How I Create a Strategy for a New Blog or Affiliate Site – Part 2 (Creating Your Sitemap & Wireframe)

In part one of this series – identifying the demographic – you got a good handle on who will be reading your blog based on your niche and where you social efforts should have the most impact (#protip – you can begin working on building a social following long before you launch your new site – in other words, start now).

The topic of this post is about creating your sitemap and wireframe, but it’s also about beginning to formulate (and organize) your overall marketing and content strategy for the site or blog as well.

What’s a Sitemap?

A site map (in how I’m referring to it here) is simply organizing what “sections” and core features you forsee your new site containing. We’re not concerned with specific post content right now. We’re more concerned with “topics” and core pages.

How you do this is up to you. I learned to do it long before we had nifty mind mapping software, so for years I did it using what I consider an “old school method” so to speak (and for the most part, still do).

BRAINSTORMING YOUR SITEMAP

For me, brainstorming for a sitemap is one part “your ideas for the site”, one part “stalking the competition” and one part keyword research.

You already have some general ideas for content you plan to feature on the site because otherwise you wouldn’t be entering the niche in the first place. I’ve written about how to perform general keyword research before. Now you need to stalk the competition.

I lightly touched on stalking the competition when I wrote about researching a niche (in the “show me the angle” section). You want to see what core sections they have and what core sections you believe they’re missing that you have the ability to effectively do on your own site.

Remember – we’re not going into specific posts at this time. You’re looking for core topics you want (or need) to cover. We’ll get to the part where we strategize specific content (versus topics) and deeper into stalking the competition in a later post.

CREATING YOUR SITEMAP

Nothing complicated here. You open Word and begin listing off the core pages and topics you plan to cover on the site – much like you’d outline a table of contents in a book.

What main topics do you plan to cover? What primary pages will you be creating for the site? What core pages on the site are the most important in regards to driving visitors to them?

If I were doing this for the Sugarrae site, it would look a lot like this:

Home
  > About
  > Blog
      > Administrative (posts about the blog itself or the business)
      > Affiliate Marketing (posts that cover making money with affiliate marketing)
      > Blogging (posts that cover blog building, promoting and content development)
          > Genesis Tutorials (how to do specific things with the Genesis theme)
          > Thesis Tutorials (how to do specific things with the Thesis theme)
      > Entrepreneurship (tips and editorial style posts about running a business)
      > Interviews (interviews with industry experts)
      > Online Marketing (marketing posts that don’t fit into the subsections below)
          > SEO (how to and editorial style posts)
          > Link Development (how to and editorial style posts)
          > Social Media (how to and editorial style posts)
      > Rants in Bitchland (rants relating to any topic I cover on the site)
      > Reviews (reviews of products and services that I find useful)
      > Podcasts (listing of all Sugarrae produced podcasts)
  > Speaking (how to get me to speak at your event and a listing of my speaking gigs)
  > Press (where I’ve been featured and the Sugarrae press kit)
  > Consulting (this will link to PushFire)
  > Toolbox (a place to list all the tools I think will be helpful to my audience)
  > Products (a listing of eBooks, guides or what have you I create for sale)
  > Forums (a paid membership section for advice and more in depth information)
  > Contact
  > Disclaimer
  > Disclosure
  > Privacy
  > Advertise

Each indent signifies that it’s a subsection of the page one level above it. So, in the above example, SEO would be a subsection of online marketing, which is a subsection of the main blog.

The rough idea of why that section will exist is also listed next to it for pages that might not be obvious (we all know what an “advertise” page will contain, but a section on interviews can vary in regards to what it might contain depending on the niche and your intent with it).

You should create a rough sitemap before you ever even think about installing WordPress (or whatever content management system you plan to use), because frankly if you have no idea what you’re going to put on a site, you have no business building one. :)

And if you plan to hire a designer to design your site, they will thank you for doing this – immensely. For the sites I have designed professionally, I usually build out the above sitemap as a hierarchy chart in powerpoint and then print it as a .pdf and send it to the designer. Doing so for the Sugarrae sitemap above would result in the below:

the sugarrae sitemap

This can also be helpful to do for your own reference even if you don’t have a designer, so you can view your sitemap at a glance, in addition to “in detail” in your Word document.

SITEMAPS SHOULD PLAN FOR GROWTH

Keep in mind that a sitemap is not merely “what pages and sections you’ll launch with” – you need to brainstorm for potential future sections if you already know you may eventually add them as well.

For instance, in the Sugarrae sitemap above, you’ll notice there’s a section for “products”, “podcasts” and “forums” – none of which are currently on the site. However, I know they are something I might add at some point, so they’re included in the sitemap.

This way, the sitemap accounts for known “potential future growth ideas” I’m aware I might like to add to the site in the future – so I can incorporate that potential growth into my strategies for site structure and design from the beginning.

UNDERSTAND SITEMAPS HAVE TO BE FLEXIBLE

A sitemap isn’t written in stone, nor do I expect it to be. Creating the sitemap merely gives me a solid direction to follow when creating the site. I could find out that a section “doesn’t work” for whatever reason and decide to axe it a six months in. I could also end up creating a section a year into the site that I didn’t originally plan for. Be organized, but flexible.

What is a wireframe?

A wireframe (in the sense that I’m using it here) is essentially taking your sitemap and putting it into “bare bones” form for a site layout – integrating it with other elements that aren’t part of the sitemap (like AdSense, and email subscription form or social buttons).

A lot of people will pick a site design first and then try and try to get their sitemap and “site priorities” to “fit” into it. IMHO, that’s a mistake. You should create what you need in your site design and then find a theme that replicates that as closely as possible (if you’re not doing a custom design).

CREATING YOUR WIREFRAME

I typically do this in one of two ways (and sometimes both). You can either do this with pen and paper or you can do this by installing a bare bones base theme on WordPress and adding what you need where as far as site navigation and layout on a live site (if you’re not a “boss” with WordPress, I’d go the pen and paper route).

Whatever way you choose, you’ll want to make sure you do one for all your core layout types (for WordPress users, this is typically the home page, internal page, category archive page and post page).

For instance, if I wireframed the Sugarrae home page, it would look like this (I made it a table to save you from my chicken scratch):

Logo and Header

About

Blog

Speaking

Consulting

Toolbox

Products

Forums

Contact

Photo with text PushFire CTA
Email Sub Latest Posts Latest Reviews
As seen in
Stroke walk
Blog categories
Social icons Footer info: Press | Disclaimer | Disclosure | Privacy | Advertise

If I wireframed the individual Sugarrae post page, it would look like this:

Logo and Header

About

Blog

Speaking

Consulting

Toolbox

Products

Forums

Contact

Post title and meta Advertisements
Social sharing icons Email sub
Post content Social icons
Recommended
Social sharing icons Search box
Author bio box Categories
Affiliate ad Recent posts
Related posts Stroke walk
Social icons Footer info: Press | Disclaimer | Disclosure | Privacy | Advertise

Let’s say I want a secondary nav menu to appear with the blog categories if someone is in the blog section (main blog lander, category or an individual post), then it would look like this:

Logo and Header

About

Blog

Speaking

Consulting

Toolbox

Products

Forums

Contact

Admin

Affiliate Marketing

Blogging

Entrepreneur
ship

Interviews

Online Marketing

Podcasts

Rants

Reviews

Post title and meta Advertisements
Social sharing icons Email sub
Post content Social icons
Recommended
Social sharing icons Search box
Author bio box Categories
Affiliate ad Recent posts
Related posts Stroke walk
Social icons Footer info: Press | Disclaimer | Disclosure | Privacy | Advertise

If I’m hiring a designer, this gives him a clear indication of what I want where. If I’m choosing a premade Genesis theme, then I know I need one that has styling for a two column layout, styling for an email subscription box, styling for an author bio and I’m going to need one with widget areas under the post content (or be comfortable enough with code to add them myself).

Knowing what I want on the site and how I want it laid out prevents me from wasting time with a design that isn’t going to “work” in the end. It also will help me create a content strategy of what content I need to launch the site and what content I need to create post launch on a continual basis. It also ensures that I’ve already laid things out with my later expansion plans already in place.

DEFINING YOUR URL STRUCTURE

Once I have the above done, I’m now ready to define how my URL structure will look. If the main page is going to be the blog (a listing of recent posts), then it might look something like this:

blog url structure

If the homepage of the site is going to be a page, with the main blog page as a subsection (like I have it here on Sugarrae), then it might look something like this:

page url structure

(Tip: Wondering how I got the /category/ out of the URLs on my category pages? The Yoast WordPress SEO plugin has a box you can check off to remove them.)

I like logical URL structures. I like the URL flow to mimic the content flow. I’m not a fan of having all the posts off the root (example: blog.com/post-name). I prefer it to follow the same my posts do within the WordPress backend for multiple reasons. This post is in the affiliate marketing category. I prefer that my URL structure reflects that.

Part 3 – Defining Your Brand

Now that you know your demographic and have a sitemap and wireframe laid out, you’re in a much better position to begin planning and shaping the brand and voice that will power your site – which I’ll cover in part 3 – Defining Your Brand (which I’ll hopefully get around to posting sometime early next week).

As always, if you have anything to add or tips to share, drop them in the comments below. :)

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:

Comments

  1. Thanks for the info Rae. I truly wish I could afford your services – DIY is a bit overwhelming for someone who isn’t very familiar with the online world.

  2. YES! Finally someone else who prefers to not have blog posts off the root.

    As a bit of a URL junkie it drives me mad to see this. How does one know if this is a page, a post, a category from looking at the URL how does Google know? They don’t. And this is why I also prefer showing the hierarchy in the URL structure.

    Also, someone just turned me on to Balsamiq for wireframing. There’s a free level – it’s ridiculously easy to use and they come out looking great.

    • Haha Dan – drives me nuts. Almost nothing is worse from an auditing perspective as well. I just like everything to flow logically. If the way to a post on my site is home > category > post then I want my URL structure to follow the same format. The “root” method though had a purpose back in the early days of pagerank. :)

  3. Rae,

    Been following your work a LONG time. Obviously you bust your ass and know your Sh:;($$t. Appreciate! As always, there is a lot to digest here. Question: if your reader is in multiple niches that are unrelated, how do they create multiple twitter/Facebook/Pinterest… Accounts? Is this a tactic we should consider? If so, do we use IP masking? Other approaches? Not worth the effort? I’m talking about building a presence in highly competitive, unrelated niches for developing recurring revenue streams. Thank you for ALL you do!

    • I think the goal (and the war Google is currently winning with organic search for the non advanced churn and burners) is that Google doesn’t want you running 40 sites anymore. Unless your reason behind the social accounts is to truly build a brand, I wouldn’t bother. It’s pretty hard to “dial it in” in social AND get any traction from the accounts. It’s part of the reason I consolidated my affiliate properties in 2013. :)

  4. Never thought of so much before starting a blog, but now I have realized that this thought process is definitely worth it. Thanks Rae.

  5. Looking forward to the brand definition piece!

  6. Nice clear concise article. If you fail to plan you plan to fail and all that…

    For me getting the starting point right is a good way to help get to the destination right.

    • Thanks Mike – glad you enjoyed it. :) And exactly… there’s a saying that goes something like “goals without a plan are only dreams” or something to that effect. :)

  7. Please continue these. They are very, very valuable and helpful.

  8. I wish I would have read this a few weeks ago when I started my blog. Very useful information.

  9. Do you have any special tools for creating wireframes or do you just draw them out in Photoshop or whatever?

  10. Rae: This was very educational and a timely read for me. I am putting together a content marketing strategy for my blog for the rest of 2014 and the thought of “brainstorming your sitemap” and planning for “future growth” are things that had not occurred to me.

    Thanks Rae. You’ve just given me a framework on how to move forward with this. Much appreciated!

    I do have one question. I see that you run Genesis and you use WordPress SEO from Yoast. Can you tell me why you prefer this plugin over Genesis SEO? Thanks again.

    Jon

    • Hey Jon – there’s a few reasons, but the biggest one is because Yoast’s plugin allows you to strip the /category/ slug from your category archive URLs. You can’t do it with Genesis alone. :)

  11. Rae: I am curious. Why do you want to remove the category / slug from your category archive urls? Is there a SEO benefit to doing this? Or is there another reason? It is certainly a cleaner look for the visitor.

    And thank you for replying to my question about the Yoast plugin. I appreciate your time.

    • I just like a clean, logical URL structure. I like the URLs to very clearly show a topic funnel so to speak.

      Home (marketing blog) > Category (affiliate marketing) > Post (post about affiliate marketing)
      to me is preferred over
      Home (marketing blog) > Random folder (category slug) > Category (affiliate marketing) > Post (post about affiliate marketing)

      I’m not saying it has a huge effect on rankings (if any). But the /category/ folder contains no actual content and has no links to the root (/category/). So it’s just sorta like an orphan folder in the middle of your URL structure. And since I can get rid of it, I do. :) I don’t get why WordPress hasn’t given the option to strip it themselves.

  12. Do you plan to continue to part 3 or not? Look forward to see it soon…

    • Working on it Dani – one of the disadvantages of this blog not being “how I make my primary income” is that I can’t treat it as my full time job. But, I’m hoping to do it soon!

  13. William Daher says:

    Excellent post. Very well explained and very didactic way. You should write an ebook and sell on Amazon. Would sell much. :))))

  14. Danoress says:

    “… Defining Your Brand (which I’ll hopefully get around to posting sometime early next week).”

    You should definitely erase (or change) that sentence.. I’m no expert, but it’s not very pro to say something to your audience and then ignore it – almost half year…

    I’m your fan, and feel sorry for writing this bad opinion… but you must admit I’m right…

    • Fair enough – however, unlike most bloggers who cover my topics, my blog is not my full time job. I do my best to sit down and write info – and offer it up for free – when I can in my free time.

      • Danoress says:

        Tnx for that. I think your blog is great..very helpful..and I appreciate your free help.. That was just a suggestion..no hard feelings.. :)

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