When a new visitor reaches your site (by whatever means), you must remember he has never seen it before. Yes, I know that you are intimately familiar with every single page throughout your site, but your new visitors most definitely are not.
In fact, a site with poor navigation is a site which will not see a large number of repeat visitors. Today internet and web are just to massive for anyone to spend any significant amount of time trying to figure out how to find out something from your site. Most people (myself included) will simply surf elsewhere very quickly rather than hunt around for what we need.
One feature common to any well designed web site (at least any web site of any size) is a site map. This document is similar in concept to a table of contents in a book. It's purpose is to give your visitors an overview of contents and organization of your site.
All right, so you've got a search engine on your site, you've got a navigation system which is good and you've cross linked everything so your visitors can get around as needed. So why do you need a site map in addition to all of this? The answer is simple:
- Sometimes your visitors want to get a view of your whole site's organization and design in order to efficiently explore what you've got.
- It is a way to show off all of information that you have made available to them.
- Site maps are good pages to submit to search engines, as they include links to every page on your web site.
Some critical things to keep in mind about site maps:
- Keep your site maps up-to-date and accurate. If your site map is not useful, then you may actually wind up chasing away people instead of attracting them.
- Remember you want to include as much of your site as possible on one page, but you do not want to increase load time to point where no one will want to wait for it.
- Make sure your site map links to all of pages within your site.
- Link to your site map from every single page on your web site.
There are several different types of site maps, each with it's own advantages, uses and disadvantages.