Site Hierarchy and Navigation

Sitemaps and Site Hierarchy

The term “sitemap” refers to two things. First, it means the hierarchical arrangement of pages on a website. A visitor may start on a home page and go deeper through a series of menus to drill down to a particular page they are looking for. If the site hierarchy makes sense, this process should be easy. If not, the desired page may never be found.

Second, “sitemap” refers to an actual page that lists other pages on a site. A user may visit this page if they prefer to see all pages on a site at once, rather than clicking through progressively more targeted pages to reach their desired goal. Ideally, the sitemap page should reflect the hierarchy around which a site is organized; a sitemap page without headings and structure is simply an unhelpful list.

Sitemap design is driven by a site’s organizational scheme and labeling. But, sitemaps may also be constrained by the need to visually design a menu that can fit within the appropriate space. At times, it may feel like and sitemaping and navigation design are one in the same Sitemaps may also be informed by peer comparisons; academic departments may look to others when developing their own websites. The fact that are broad similarities among similar kinds of sites suggests that sites with similar purposes can successfully use similar solutions when determining how to structure pages.

Menus & Navigation

Menus are list of links that allow the user to navigate hierarchically through a website. In most websites, a primary menu will be at the top of a desktop version of a site, and a local menu will be in the left or (less frequently) right sidebar. In mobile websites, menus are often hidden behind icons or located within dropdown lists. Footers and headers often contain additional menus for utility links.

Menus are how a user becomes aware of a site’s hierarchy. Menus can also provide shortcuts to frequently-accessed pages that are otherwise burried deep within a sitemap. Getting menus correct so that a site can be navigated is one of the most important aspects of usability.