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Time estimate and team members
Content review and development
Site structure and navigation
Finalizing timeline and content
Visual design development
Production and proofing
Launch and maintenance
The biggest mistake developers make in site architecture is basing the sitemap on their office organization chart. As you structure information, it's essential to stay focused on how your audience will be looking for it. A sitemap is a clear representation of the overall plan of your Web site, showing how the site will be structured, as well as how you'll arrange its content. You'll begin with a review of your current site, content contributers, and server logs, and end with a plan for future development.
Create a content overview
Look at all your content at once. If your site is large, it may be easiest to do this by representing each page of your site with an index card (with the topic of each page written on a separate card), and laying all those cards out on a big table.
Keep your focus on the audience
Keeping in mind who your users are and what information they need from your site, start grouping the information (cards) so your users will find what they need as simply as possible. Here's where you'll be tempted to fall back on your organizational chart -- but it's critical that you don't.
Use your research
Because you've done your site survey and focus-group testing, you know what content your audience is looking for. The information they'll use most should be only one or two clicks away from the homepage. As you work on your content categories, odds are you'll find yourself creating new categories and deleting and merging some old ones.Take your time here. If you rush the foundation of the site, you're likely to waste a lot of time later revising your structure and reworking web pages to accomodate those changes.
Create "big buckets"
Keep your categories broad and leave room for growth. When you're finished, your categories should be able to accomodate next year's content, staff, and departmental changes.
Put it on paper
You can create your sitemap with a software program (some developers prefer Visio) or with paper and pencil. It doesn't matter how you create the map, as long as it's clear to you and your team. View a PDF of a sample site map.
Once you've grouped your content into areas (according to how users will look for each piece), you will name those content areas. When labeling navigation items, it is critical to focus on the user. Keep names simple and as short as possible. Avoid the temptation to be clever or whimsical. Your goal is to deliver information to the audience as quickly as possible.
The most important part of the process is quantifying whether you're communicating successfully, and where and how to improve. User testing can help you do this via any number of usability methods.
Once you know that your site structure and navigation make sense to your audience, share your process and what you learned from it with your client, boss, or stakeholders. Start by reminding everyone of the approved goals and user profile. Outline the testing strategy and results. Explain the improvements you made to ensure that navigation is as clear as possible to your audience and show how easy you've made it for users to get their highest-priority information.
Next step: Finalize timeline and content