Site Maps | January 26, 2005

Personally I like the idea of site maps, especially for larger sites that burry important information like contact details so deep in their site hierarchies that you need a miners lamp to find it. From a website accessibility standpoint the Web Accessibility Initiative recommends that sites…

“Provide clear and consistent navigation mechanisms — orientation information, navigation bars, a site map, etc. — to increase the likelihood that a person will find what they are looking for at a site.”

Guideline 13 of WCAG1.0

A good site map helps give you an overview of the site structure and allows you a quick way of navigating to the content you’re after. Site maps aren’t used by many people, but they provide an important navigational contingency when the sites regular navigation has failed users. As such, site maps need to be as clear and concise as possible and “clever” graphical site maps are a definite no-no.

There is a temptation to put every page on the site on a site map. This may be fine if the site isn’t too big, but can lead to very complicated site maps on larger sites. A good site map needs to be large enough to give people an overview of what is in each section and subsection, without bombarding the user with too much information. Depending on the size and scope of your site, two to three level of hierarchy, on a page no longer than a couple of “screens” worth of info.

What’s your personal take on site maps? Do you love them or do you think they are pointless? What are the best sitemaps you’ve ever seen and what are the worst.

Posted at January 26, 2005 10:21 PM


Steer Ethelston said on January 31, 2005 11:06 AM

Personally I think site maps are a great concept. It’s when you get somewhere like ‘a list apart’ or, and you want something you can never find, that a comprehensive listing is a good idea. However they are usually so poorly implemented that it doesn’t help.
My preferred layout is a list of the main categories at the top, linked to detailed information on the subsections below. I also like them in multiple columns, so you can see more of the site at a glance.

On the other hand, a search feature (assuming it works) is likely to get far more use, and actually is often far more helpful.

Richard Kendall said on February 2, 2005 10:37 AM

I work on a local newspaper, and I think we should add a section titled ‘What’s not on the site’ for sections of the paper that don’t appear online. Obviously this isn’t valid for most sites, but for print publications, it could save a few scratched heads from users looking for content online that isn’t there. whether it should appear on the site map, or have a separate page is something open discussion…