Preliminary Findings on the Use of Sitemaps

Matt Haughey digs up an old SURL report from 1999 on sitemaps. Though the paper is short, Matt's summary is even shorter:

Guess what? Although you see them on most every corporate website, and most large clients ask me to create one, they only marginally help people find anything online.

There's a related article, too.
Further Googling made me realize that this is on iawiki.net/SiteMap too, which, like much of the iawiki content, is easy to find if you know you're looking for it but not terribly condusive to just browsing.

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maybe...

Maybe the IAwiki needs a SiteMap for the content :-)

Well, if not a site map, how about some RoadMaps?

One datapoint...

does not a conclusion make... Nielsen has published on sitemaps as well with a somewhat more favorable synopsis. The actual data of course is proprietary alas.

I'd disagree

I wouldn't agree with the idea that sitemaps are never useful. I did some research two years ago that showed that a good sitemap for a small-ish website can be very useful:

The research wasn't conclusive or anything, but it did show that sitemaps can be useful tools for making navigation easier.
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Blog: poorbuthappy ease by PeterV

site maps=good

One nice benefit of site maps is that they help crawlers (e.g. google) easily link deep into the site (especially if you have nav in flash, etc.) and capture the better content.

Besides, they may not help users a whole lot, but they certainly don't hurt. It's only one link.

It depends...

I'm going to have to stick with the old standby response and say "It depends." Just like anything, I think sitemaps can be useful in some cases if done well, but a sitemap's usefullness and usability depends on other factors.

Personally, I only use them if I can't find what I'm looking for; usually, if I can't find what I'm looking for, the site's organizational scheme doesn't make sense to me, and the sitemap probably won't make sense to me. Now, if there's a site that has a really good and easy-to-use sitemap, but the site is organized really well, I may not ever need to go to the sitemap. So, maybe the only sitemaps that I ever have to use are the bad sitemaps on bad sites. I could be wrong, but this is just an idea.

However, I think sitemaps are useful on other pages besides just the "Sitemap" page -- 404/error pages, after form submissions, etc. I'm a firm believer that A Sitemap on Every Page, which I learned about from PeterV, can be extremely helpful. I implemented a somewhat-complete sitemap on every page as part of the April 2001 redesign of xplane.com (see the bottom of the xblog page for an example). In usability tests and casual observation, most people used the sitemap as their primary navigation, rather than the navigation at the top of the page. Brad mentioned how, when he implemented it, his rankings in Google went up and he got more traffic because each page on his site had a link to every other page. While I'm no longer at xplane and can't check the stats, I'd venture to guess this is the case there as well.