Site map as home page? Matt 23 Dec 2005

19 comments Latest by Mark

Jared Spool says frequent usage of site maps and indexes is an indicator the scent on your pages is failing: “If you find users are more successful when they visit your site index or site map, make that page your homepage and see what happens.”

19 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Anti 23 Dec 05

Anti Less is Less. He is the devil.

Brandon 23 Dec 05

I definitely agree with the problem. After visiting several large websites (Snapfish for instance) I find it hard to find some simple information. Sure, their home pages take the “less is more” viewpoint, but they lack important information and links.

In my case, I was looking for a phone number to get information on a priority order that has to be delivered today (it’s a Christmas gift). I had to click three times just to get to a contact page, and there was no indication on the home page that it would be under where I clicked - I just took a chance.

Sitemaps seem to mask the true problem - beit poor organization of content or poor design and structure. Less is more, but too little can be worse than too much.

Thomas 23 Dec 05

This just confirms an important point: Less isn’t more - just enough is more.

Stephen 23 Dec 05

I think taking a classic site map/index page and making it the home page would be confusing to most users. By now, I’d imagine quite a few people are familiar with the look of link farms, if not the name.

What I think might be a better choice would be making a prominent link (above the fold) on the main page with a blurb like, “Can’t find what you want on this page? More options are on Page Two.” The other page could delve into the less common user needs without sending a user to the standard site map page. That way, the home page won’t look cluttered, but users won’t be left floundering.

Brandon 23 Dec 05

Thanks Jeff - that’s a great resource!

Justin Reese 23 Dec 05

Reminds me of what Emigre has been doing for years. I don’t think everyone could pull it off like as well, but I love it.

Don Wilson 24 Dec 05

Or, design your site better so that you don’t have to rely on a sitemap.

Jonny Roader 24 Dec 05

We used a ‘sitemap’ on the homepage of the intranet I used to look after. It wasn’t pretty (and upper management would have preferred to use the homepage space for corporate messages and the like) but when evaluated against other designs it did get people to a wider range of information more efficiently. And it did help with the ‘turf war’ problems we had whereby everybody wanted their project/team on the homepage.

Whether that approach would translate to a website, I dunno. Evolution suggests that if it was the best way of doing things, we’d see more of it.

“Design your site better” - of course, but my hunch is that alot of designers who think their skills would punch above this approach might well be mistaken. It’s certainly worth testing in my opinion. The advantages of having user’s keywords right in front of them when they start (rather than having to choose a broader subject heading/menu) can be considerable. People are always happier proceeding if they feel like they’re on the right track - the ‘confidence’ measure that Spool talks about in the report.

(If you haven’t already then I would definitely recommend reading Designing for the Scent of Information. The best money I ever spent on a usability report, that’s for sure.)

Aesma 24 Dec 05

Оригинальня идея…

Don Wilson 25 Dec 05

“Оригинальня идея”

I completely concur.

Mark 26 Dec 05

Jared’s recommendations have to be put in context.

I recently saw him present at Web Design World Boston. He told a story of, I believe, the US Bureau of Statistics, who, in the interest of a better visitor experience, moved MORE links to their homepage…and saw happier users. He kept going with the story, asking rhetorically, “So what did they do next?….Added MORE links to the homepage.” My colleague and I turned to each other and rolled our eyes at this point, but then changed our tune when Jared explained that with each iteration, adding more and more and more links to the homepage, they found happier and happier users. Their audience were data hounds, with specific interests, knowing exactly what they were looking for.

In context, that recommendation that seemed non-intuitive to us made perfect sense.

Darrel 27 Dec 05

How about site maps as footers? You see this suggested every once in a while and I see the rare site actually do it. I think it’s a great idea…not sure why it’s not done more often.

Justin Reese 28 Dec 05

How about site maps as footers?

How so, exactly? Many sites have basic section links, but the topic here — virtually all site links on the front page — would overwhelm a footer, and be functionally useless. The benefit of all links on the front page is that you immediately send the visitor where they want. From that target destination, however, you wouldn’t want to continue providing them with useless links to every part of the site, since they’ve already expressed interest in only one particular page or section. They can always back up to the index for more direction.

In the end, I agree with Mark: the sitemap-as-home-page works wonderfully for particular sites, but some pages work better with hierarchies or rabbit trails. It’s all relative.

Darrel 28 Dec 05

How so, exactly?

This is a bad site for a lot of reasons (the frames being just one of them) but they do use the ‘sitemap as a footer’ idea:

http://www.runtheplanet.com/location.php?l=10

I’ve seen better implementations, but that’s the only one I have bookmarked at the moment.

would overwhelm a footer, and be functionally useless

I don’t think so. A footer is nothing but the bottom of the page. The ‘leftover’ thoughts, so to speak.

Justin Reese 28 Dec 05

See, I find that to be terrible UI: not only does it overload every page with links entirely useless for the task at hand (if I’m reading about Burkina Faso, how often do I need one-click access to Phil The Frog’s Photo Album?), but it also destroys the usefulness of the relative scrollbar size/position as a user interface element. Half of that page’s vertical space is navigational, and yet when the page first loads, the vertical scrollbar communicates to the user that there are roughly three pages of content. When I’ve scrolled “halfway” down the page, I find the end of the actual content.

A sitemap on every page is overkill. You shouldn’t restrict or bury your user’s navigation, but you certainly should attempt to forecast their needs on any given page. Internal pages should only contain links to related/relevant pages, and back to the index/home in the event of a “start over.”

Darrel 29 Dec 05

See, I find that to be terrible UI: not only does it overload every page with links entirely useless for the task at hand (if Im reading about Burkina Faso, how often do I need one-click access to Phil The Frogs Photo Album?)

It depends on the context of the site, of course. A lot of large sites that depend on site maps also are targetted at a wide range of audiences and it’s sometimes hard to segment tasks into individual sections of the site.

As for overwhelming the user, I think that’s probably where a better visual presentation would help. It is at the bottom of the page, so isn’t likely the primary focus (or rather, SHOULDN’T be.)

When Ive scrolled halfway down the page, I find the end of the actual content.

True, but most folks would want to digest the page in a linear top-down fashion. (and the same problem exists elsehwere too…blog posts, newspaper articles, etc.)

Here’s another bit of info I found on the concept:


A sitemap on every page is overkill. You shouldnt restrict or bury your users navigation, but you certainly should attempt to forecast their needs on any given page.

You may be right. It may certainly be overkill. However, we’ve found on our current site (a .gov) that it is next to impossible to forcast the needs of our customers in a manner that allows for easy grouping of content simply because we have way too many personas to accomodate. We’ve tried various grouping scenarios and they’re constantly met with praise from half the audience, and outright frustration by the other half. Ultimately, the solution for us is to have a much flatter site with a much longer/broader navigation system and lots of inter-linking between content. More links up front, less grouping by site section. In those cases, I’m thinking the ‘footer site map’ has some appeal.

In addition, I’ve found that people don’t intuitively always look for a ‘site map’ link when they get stuck.

Darrel 29 Dec 05

Mark:

Do you have a write-up of that comment? That’s a great little tidbit.

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