I'm having a problem with a developer right now. Which developer isn't really the point - the point (unfortunately) is that it's common with a disturbing number of developers. If you happen to be (or know) a developer that is an exception to the rant below, please accept my thanks for your hard work and be sure that the following is not intended towards you personally.
Many times, they don't even do any design on them! It's a script that creates a link list and stuffed in a template (if it even warrants one).
I don't know why, but I can hazard a guess - it's likely because after the developer spends all this time (and client money) developing a cool, cutting edge navigation structure for the site, that the site map is a reminder that someone might not think it's as cool as the developer thinks it is - and we can't have that, now can we?
Next thing you know, they might actually start testing to see if that nifty all-Flash navigation structure is SEO or user friendly - horrors!
I've got a request for developers who automatically place the sitemap link (if one is even created in the first place) at the bottom of pages - STOP IT!
The reasons that a sitemap is important and should be at the top (or at least in a more prominent position) are many, but here are a few:
- Users with limited browsers (including mobile browsers, screen readers, and search engines) like to skip all that navapolooza and just go straight to the information and content - you know, the stuff the website is supposed to be about?
- Search engines tend to place more link weight on links at the top of a page - this then passes on more link weight to the links in the sitemap (ie - your site)
- On a related note, search engines usually treat links in the footer of a site (especially if it's in a smaller font than the rest of the site) as less important - since when is your site's content "less important"?
- Many people like to use the site map to find things quickly in large sites. Sometimes it's easier to figure out where information is likely to be if you can see the site structure.
- Sitemaps can save your site. Sometimes navigation changes create orphaned pages, leaving the sitemap as the only way to find what the visitor was looking for.
- The anchor text in a sitemap can be VERY helpful for SEO (it's usually the SEO'd page title) - you want it to be noticed.
Sometimes (if I can get away with it under the context) I'll even do link building for a site directly to the sitemap rather than the home page!
IMO, the sitemap should:
- Be well thought out and organized - use second and nested sitemaps if necessary
- Be part of your site! It should look and feel like your site.
- Use keywords in the anchor text and descriptions wherever practical
- Be one language only - if you have French and English on your site, you should have 2 sitemaps - one for each language.
- Linked to from high up on the webpage as viewed in text only mode. I prefer the upper right corner area, myself. This is also where people tend to look for search and country/language choices, as well.
Developers have to stop treating sitemaps as an embarrassment or afterthought and start treating them like the SEO and usability godsend they actually are.
ADDED: While writing a reply to one of the (much appreciated and thoughtful) comments below, it occured to me that another annoyance of placing the sitemap at the bottom of the page is that if you decide to use it because you are lost (possibly because you arrived from a search, rather than the home page) you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to use it. Ugg.