The core purpose of a footer is to signal to the user that they are at the bottom of the page and to provide links or shortcuts to other areas of the website. Not so long ago, this was taken too far and footers were crammed with links and used for keyword stuffing just to get a higher ranking in Google. The major search engines soon caught onto these black hat techniques and websites moved towards a cleaner looking footer, including just simple contact information or legal information and a copyright notice. More recently, you may have noticed an increasing number of websites including a full sitemap in their footer.
Including a sitemap in your footer gives you the opportunity to present every part of your website to visitors as soon as they view any page of the site. This could have some key advantages:
* Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page. [Google]
On the flipside, depending on the size of the website, a sitemap can take up a lot of space on the page and as the footer is on every page, it affects the appearance and user experience across the site.
In terms of Search Engine Optimisation, if the links contain keyword-based anchor text, this is positive, though you should try and keep the number of links on each page under 100, so having a sitemap in your footer would make this impossible with larger websites, unless you create a hierarchical structure. That said, if you have good, unique content, then you should achieve a good ranking in Google regardless of how many links you have. Amazon and Apple both utilise the footer sitemap successfully and it is certainly becoming more prevalent on the web in general.
To conclude, there is no strict right or wrong approach when it comes to putting a sitemap in the footer. It is worth taking SEO factors into account, but the design and usability of the website should come first in this case. I think making the right decision depends on the type of website and the kind of visitors you receive. For example:
An information website or forum, which has a high number of returning visitors, may choose not to have a sitemap, as people are likely to know where to find the information they are seeking and may want to use the footer space to display information as opposed to links.
An e-commerce website, where most visitors are viewing the site for the first time may benefit substantially from a well-structured sitemap in the footer.
So to summarise, it's more about design and less about SEO when it comes to adding a sitemap to your footer. Hopefully this article has helped you in making a decision.
17 April 2012