Site Map Design - Best Practices

18 Jan 2009 - 5:42pm
5 years ago
20 replies
4666 reads
Cindy Lu
2006

Hi!

Based on your experience, research or any usability study, do visitors of a
public web site use the site map? If they do, what are the typical tasks?

What are the best practices in designing a site map?

Thanks in advance!

- Cindy

Comments

18 Jan 2009 - 7:53pm
mcaskey
2008

Some people use site maps the same way some people use site footer
links: They just go there for anything they need, because they feel
this is the only place that is an honest representation of their
options on the site. I was surprised to learn this a few years ago,
but yes, these people exist.

Also, some site maps are for Google and friends. But I tend to use a
sitemap specifically for that purpose, in addition to the traditional
sitemap.

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18 Jan 2009 - 11:20pm
mcaskey
2008

P.S. I've been seeing more site map as primary nav lately. Lots of
creative ways to make it available too... beyond multi-level flyouts.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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18 Jan 2009 - 6:20pm
natasha dwyer
2009

Hi,

>From a user perspective, I often use a site map when I am after a
specific piece of information and I don't trust that the navigation bar
will direct me to exactly where I want to go quickly. For instance, if I
need to know opening hours...Is that under 'About Us' or 'Contact Us'?.
The process can be compared to going to a supermarket you don't know and
needing to find a specific item. The site map is an opportunity to
provide the detail not possible in a graphic navigation bar.

cheers

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Cindy Lu
Sent: Monday, 19 January 2009 9:42 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Site Map Design - Best Practices

Hi!

Based on your experience, research or any usability study, do visitors
of a public web site use the site map? If they do, what are the typical
tasks?

What are the best practices in designing a site map?

Thanks in advance!

- Cindy ________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
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19 Jan 2009 - 4:13am
Maria De Monte
2008

Hello there, talking with a blind user about the development of a site
with multiple layer, I discovered site maps are their best way to jump
from one thing to another without having to listen to the whole page
before getting what they need, expecially after being confident with
it. This was so simple for him, but so important for me as a
designer.
However, I have no "good examples" to give, but I'd ask Michael to
give some if you can!! ;-)

Thanks, cheers.

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19 Jan 2009 - 4:52am
mcaskey
2008

I'm very interested in learning more about this user's experience.
Which screen reader/s are they using? What markup structure is used
for the sitemap they enjoy?

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19 Jan 2009 - 5:32am
Maria De Monte
2008

Hi Michael,

we are working much with windows screenreaders ( just because you
always have to know possibilities and limits of the technologies
given to you by default) and Jaws, which is a powerful tool that
gives blind users the possibility to explore web pages in multiple
ways...

Didn't ask about markup, but thanks for the hint, that will be my
next question. However, what I found is a common mentality to
adaptation rather than designing or giving hints for design. At least
this is the Italian situation. I find this attitude in different
disability categories, so that at the question "have you any
suggestion to improve this/that feature of the site?" the reply
would be "I have no idea what you can do, so just do it the way you
think and I'll let you know", also in people concerned with
development and design. The best way for me to get good info from
them is to ask them for good examples.

But hey, what about YOUR good examples?? ;-)

Cheers

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19 Jan 2009 - 6:22am
John Gibbard
2008

All,

c.f some interesting discussion about Sitemaps as/in footers in this
discussion [1] from October 2008.

J.

[1] http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=33722&search=footer

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19 Jan 2009 - 9:58am
Maria Cordell
2010

When reviewing site analytics I see that site map pages get used, but
I don't know *why* people are using the page in most cases. I do know
(from direct questioning) that in some instances certain users report
going to the site map page because they're unable to find what they're
looking for by other means. A few people seem to prefer starting at
the site map (they just like seeing the list), but it appears that in
most cases people arrive at the site map as a last resort, when
aspects of the site design don't support finding what they need.

The latter is essentially the premise of the UIE article: "The Site
Map: An Information Architecture Cop-Out". It makes many good points.
See:

http://www.uie.com/articles/email.php?article=Sitemap

On a related note, SEO companies I've dealt with always want a site
map and advocate for listing every single thing you can possibly
reference on the site, and then some. Most of the suggestions I've
seen from this camp are less than usable--designed for bot consumption
more than for consumption by humans. Would be interested in knowing
what others have seen in this area, and if there are successful
examples that are both SEO- and people-friendly.

Maria Cordell

On Sun, Jan 18, 2009 at 5:42 PM, Cindy Lu <cindylu01 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi!
>
> Based on your experience, research or any usability study, do visitors of a
> public web site use the site map? If they do, what are the typical tasks?
>
> What are the best practices in designing a site map?
>
> Thanks in advance!
>
> - Cindy
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

19 Jan 2009 - 10:41am
mcaskey
2008

You may already be aware, but just in case you don't, I would just say
keep the markup semantic and standard. No guarantees that JAWS (or any
screen reader) is going to convey the same meaning to a vision-impaired
user, that plain visual IE7 will carry to your 20/20 user. For example,
IE7 may italicize your italicized <i> text, making it apparent to your
visual users that this text deserves emphasis, but your vision-impaired
users may not hear the emphasis. There is more widespread support,
however, for <em>phasized text, which tells the screen reader to adjust
the sound of the voice to reflect your meaning.

Also try to keep the markup to a bare minimum and again, validating to
standards.

Another point you might already be aware of is that screen readers are
designed to work well with expected patterns. They are especially
annoying when those patterns aren't found. Examples of
commonly-mis-marked chunks are tables and form fieldsets. Check the W3C
spec on those to avoid frustrating your hearing-impaired users.

For a sitemap, the first thing that comes to mind is lists. Some type
of a list might be the most elegant.

I'll see if I can find some examples.

19 Jan 2009 - 11:25am
Cindy Lu
2006

Thanks all for the reply to my question about site map. From the messages
and articles I have read so far, the site map can be used in the following
ways:
1. Some people are used to using a site map to find things
2. Some people may use the site map to find things if anything else is
failed
3. The analytics of site map usage can help designers improve the Home page
or navigation design, i.e. adding frequently used links to the home page
3. Site map is useful for people who use a screen reader
4. Site map is needed for SEO

In summary, site map is needed for a public web site.

My next question:
What are the best practices in designing a site map?

Thanks!

- Cindy

19 Jan 2009 - 12:49pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

Maria referred to my article on how site maps are a design cop-out. A
more reliable link is here: http://www.uie.com/articles/Sitemap/

As for Cindy's points, here's my opinions:

On Jan 19, 2009, at 8:25 AM, Cindy Lu wrote:

> Thanks all for the reply to my question about site map. From the
> messages
> and articles I have read so far, the site map can be used in the
> following
> ways:
> 1. Some people are used to using a site map to find things

Actually, no. A better way to state this is they are used to using a
site map on sites that traditionally have poorly designed navigation
systems.

> 2. Some people may use the site map to find things if anything else is
> failed

Actually, this would me more accurate if you said "ALL site map users
use it to find things if the site's navigation has otherwise failed."

> 3. The analytics of site map usage can help designers improve the
> Home page
> or navigation design, i.e. adding frequently used links to the home
> page

Not really. It only tells you what links on the site map are better
designed than the links on the site map page. Poorly designed links on
a site map will obscure great content just like poorly designed links
anywhere else.

By the way, you seem to be implying that most use of the site map is
from the home page. I'm going to bet that, for many sites, this is not
the case. On those sites, the visitor will choose the site map when
they've hit a dead end in trying to follow the scent to their content.
(The same is true for Search, where we've found on most sites we've
studied, it's used from the home page only about 8% of the time.)

Looking at the analytics is interesting, but I'm not sure I'd make
important decisions from that datapoint alone. It t is a poor man's
research tool. Better off looking for other ways to tell what is
designed well and what is designed poorly.

> 4. Site map is useful for people who use a screen reader

Again, this is a behavior employed by screen reader users because the
first pages they encounter are *so* poorly designed. Design better
screen-reader navigation from those pages, and the site map becomes an
irrelevant tool.

> 5. Site map is needed for SEO

Blatantly false. Good links are needed for SEO. A well designed site
can have great SEO results without resorting to a site map. (Don't
confuse the site maps we create for our users with the Google SiteMap
tool: http://is.gd/gta5. It's a completely different beast.)

> In summary, site map is needed for a public web site.

I disagree. I'd say it's needed for a poorly designed public web site.
Well designed web sites can do quite well without one.

> My next question:
> What are the best practices in designing a site map?

Focus on creating great information scent across the entire site and
then you won't have to worry about the site map.

That's my opinion. Worth what you paid for it.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com

19 Jan 2009 - 1:48pm
Cindy Lu
2006

Jared,
Thanks for sharing your insights, very thought provoking. I read your
article and agree your point of treating symptom vs. solving the root cause.
The message from that article (to me) is: don't put energy to improve the
site map. It does not say: let's not to design a site map at all.

A practical issue is you don't know if you have designed a great site unless
the site is put into use and feedback is collected.

Thanks!

- Cindy

> Focus on creating great information scent across the entire site and then
> you won't have to worry about the site map.
>
> That's my opinion. Worth what you paid for it.
>
> Jared
>
> Jared M. Spool
> User Interface Engineering
> 510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
> e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
> http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
> UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com
>
>

19 Jan 2009 - 8:25pm
Adrian Howard
2005

On 19 Jan 2009, at 14:58, Maria Cordell wrote:
[snip]
> On a related note, SEO companies I've dealt with always want a site
> map and advocate for listing every single thing you can possibly
> reference on the site, and then some.
[snip]

I think you need to find some better SEO companies :-)

The only time I've ever seen site maps like this make any difference
is when some of the links on the sitemap are to pages that cannot be
reached any other way... which I think everybody will admit is a sign
of a larger problem!

If folk are recommending site maps for search engine bots then there
is something very wrong with the site copy, or the site navigation.

Cheers,

Adrian

19 Jan 2009 - 5:42pm
raymond crowley
2009

imho the term 'sitemap' is best used to refer to the protocol
supported by Google, Yahoo! et al to enable better crawling of
resources by spiders thought the use of an xml file.

http://www.sitemaps.org/faq.php

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20 Jan 2009 - 12:45am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 19, 2009, at 10:48 AM, Cindy Lu wrote:

> A practical issue is you don't know if you have designed a great
> site unless the site is put into use and feedback is collected.

Isn't that true of anything?

You don't know if you've cooked a good dinner until you "put it into
use" and collect feedback, no?

Jared

20 Jan 2009 - 10:11am
DampeS8N
2008

I disagree, Jared and Cindy.

The idea that you can't determine if your product is good or bad is
the very thing IxD was created to combat. The fact that we exist at
all is proof that you can boil these abstract things down to a
process you can follow that will provide consistently good results.

If you, as an IxD can't look at a piece of software and tell what is
wrong. You are a failure in this industry.

Saying you can't tell in a dinner is good until you eat it betrays
how you make dinner. It isn't a truism.

Sure, if you cobble together a meal from a variety of ingredients and
add in spices and herbs at a whim. You might discover something great.
You also might give your party salt poisoning.

But if you follow a recipe you've followed before, follow it
precisely and use good tools (like an oven thermometer rather than
trusting the built-in one) you'll produce a good meal every time.

This is what IxD is supposed to be. If it weren't. What the crap are
we all claiming to be professionals for? If our work is a crap-shoot?

The fact of the matter is, if we have gathered enough well-formed
data about something, we can know if it will produce results or not.

Anyone here who suggests otherwise isn't an IxD. It is the very core
of our product. It is our chattel, our wares.

I'm astounded that so many of us here seem to have fallen into this
trap. I had thought we had buried this primitive religion along with
our other gods.

You DO know if you've designed a great site. All you have to do is
open your eyes and be self-critical. Apply your training as an IxD
and you'll know. As verily as an architect knows his house design
won't fall down. To put it to fate would be malpractice. To rely of
pudding-proof for IxD is malpractice.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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20 Jan 2009 - 10:52am
Mark Schraad
2006

hmmm....
Somewhere in between is reality and sanity. You obviously don't need to put
everything in front of users to test. But the all seeing, all knowing ixd'r
has yet to exist. Surely there are consultants and practitioners who will
position themselves as such, but (IMHO) they are fools. Leveraging education
and experience to make calls is a large part of our job.

We are in a young and changing profession. And, we (as a profession) are at
the heart of some much innovation. If you innovate, you MUST test. If you
are working in an unfamiliar area (industry, user segment, etc) you must
undertake upfront research. To do otherwise is simply irresponsible and
unprofessional.

and for what it s worth... the dinner analogy is an excellent one... but
leave the recipe's to the amateurs.

Mark

On Tue, Jan 20, 2009 at 10:11 AM, William Brall <dampee at earthlink.net>wrote:

> I disagree, Jared and Cindy.
>
> The idea that you can't determine if your product is good or bad is
> the very thing IxD was created to combat. The fact that we exist at
> all is proof that you can boil these abstract things down to a
> process you can follow that will provide consistently good results.
>
> If you, as an IxD can't look at a piece of software and tell what is
> wrong. You are a failure in this industry.
>
> Saying you can't tell in a dinner is good until you eat it betrays
> how you make dinner. It isn't a truism.
>
> Sure, if you cobble together a meal from a variety of ingredients and
> add in spices and herbs at a whim. You might discover something great.
> You also might give your party salt poisoning.
>
> But if you follow a recipe you've followed before, follow it
> precisely and use good tools (like an oven thermometer rather than
> trusting the built-in one) you'll produce a good meal every time.
>
> This is what IxD is supposed to be. If it weren't. What the crap are
> we all claiming to be professionals for? If our work is a crap-shoot?
>
> The fact of the matter is, if we have gathered enough well-formed
> data about something, we can know if it will produce results or not.
>
> Anyone here who suggests otherwise isn't an IxD. It is the very core
> of our product. It is our chattel, our wares.
>
> I'm astounded that so many of us here seem to have fallen into this
> trap. I had thought we had buried this primitive religion along with
> our other gods.
>
> You DO know if you've designed a great site. All you have to do is
> open your eyes and be self-critical. Apply your training as an IxD
> and you'll know. As verily as an architect knows his house design
> won't fall down. To put it to fate would be malpractice. To rely of
> pudding-proof for IxD is malpractice.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=37339
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
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>

20 Jan 2009 - 1:17pm
mcaskey
2008

Aha! Jared, your cooking metaphor framed up an interesting issue in my
mind...

Sometimes we do good design, even when our users don't know it.

We design things that we know will be good for the user, even though
they might not end up sending back tons of positive feedback.

I completely agree that "the user is always right", but I also know they
don't always tell you when you're cooking is good... because they don't
know it. Maybe it doesn't taste amazing, but it's high in protein and
antioxidants! :) Don't get me wrong, the user is always my compass,
but occasionally you design things because you know better, not because
you know they'll like it.

It is for those cases when "good" is more readily defined by analytics,
heat mapping, sales, or other forms of "pulses". Lots of web marketers
call it "grokking" your customers... knowing what they want or need,
without actually hearing them say it.

That was a bit off the cuff, so I hope it made sense...

Mike C.

Jared Spool wrote:
>
> On Jan 19, 2009, at 10:48 AM, Cindy Lu wrote:
>
>> A practical issue is you don't know if you have designed a great site
>> unless the site is put into use and feedback is collected.
>
> Isn't that true of anything?
>
> You don't know if you've cooked a good dinner until you "put it into
> use" and collect feedback, no?
>
> Jared
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

20 Jan 2009 - 1:25pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

Mike,

Are you suggesting that if the people eating the food don't like it,
it can still be a"good" dish because the chef is proud of their
accomplishment?

Of course, quality is in the eyes of the judges. That's why Jim Carrey
is upset that he never won an academy award for "Ace Ventura", even
though he considers it one of his best performances.

So, if you would put your judgment of the design over your users, then
I wish you all the success.

We can think we've done a good job, but are we, ourselves, the final
arbiter of the quality of our own work?

Jared

On Jan 20, 2009, at 10:17 AM, Mike Caskey wrote:

> Aha! Jared, your cooking metaphor framed up an interesting issue in
> my mind...
>
> Sometimes we do good design, even when our users don't know it.
>
> We design things that we know will be good for the user, even though
> they might not end up sending back tons of positive feedback.
>
> I completely agree that "the user is always right", but I also know
> they don't always tell you when you're cooking is good... because
> they don't know it. Maybe it doesn't taste amazing, but it's high
> in protein and antioxidants! :) Don't get me wrong, the user is
> always my compass, but occasionally you design things because you
> know better, not because you know they'll like it.
>
> It is for those cases when "good" is more readily defined by
> analytics, heat mapping, sales, or other forms of "pulses". Lots of
> web marketers call it "grokking" your customers... knowing what they
> want or need, without actually hearing them say it.
>
> That was a bit off the cuff, so I hope it made sense...
>
> Mike C.
>
> Jared Spool wrote:
>>
>> On Jan 19, 2009, at 10:48 AM, Cindy Lu wrote:
>>
>>> A practical issue is you don't know if you have designed a great
>>> site unless the site is put into use and feedback is collected.
>>
>> Isn't that true of anything?
>>
>> You don't know if you've cooked a good dinner until you "put it
>> into use" and collect feedback, no?
>>
>> Jared
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>>

20 Jan 2009 - 6:30pm
DampeS8N
2008

The free market is the final arbiter, yes. But that in NOT analogous
to a proof-is-in-the-pudding philosophy.

Sure, when you are designing on the bleeding edge, which many of us
are clearly mistaken to thinking we are or should be, you can't rely
on the past to in form your actions.

I could stretch cooking farther, but I'll avoid it.

I mentioned architecture before, and it remains a good example. Sure,
if you are building a mile tall tower out of used beer cans and hoping
to use high-altitude air flow to cool the tower, yes, you'll have to
do a lot of testing and a lot of research to do it. You'll need to
be a god of the craft.

But that isn't what they teach at architecture school. And it isn't
what we should be teaching every tom dick and harry who wants to learn
the bread and butter of IxD.

If there is anything the vast majority of websites need to learn it
is that tried and true mechanics, coupled with interesting services
or products, will enable FAR more in the way of profit than will
seat-of-your-pants cutting-edge interaction.

Make sure the bloody house won't fall down. Don't install a
spinning spiral staircase or an indoor-outdoor pool.

In other words. The vast majority of IxD CAN be predicted. Because it
is based on long-standing interaction methods that we KNOW the
validity of. Or at least we should know.

Many of the people out there doing IxD don't know they are doing it.
Our focus should be on educating everyone on what is known, not
hypothesizing about some fanciful new interaction.

Take this thread. We KNOW that site maps are a poor idiom that is a
fall-back that people use only when all other means for getting the
information they want fail.

There are 3 SURE FIRE ways to avoid them and to never need them:

Build a search system that finds the results people want. If you are
using some other technology like a Google Search Appliance, keep the
targeted results list up to date. If a lot of people are looking for
store hours, make the store hours pages appear at the top in offset
colors when they search for "hours" "store hours" and such.

Build a functional menu system that favors the popular, not what you
want to promote. Make each level give more clarity into the section
the user has chosen, and repeat things in multiple sections if users
appear to be looking for them there also.

Consolidate. Not all topics need to be segmented into new pages. Not
all sections need to cross-link beyond the main menu. If there isn't
enough clarity between the "Leaders" and "Organization" sections.
Maybe there should just be one and not both.

If we suggest, even for a second, that pushing an average site out in
a poor state just to get feedback is the only way to make it good, we
defeat ourselves.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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