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Help Visitors Navigate Your Site: Make a Site Index

This lands in the brain as “why didn’t I think of that”. A long time writer both of non-fiction and technical writing, on paper and computer, I adore indexes. I’ve created many of them within my word processor and think of them whenever I’m doing a book. Why didn’t I think of doing one on my website? Brain fart.

In Digital Web Magazine, Heather Hedden takes us all to task in her article, A-Z Indexes to Enhance Site Searching.

An important part of an information architect’s job is to make it easier for users of a Web site or intranet to find the information they want. Usually the focus is on site navigation—the site’s structural design, hierarchy, page titles and labels, menu design, site map, and so on.

Another way to address making information on a website easy to find is through search functionality. What’s the difference? Navigation means finding one’s way around and learning the layout of the site. Searching means finding a desired bit of information as efficiently as possible. A good site should support the search needs of users, not just the navigation needs.

Hedden examines how a search engine and search feature is critical to help visitors navigate your site, but it isn’t the only solution. In fact, it might not be the best solution.

Think about it. While you may be young enough to think “search engine” when you want to find information, but a lot of people think table of contents and indexes for finding the information we want on a specific website. We know how to find the websites via search engines, but finding the information on a website is often more challenging.

I adore the site map on my main site generated with a much tweaked “Narchives” WordPress Plugin highlighted in my WordPress Resources list. Unfortunately, unless you know how to dig into the PHP, or someone finally fixes and updates this brilliant WordPress Plugin (do you hear pleading and begging yet?), and using WordPress.com, you are stuck with a do-it-yourself site map and/or index.

Yes, there are other WordPress Plugins that generate post lists and table of contents, but I haven’t found one that compares with the brilliant usability of Narchives. Besides, WordPress.com bloggers have no access to such awesome plugins.

I’m not done working on the site map on this blog, and when I’m done I’ll tell you how I put it all together, but all of you think about how important it is that you help users find the information they need on your blog. Take Hedden’s advice seriously. The more you help people find your content and find the specific information they need, the more likely they are to hang around, and more importantly, return.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen

4 Comments

  1. Posted February 13, 2006 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle, I am glad you liked Heather’s article, it’s a favorite of mine as well. Let me know if you have any ideas about what topics Digital Web Magazine could publish an article on and I’ll be happy to do so.

  2. Posted August 3, 2006 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    As an add-on to the trackback statement above, I would most certainly welcome your findings and how you put the whole map together. I have struggled terribly with this and will now wait. Site Maps as you mention is an important aspect for users looking for content and information.
    A site map also has other advantages especially for search engine ‘bot’ crawling. With a well structured Site Map displaying all your content with the right titles it is good ‘spider food’ a search engine ‘bot’ can crawl a site map fast and index some of the more deeper pages on your website.

  3. Posted August 3, 2006 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    I talk about the issue of site maps as “search engine candy” in SEO Secret: Exploring How Search Engines Explore.

    As for how I put together the Site Map on this blog, the answer is simple: manually. Copy and paste into links in a list. That’s it. Nothing special. No fun. Boring. Hated every minute. Debating about even keeping it up it’s such a pain in the ass. Hand typed it all.

    To clarify things, there is some confusion between a “site map” and “sitemap”. The idiots who make words up to suit whatever need they have are the cause of this dumb naming of two related but distinctly different things.

    A “site map” is a link list on your site that links to posts, articles, categories, and web pages on your site.

    A “sitemap” is a collection of links to all the pages on your site wrapped in a special code created by a sitemap generator. This is uploaded to Google and other search engines to help them direct their web crawlers to your website. It is not displayed on your blog or website. Users will never see it or know that it exists. It is a tool for you to use for SEO practices.

    Smack whoever it was that decided to call it a “sitemap” instead of “website post collection” or “website page structure” or something better than confusing “site map” and “sitemap”. ARGHH.

  4. Posted August 4, 2006 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Whoa, Lorelle, there is a lot of ‘ARGHH’s’ from you in post. Don’t let yourself become jaded through the faults of others.
    Unfortunately it is the nature of the business we are in. While there are established guidelines and practices, there are always the few who literally take advantage of the ‘new media element’ and impose their way of thinking that passes on and creates the resulting issues of being confused. Yep, I get it all the time and have to put myself in check with the terminology I use and every now and again I get called up on it, by aficionados such as yourself – a good thing. Having said that I don’t think you should let it bother you too much.
    Thanks for the heads-up on how you did your map. Looks like I will have my weekend full in manually building mine.


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Unfortunately, unless you know how to dig into the PHP, or someone finally fixes and updates this brilliant WordPress Plugin (do you hear pleading and begging yet?), and using WordPress.com, you are stuck with a do-it-yourself site map and/or index. (from Lorelle’s Help Visitors Navigate Your Site: Make A Site Index) [...]

  2. [...] There are a load more in there some I am just experimenting with at the moment.  There is something I desperately wanted and had read it on Lorelle’s blog when she was waxing enthusiastic about Narchives. The last time I read the blog it was still being set-up. This is a sitemap. No SEO in their right mind should be without one. I have tried a few plugins that give a sitemap page or a links page and both of them I found were near enough impossible to integrate without something breaking. I am hoping that Lorelle announces the release or set up of the one that is used that blog. [...]

  3. [...] Art of a Good Site Map and Help Visitors Navigate Your Site: Make a Site Index by [...]

  4. […] Help Visitors Navigate Your Site: Make a Site Index […]

  5. […] Help Visitors Navigate Your Site: Make a Site Index […]

  6. […] Help Visitors Navigate Your Site: Make a Site Index […]

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