In my workshops on navigation design, I relate sitemaps to eating eggs: first they were bad for, then they were good for you, then bad, and then good in small doses. So what’s the deal: are sitemaps as a navigation mechanism good or bad?
Back in the day, we used to include a sitemap in a website’s IA almost by default. Then they got a really bad rap: “If your navigation works well, you don’t need a sitemap,” people would say. So they went out of style. Besides, creating a sitemap is difficult, and as soon as it’s done, it needs updating due to a change in the page structure or page name. And generating one dynamically is more effort than it’s worth.
But then sitemaps became good for SEO, so people have started using them again. Ebay has one; so does Apple.
One trend I’ve pointed out is the partial sitemap at the bottom of each page, in the footer area. And here’s a recent collection of many of them on Web Designer Wall. (The example sites I’ve used in the past all seem to have changed page layouts, so I appreciate this collection to draw on as a resource).
Of course, this is not new. Peter van Dijck recommended putting a sitemap on every page of your site back in 2000. (See John Rhodes summary on Web Word).
So sitemaps aren’t quite dead yet. They are just taking a different form and function.