Site Map Usability | Free Research Report by Nielsen Norman Group

June 1, 2021


Site maps can save users from being lost on a crowded site by serving as an alternative method for navigating sites. Well-designed site maps provide a visualization of the site’s hierarchy and groupings, which help people find the information they seek. We present techniques for presenting:

  • Alphabetical site indexes
  • Dynamic diagrams
  • Two-dimensional lists

This 155-page report offers 47 design recommendations for creating effective site maps. Discussions and 87 screenshots supplement the findings.

Topics covered

  • Benefits of a site map
  • Site maps today
  • Behavioral patterns
    • Frequency of use
    • Hunting strategies
    • How participants define site maps
  • Attributes of site maps
    • Poorly rated and low success
    • Highly rated and high success
  • Checklist of 47 guidelines for improving site maps
    • Site map link: Name and placement
    • Navigation
    • Relationship of the site map to the site
    • One column vs. multiple columns
    • Page density
    • Design
    • Content
    • Alphabetical indices
  • User-based diagrams representing their mental models of websites
  • Methodology

 Sites Tested

  • BMW USA (marketing site for cars)
  • CDNOW (e-commerce)
  • Citysearch Boston (visitor info)
  • Documentum (high-tech product)
  • Harvard Pilgrim (health insurance)
  • Interwoven (high-tech product)
  • iRobot Corporation (high-tech/e-commerce)
  • Marriott (hotels, with online booking)
  • Mercedes Benz USA (marketing site for cars)
  • Museum of Modern Art (non-profit)
  • New Jersey Transit (local transportation)
  • Novell (B2B)
  • Salon (online magazine)
  • Scholastic (children’s books)
  • Siemens Medical Solutions (B2B)
  • Texas Roadhouse (restaurant chain)
  • The Knot (wedding information/e-commerce)
  • TiVo (high-tech product)
  • U.S. Administration on Aging (government)
  • U.S. Treasury Department (government)

What’s new in the 2nd Edition?

The 2nd edition contains additional recommendations, increasing from 28 to 47 guidelines.

Source