This article illustrates the benefits of having a well designed and easy to find site map. Lots of web designers neglect to include a suitable site map with their web designs. This article champions the use of this often overlooked and unfashionable addition to a website, which I believe is a must have for all websites.
First of all, what is a site map? A site map is simply a page on your website that lists all the other pages that make up your site. Kind of like an index at the back of a book. The advantage of a well designed site map from a website usability point of view can be clearly seen. If you site map is divided into logical sections – all the news articles listed together, all product categories together e.t.c, then this can be a great help to your users when they are navigating the site.
The other and most important benefits of a site map are not so apparent. To understand the other benefits you must first stop to consider the way that search engines find web pages. search engines are huge networks of linked computers whose who purpose is to visit as many web pages as possible and store the text content that they find on those pages in order to generate search results for users. This task is performed by software programs called search engine robots.
You might ask how the previously mentioned search engine robots actually find the new web pages that they visit. They simply follow the links that they find between web pages and then move onto the next page’s linked pages. In this way the search engines follow a theoretically endless web of interlinked web pages. This is how this type of software got its many nicknames ‘web crawlers’, ‘spiders’ and ‘spiderbots’ to name just a few.
So now that we know how the search engines actually find your pages, i’m sure you can see that if certain pages on your site don’t happen to have any links pointing at them, then there is no possible way that the robots and therefore the search engines can know that your pages are even there!
This leads me on to explaining the major benefit of a site map. Because a site map contains a link to every other page on your site it is safe to assume that once a search engine has found your site map, it then has the potential to follow a link to every other page on your site and therefore find all your web pages and their valuable content. In this way a site map can act as a fail safe – making sure that search engines can always find all the pages on your site.
By understanding the simple way in which search engines find new web pages by following interlinked web pages you can begin to appreciate the benefits of having a well designed site map. Not only are they a usability benefit – allowing your users to easily find logical sections of large websites, they are also massively important to assist search engines in finding all your pages. I hope you are now of the opinion that a site map should be much more than an after thought – it should be an essential part of every website. If your web designer has not supplied a site map you really ought to ask why!