect your site’s content and structure.

  8. Test and Iterate: Continuously test the sitemap with real users. Be ready to make changes based on their feedback. Iteration can help you refine the user experience.

Following these best practices ensures your UX sitemap serves its purpose in the design phase. It will contribute to the user experience on the live site. Now, let’s move on to some examples. 

UX Sitemap Examples

It doesn’t matter how you create a UX sitemap; you have a flexible process. You can tailor the sitemap to the specific needs of a project or organization. The structure can vary based on the complexity and scope of the website. What matters is how clear and useful the end result is. And for that, you have these examples. 

Example 1: Home Decor Website

UX sitemap example of an e-commerce website

© Medium, Fair Use

The sitemap displays a well-organized breakdown of a website's content across several key categories, such as 'Shop,' 'About,' 'Blog,' and more. Each category branches into subcategories, further detailed into individual pages or topics.

The sitemap uses color coding and shapes to distinguish between different types of pages to improve clarity. A hierarchical, tree-like structure helps you visualize the relationships between sections and pages. This visual approach highlights the website's flow and makes it easy to identify how users can navigate from one section to another. 

Example 2: SaaS Application

UX sitemap example of a website

© Miro, Fair Use

The second example shows a different approach to organizing the web pages. This sitemap provides a clear top-level view starting from the 'Home' page. Then, it branches into main categories like Tour, Cases, Examples, etc.

A clean, grid-based layout that aligns all elements neatly stands out in this example. This makes it easier to understand the site's structure at a glance. Consistent color coding for all items suggests a unified level of hierarchy. 

Notes such as "add 3d level of cards" suggest that this sitemap still needs work. It shows how the sitemap can serve as a living document that evolves with the project. This example portrays how you can use a UX sitemap for planning and ongoing development. The simplicity and clarity of the layout ensure high readability

Example 3: Health App

UX sitemap example of a health app

© Jane Zhu, via Dribbble, Fair Use

This UX sitemap example illustrates the user's journey through a website's main navigation. It starts from the homepage and branches out to key sections such as Solutions, Uses, Results, About, and Contact.

The sitemap shows how each section breaks down into further detailed pages. For example, you see subpages like Secure Messaging and Care Transitions under the Solutions section. It also indicates where modal interactions occur, such as when a user opts to log in or download a case study.

This UX sitemap can help you visualize the user flow and understand how the website's content interconnects. It ensures intuitive navigation and structures the website to meet user expectations and needs.

The Take Away

A UX sitemap serves as a blueprint for organizing website content and establishing a user-friendly structure. It helps you guide users through a website and meet business objectives. A sitemap must stay clear, intuitive, and adaptable to changes in website content. Here are some essential points to remember: 

  • Design sitemaps with a focus on user navigation.

  • Keep the sitemap structure clear and simple.

  • Update the sitemap to reflect the content and structural changes.

Now you have these insights, start improving your website's user experience. Critically analyze your website's layout and content organization. Use the discussed principles to create a cohesive, user-centric sitemap. Engage with your audience to understand their navigation experiences. Use their feedback to refine your sitemap and make it a more effective tool for a better user experience. 

Aim to evolve your website into a space users find intuitive, informative, and effortless.

References and Where to Learn More

Get started with UX Design in our course, User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide. 

Access Miro’s UX sitemap template that helps you create UX sitemaps in different layouts and structures. 

Read Monica Maye Pitts, founder of MayeCreate, talk about the difference between XML and UX sitemaps in detail. 

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