I’m going to skip the home page, simply because nobody ever forgets to include it. It may feature a place for users to log in, sell your products and/or services, provide navigation to other parts of the site, let users perform a search, display your newest content, or what have you. So check that one off.
Do you have an “About us” page? If you don’t, you’re missing an excellent opportunity to tell your visitors something about your company – who you are, why you created it, why your visitors should care. Keep it factual. It will probably have several links leading off of it to relevant areas.
Some large companies turn their “About us” pages into home pages for mini-sites in their own right. I’ve seen these pages lead to areas that list employment opportunities with the company, information for investors, company time lines, information for journalists (including press releases), and more. But the “About us” page needn’t be fancy; indeed, it shouldn’t be fancy, since you probably want your visitors to check out the other parts of your web site!
Now let’s go to your “Contact us” page. You may or may not have it as part of your “About us” page. Personally, I’d suggest a separate page, because not every visitor who needs to contact you for some purpose or other is going to think to check your “About us” page. It should include every means a visitor can use for contacting someone at your company. Phone numbers (toll-free, fax, and others), email, chat, and so on; whatever you use, it should be there, along with your company’s hours and information indicating how quickly users can expect an answer.
It should also be detailed, so that visitors to the page know what they need to do to contact particular departments: “To order a product, use this email address or call this toll-free number.” “For technical support for your product, call this number or use our live chat line.” If technical support is available 24/7, you should note that – and if it isn’t, you need to include the hours when it IS available. If a user can fill out a trouble ticket 24/7, but you only answer them during normal business hours, that does NOT mean that your technical support department is available 24/7. Don’t be misleading about this; you may think it will gain you customers, but when they find out the truth they will be angry at you for the deception.
The material on your web site probably carries a copyright. In fact, everything created is assumed to have some kind of copyright. There are standard rules, but the content on your site might or might not follow these rules. This is why you should have a special page that explains your site’s copyright rules. It doesn’t need to be prominently indicated in your navigation; in fact, sites often seem to put a link to this page discreetly across the bottom. But it should exist.
Maybe you’re not convinced of the need for such a page, or you can’t imagine why someone WOULD need such a page. The rules are all the same, right? Not exactly. Web sites for open source software projects often have explicitly different rules. Sites with user-generated content may or may not claim copyright on the content of their contributors.
And copyright itself is evolving. Some content creators are beginning to embrace the idea of Creative Commons, reserving some but not all of their rights under copyright. Some creators of web comics, for example, let others freely post and reproduce their comic strips – but not sell them.
Under these circumstances, it makes perfect sense for you to include a copyright notice. At the very least, you can point to it if and when someone scrapes content from your site and you’re trying to get them to take it down. By the way, it makes sense to include trademark information on this page as well, and whether different pages on your site are governed by different copyright rules (and how to tell the difference).
Your web site’s navigation and search should help users find the appropriate resources they need from your web site, but it’s almost inevitable that someone is going to look for something that isn’t there. Maybe you never built a page like the one they’re looking for; maybe they made a typo; maybe you’ve overhauled your site so that the link they followed no longer exists. You can probably think of other reasons a user might run into problems when trying to find something on your site. For all these reasons, you should have a custom 404 page.
Many web sites serve their visitors generic 404 pages when they can’t figure out what the user wants. The problem with a generic page is that it does nothing to help users find what they want. You can offer site navigation links and/or a search box on your 404 page. You can Google “custom 404 page” for advice on how to build a 404 page; you’ll also find links to some funny 404 pages if you need some inspiration.
Speaking of collecting sensitive information from your users, if you do that at all, you’re also going to need a secure page, and you’re going to need to document your security procedures. David Mertz, writing for IBM Developerworks, notes that it’s a good idea to “Give some contact information on this page in case users have questions, or perhaps have useful improvements to suggest.”
Most of these pages are designed to cover your assets legally and/or help your human visitors in one way or another. But you play host to several visitors that aren’t human – the indexing bots sent out by the search engines. You want to help them, too. You want to tell them what content they should index, and what content they should avoid. You can do this with a robots.txt file, known more fully as a Robots Exclusion Standard directive.
There are other ways to hide content from the search engines. The easiest is to simply not put it on your web site. But all of the major search engines obey robots.txt. If you choose to use it, make sure you are using it correctly. James Payne, our editor-in-chief, wrote an article detailing how to use robots.txt files; you might want to check it out.
Finally, we come to the site map. Actually, there are two kinds of site maps. One is for the navigation of your human users, though the search engines benefit from it as well. What you show on your site map depends on a number of factors, such as how dynamic your site is, and whether you want users to know that particular areas exist if they don’t have permission to use them. The amount of content you have on your web site, and what kind, may play a role in how you organize your site map; some particularly large sites will use a scheme that puts pages in alphabetical order. For some reason, I’ve noticed this more with university web sites, though large corporations will use it as well. It seems to be more common, however, for the site map to be divided into categories, with the appropriate pages under each category.
The other kind of site map is specifically for the search engines to crawl. You can find out more about it on the official Sitemap page. As the site explains, “In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.” You can find the protocol for this kind of Sitemap at the link I included above; going into detail about it is beyond the scope of this article.
It’s going to take a good bit of work to create these pages for your web site, and even after you’ve created them, you’ll probably need to revise them as your web site and your company grows and changes. But they will give your site a more professional look and feel to your visitors, and could indirectly increase conversions. Good luck!