Think Info

Exploring the information space

What is the sitemap page for?

We have all seen it. Web sites everywhere containing a link in the footer to “sitemap.” Go to that page, and you find a long list of links, matching the site’s tree structure.

What is this page for?
Reading the site map

“To help users find what they are looking for” is the standard answer. However, there is an issue with the sitemap page, depending on the type of site. There are three to consider:

Highly dynamic sites

These sites receive large quantities of new content on a regular basis. Very quickly, they end up with huge content archives. A sitemap in this instance will end up in one of three states (or, more likely, all three):

  • bloated to the point of nothing being findable
  • pointing only to a few top-level categories of information
  • woefully out of date

Larger sites that have a constant stream of new material have understood this, and relegated the sitemap to the dustbin.

Huge sites

Sites with thousands of pages have the same problems as highly dynamic ones, except they do not suffer the out-of-date syndrome in quite the same way… until someone decides they need an update.

As many sites that fall into this category are corporate, there are still many marketing departments that insist on the sitemap, despite it not being up to its intended job. Why duplicate the navigation at the top of every site page as a stand-alone entity?

Small sites

Smaller sites – ones with a number of pages that can be managed in a indented list – are a different subject. On these sites, the question really becomes: why bother? (I have worked on a site for a major pharmaceutical company where they insisted on a sitemap. It contained five links; matching the main navigation, though in a different order.)

If, on a site with a hundred-odd pages or less, your navigation is not up to the job of showing the user what is on offer, fix the navigation. Or fix what’s on offer.

Good riddance to the old sitemap…

The truth is that the sitemap is an anachronism. From the moment HTML supported dynamic menu systems, it has been obsolete. Get over it. Do not insist on having one just because it’s the way things have always been done.

If the user cannot find what they are looking for through other navigation systems within your site, fix those.

I am not recommending doing away with the XML sitemap which feeds search engines. In the search-centric internet, that is mandatory.

Reference links

Reading the site map, by Chris Shipton@ChrisShipton

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