In a recent project, a client asked me whether I’d recommend getting rid of his Site Map. We had just conducted a series of user tests, and the client noticed that not a single subject ever looked at the Site Map. Not even when they were hopelessly lost.
Following the “less is more” principle of design, he argued, didn’t it make sense to eliminate rarely-used features like Site Maps?
Though I understood his position, I strongly recommended he retain his Site Map. Here’s why:
Your Site Map is (or should be!) a visual representation of your website’s Information Architecture. It’s therefore a great place for visitors to gain a quick understanding of what you offer and how your content is organized.
In fact, your Site Map is probably the only place on your site that provides a comprehensive overview of — and direct links to — all your content.
The Site Map is also a great secondary navigational feature that users can turn to when they’re lost.
Advanced users want them
Though seldom used by “average users”, Site Maps are commonly used by more advanced users. (A similar situation exists with that other popular form of secondary navigation: bread crumbs) Why alienate advanced users without good reason?
They’re great for SEO
One of the first recommendations we make for new SEO clients is to include a Site Map. Reason: Site Maps make it easier for the search engines to spider and categorize your site, ensuring all pages get properly indexed.
No reason not to have them
Site Maps are easy to put together, and they needn’t adversely affect your design or clutter your navigation. Just include “Site Map” as one of the text links in your footer navigation. It’ll be the first place users will look for it. (Or at worst, the second place they look. They might first look in the header navigation, if you have it. So consider putting a link there too.)
With so many compelling reasons to include a Site Map — and no real downside to their inclusion — I think the answer is obvious. Make sure your website includes a well laid out, comprehensive Site Map. Your advanced users (and the search engines) will thank you.