Updated April 17, 2023
Introduction to Website Architecture Diagramming Tools
A website’s information architecture has two major components: defining and identifying site content and functionality and the underlying structure, nomenclature, and organization representing the relationships between content and functionality.
Website architecture is not part of the user interface on-screen but informs UI. It is documented in diagrams and spreadsheets rather than wireframes, prototypes, and comprehensive layouts. For websites, information architecture is how content is categorized and organized. It forms the basis for navigation, user experience, and nomenclature. In a way, you could look at information architecture as the bundles of information making up the sections of the website. Concepts grouped go into the same bundle.
But why is website architecture so important? One of the most common problems observed in websites is the presence of gaps in information architecture. Unsound or poor website architecture can make it difficult for visitors to navigate and find what they are looking for.
Just think about website architecture and usability related to an ecommerce website. If your website architecture is sound, but usability or task flow is bad, visitors can find what they want. Still, they will find it difficult to close the purchase because the buy-flow task will be difficult. That would result in a poor conversion.
On the other hand, if your website has poor architecture but good usability, your visitors will not even be able to find the products that they want. As such, usability would cease to matter because visitors would leave without even entering the purchase flow.
To improve your website or build a good one, it is essential to build website architecture without holes or related problems. Doing so ensures that most visitors find what they want, improving conversion and return on investment.
Now that you know how vital website architecture is, here are some tools that you can use specifically for site mapping and diagramming tools to use during the planning stages of website development and for improving existing sites.
1. Microsoft Visio
Microsoft Visio is one of the top diagramming tools right now, suitable for everything from flow charts to floor plans. It can be used for creating diagrams, both simple and complex. It has a wide range of inbuilt shapes, stencils, and objects. You can make your own shapes as well and import them.
Visio can be used for creating 3D map diagrams via inbuilt tools, though this particular feature is limited. It works well for simple maps. The tool can also pull live information from external sources like a Microsoft Access database or Excel sheet. It comes packed with a lot of inbuilt shapes that can be added to your diagram.
The software has drawing tools for accommodating special requirements, and you can quickly start work with the standard templates available right off the bat. The generalized drawing tools customize the diagrams for your own needs. Visio’s interface is intuitive, making it easy for even novices to pick up.
Many designers and developers use Visio to map and diagram their websites during planning.
Omnigraffle is a tool you can use for several purposes, particularly wireframing and diagramming. While it may not be perfect compared to other wireframing applications, Omnigraffle offers a good combination of capabilities and efficiency. However, it lacks good interactivity for prototyping and is only available for Mac computers. While you can create clickable prototypes using the tool, it has limited functionality beyond that. You can also show or hide layers and do other such things, but these functions only work within Omnigraffle.
Despite the shortcomings, Omnigraffle is a proven wireframing tool and a worthy choice for planning your website architecture. At its heart, Omnigraffle is all about creating diagrams, from software wireframes to organization charts and from space planning and entity relationship diagrams to flowcharts.
The software’s new Resource Browser offers several templates and shape collections to create these documents. You can opt for this tool to create flow charts, network diagrams, project processes, etc. Most important, you can use this to map out your website architecture.
The wireframing and diagramming suite by Omnigroup offers particular value in that it allows for the development of wireframes with a hierarchy, enabling users to navigate between screens by clicking and viewing a sidebar to visualize the relationship between pages. The tool can develop diagrams, page layouts, process charts, website mockups, and more. Although there is a learning curve involved, you can find a lot of value in Omnigraffle
Used in over 50 countries and around a third of Fortune 100 companies, PowerMapper is a very popular site mapping tool. MIT, NASA, and several other major organizations use this tool, which should tell you all you need to know.
The tool enables you to make a site map with ease. What usually takes days of effort is done within a few clicks. For instance, while it may take around 50 hours to develop a site map of a 1,000-page website manually, with three minutes per page for creating a laying out a box for each page, PowerMapper builds a better site map for a fraction of the time and cost.
Developed by Electrum Software, PowerMapper also enables map sharing with others. When auditing or redesigning a website, you can share site maps with clients and colleagues. You can also export maps using HTML, XML, CSV, PNG, and other standard formats. Maps can be exported in the Google XML sitemap format to improve search engine page results in visibility.
In addition, you can copy and paste maps into other applications such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Word for other purposes or to Excel as well. It is easy to use and an excellent site mapping tool for mapping skeleton sites or current websites, offline and online. A variety of mapping styles are available, including professional and standard versions.
SmartDraw is a popular flowchart creation software program with an intuitive design and great ease of use, making it a good choice for novices. Apart from its slight learning curve, this tool offers powerful diagramming and organizational features, great graphic features and decent text options. Despite this, there are some drawbacks in the support options, and some key diagram features are missing.
The software lacks key connection point options, like the ability to add connection points and the non-availability of junction jobs. Nevertheless, it is a good product for those familiar with flowchart design and people new to creating flowcharts.
SmartDraw lacks just a few diagramming tools, notable of which was the inability to add connection points. This can be a major drawback to creating custom or complex flowcharts but should not be much of a problem for more basic designs since multiple connection points are already available.
The lack of junction jogs can also be a problem, but it should not be that much of an issue if you create simple diagrams. However, it can make creating multi-step workflow diagrams a little more complicated. In other areas, SmartDraw is quite a powerful website architecture tool. You can use a variety of templates or create your own.
5. Xtreeme SiteXpert
With Xtreeme SiteXpert, you can create Java-based maps and DHTML menus for your website. The standard edition launches with a dialogue box guiding you through the process. You can scan your website and automatically assemble the links using the layout wizard. It also lets you map the complete site structure, customize the code, and create navigation. You can also find a basic tutorial that explains how the tool works. Moreover, you can update and insert the menus for your website with the tool. The application supports NetObjects, FrontPage, and DreamWeaver plugins.
The standard edition differs from the professional edition, with a search engine, automated site updating, XML features, and hierarchal diagramming. Nevertheless, its cross-border compatibility output is still valuable, enabling new webmasters to create great dynamic menus.
With SiteXpert’s features, you can create various site map designs for your website, which include cross-platform, cross-browser, and site search-compatible website navigation schemes.
Dynomapper is an excellent visual site mapping tool to develop interactive site maps that display more than just URLs. Users can collaborate with it, including adding comments, categories, analytics data, and more. You can choose between the site map styles- tree, circle, and default- and customize them with color schemes and logos.
The tool also comes with analytics integration, advanced crawler options, and drag-and-drop functionalities, making it one of the best visual site map tools. You can opt for a 14-day free trial or explore other pricing plans based on keyword tracking, crawl limits, and users.
StickySorter is an excellent tool for categorizing and arranging virtual sticky notes for diagramming sessions and for other information-sorting tasks. It also allows you to use different stickies related to each other in a single group. You can differentiate the stickies by assigning them different colors and arranging them in a pile, stack, or tile. Additionally, you can zoom in or out and use the field editor to create, modify, and remove existing fields.
Created by Microsoft Office Labs, this is a great free tool to sort lists of content into groups and explore new versions of website architecture. Unlike other online tools mentioned before, you need to download this tool, which requires Windows Vista or XP.
There are a lot of prototyping tools available, but only a few of them have advanced features, and Axure is one of them. This excellent user experience tool enables website designers to quickly create highly advanced interactive prototypes, even with limited front-end coding knowledge.
It is a wireframing and diagramming tool similar to Omnigraffle, which is useful for information architects, particularly interaction designers. With Axure RP Pro, you can create pages with drag-zoom, parallax scrolling, docked headers, incremental search, moving dynamic panels, and more.
MindManager by MindJet is unlike conventional mind-mapping software. This tool embeds project management into mind mapping, making it more of a comprehensive information manager than a simple mind mapper.
Although it is far from cheap, MindManager is worth the cost. It is a visual framework meant to promote idea organization and freefork thinking. With its easy drag-and-drop functionality, it can be used by information architects to easily and quickly create and put down ideas and organize these ideas in a site map for illustration. It allows exporting site maps as JPG, PNG, PDF, or Word documents.
XMind is another mapping program with powerful diagramming capabilities but has some interface issues. However, once you become accustomed to its interface, you can derive many benefits from this tool. It comes with several templates that feature different diagram types. Its interface is detailed and can be overwhelming for those not familiar with it. You can easily roll back to earlier versions, as the revisions are handled very well.
This tool has the added benefit of enabling website architecture specialists to save maps to Evernote. It offers a complete library of maps for users to view others’ work and share their work. A free version and the paid XMind Pro for Linux, Windows, and Mac are available.
Treejack is ideal for testing a proposed website architecture’s information hierarchy. It is superior in ways to other evaluation techniques like reverse card sorting and closed card sorting, evaluating the complete depth of an information hierarchy. For those of you who want to test their hierarchy and understand how it would work with users, Treejack can be a good tool. It allows architects to input a site hierarchy, recruit users, and set up tasks. They can then see the test results and share or download them.
This has been a guide to Website Architecture Diagramming Tools. Here we have discussed some tools that you can use specifically for site mapping and diagramming tools to use during the planning stages of website development. You may also have a look at the following articles to learn more –