Site Maps: Passe' or OK?

Monday by Noon asks if site maps are obsolete. First, let’s agree on the term site maps. These contain a site’s high level links along with the name of the page like this good example of a site map from

Along the same lines of questioning site maps, people question the use of search on a site. In both cases, some wonder if that relying on site maps and search indicate that something is wrong with the site. I believe both tools have a place on a site. Sometimes using search would bring too many results or won’t find the general information you’re looking for. For example, I’m looking for the Contact information since I can’t find a contact link on a web site. I’d rather use a site map than search in this case. The site map might list specific contacts (investors, PR, product, etc.).

OK, contact was a bad example as this should be part of the navigation. My point is that you might be searching for something generic and not specific — something the site map would do better than
a search tool. Search, on the other hand, helps users find something specific. For instance, I search a blog or web site for a topic or word such as “monitors.” Monitors would not have a good spot in most site maps (an ecommerce site that sells monitors would probably list it under Products, Computers… this depends on the site’s set up).

Successful site maps organize the information with two or three levels. I think two levels is ideal: Top level such as Products for an computer store, and second levels such as Monitors, Computers, Software, Printers, Accessories. Go too deep and you’ll confuse or overwhelm the user. Where do you look for a site map on a site? I typically look in the footer navigation as they appear there most often. Site maps, I believe, aren’t important enough to join the main navigation. Where do you look for site maps? Search box? The search tool placement on a site doesn’t have a standard spot like site maps.

What do you think of site maps?

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