Years ago it was common practice to place a link to your sitemap in the footer navigation. Those days are over because the footer has become the new site map.
A sitemap is where users can go to find a directory of all site links on one page. But this is no longer necessary for most sites if you design your footer right (although XML sitemaps are still necessary for SEO).
Back then, the footer was rarely considered an important usability element. One study shows that most sites would use a traditional footer. It would contain a short line of administrative links and copyright info. The belief was that most users don’t use the footer because it’s at the bottom of the page.
The traditional footer has now evolved into the mini sitemap. Mini sitemap footers are not only gaining more but more effective than traditional footers. Testing found that a mini sitemap footer resulted in more sales and clickthroughs.
If you have a large site, you should make your footer a mini sitemap of its own. When users can’t find what they’re looking for in the header, they’re going to look in the footer. This is where they should see a comprehensive list of your site links organized by category.
Cramming too many links in your header can make your menus messy and overwhelming. Reserve the header for your most important content links and use the footer for all others.
When you make your footer a mini sitemap, users can rely on it to find what they want faster. This is because the links are all laid out and not tucked inside dropdown menus. Users don’t have to open and sift through dropdown.
Not only that, but they also don’t have to click a category link to get to more specific links. They can just click the specific link directly.
It also saves them time from using the search field. They don’t have to type in a keyword to the page they want. Once they scroll to the footer, the link is there.
Designing the Footer
An effective mini sitemap footer needs distinct category labels that contrast with links. If you don’t include them, you’ll make it hard for users to scan the list of links. Users need to be able to spot a category and scan that list without wasting time on others.
You should have ample spacing between your links so that they’re easy for mobile users to tap. If you have many links and categories you should consider using an accordion menu to display them. This not only saves space but it’ll prevent errors from tapping smaller targets.
Mind the Footer
Not all sites need a mini sitemap footer. If you have a large site that holds a lot of content, you should consider it. This is especially important for ecommerce sites where users need to find products quick.
Designers should no longer ignore the footer. It’s a site element that needs care and attention. Organize it with lists of links that will make all your site’s content quicker to get to.