Inspired by D. Keith Robinson’s What’s Your Take on Sitemaps? I started thinking and writing a reply. I thought I’d post my thoughts here instead of over at Asterisk*:
As a user I don’t use sitemaps a lot, but as a developer I’ve added sitemaps to some sites depending on the size and complexity of the site.
Looking forward I’ll most likely be using one on every site I build (unless it’s very small) since the (in-house) CM system I use recently added support for automatically generated sitemaps.
I don’t find sitemaps to necessarily be a sign of information architecture failure. Some people like to use a sitemap to get an overview of the entire site and to get a feeling for the size of the site. That’s pretty hard to achieve with just navigation.
A link to the sitemap should be available on every page of the site. Good placement is in the header or footer or where other “utility” links are.
The detail level of a sitemap depends on the size of the site. The more pages the site has, the less detailed the sitemap needs to be or it may get too large and cluttered to be usable. For a small or medium size site it may be realistic to have a link to every page from the sitemap (depending on what your definition of “small” and “medium” is).
A good sitemap doesn’t try to be a map. Nested lists are just fine.
A couple of sites that have sitemaps that I think do their job well are www.apple.com and www.macromedia.com. A different approach can be seen at www.siemens.com, where the sitemap uses a tree layout which the user can expand and collapse. I’m not sure if I like it or not, but I think it’s worth taking a look at.
If you want to read more about sitemaps, go to Boxes and Arrows and check out Sitemaps and Site Indexes: What They Are and Why You Should Have Them.