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In recent years, it's become quite a common design pattern to have a large footer on every page, containing a 'mini sitemap'.

For example:

enter image description here

This has supposed SEO benefits, but would also seem to be a legitimate use of page estate. However, such footers contain many, many links, and I'm wondering if that's a hindrance to screen readers and/or keyboard users.

Any thoughts?

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IMO mega footers are good but they increases the loading time of homepage –  Jitendra Vyas Jun 21 '10 at 14:40
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FYI marginal SEO benefit. The amount of page rank passed on a page via a link is directly porportionate to the number of links on a page. Furthermore, Google is relatively smart about understanding footer (especially if you name your class footer) and generally discounts navigational links more than contextual links. Hope that helps with the SEO side. –  Chris Kluis May 5 '11 at 14:19
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@Chris That's really good advice, thanks very much. Do you have any references to back that up? I believe you 100% and it's common sense, but I might need to convince others! –  Bobby Jack May 5 '11 at 17:02
    
@Chris: "The amount of page rank passed on a page via a link is directly porportionate to the number of links on a page." I'm pretty sure it's not that simple. –  Phil May 5 '11 at 21:09
    
@Patrick McElhaney: Is there a reason for editing questions that are nearly one year old? Just wondering... –  Phil May 5 '11 at 21:12

8 Answers 8

I must say that it is a design decision I like to go with in most projects. Regardless of the SEO benefits, having full navigation available in a consistent area of the site, always within reach of the user regardless of where they are in the site is certainly a benefit. It shouldn't replace standard navigation methods, but compliment them.

I do not believe there will be any problem with screen readers (although I am not an expert by any means) as provided the list of links are organised in a logical manner screenreaders will just list them off as links in order, which is how it should be.

They are not only useful, but they can actually be a design feature too. Beautiful design is not only about asthetics but about being fit for purpose, of which a good footer can show.

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I guess one issue I have with this is the general problem with having hundreds of links on a page - that it's inconvenient for screen readers / keyboard users to skip through or past them. I guess the footer doesn't suffer from this problem as much, being the last element on the page. –  Bobby Jack Jun 21 '10 at 11:42
    
I think if you properly label the navigation block (via visual or screen-reader only text) along the lines of 'site map' most folks wouldn't have an issue with it. As you state, it's the last bit of content on the page so shouldn't interfere with the accessibility of the content above. –  DA01 Jun 21 '10 at 21:43
    
you could also provide a skip link for keyboard focus / screen readers to go past it, which would be a 'back to top' link i guess –  ColinSharpe Mar 1 at 16:33

If your user is having to look at the bottom of the page at a site map, perhaps your IA/site navigation needs revisiting (i.e. adjust your user scenarios so that either the most common user requirements/goals are handled, and for everything else provide an easy search function — as opposed to scanning large lists of links, which is a PITA)...

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While mega footers are generally beneficial to the users, in some specific cases they can be inefficient.

For example, in a big financial web application project, I've seen usability test participants scan thorougly the footer to get help for the actual page and look for related information (which a high-level sitemap cannot provide). Although these can be somewhat remedied through labeling and careful design, the final decision was to cut the sitemap (SEO wasn't an issue).

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So, would you recommend a context-specific sitemap, similar to Apple's (as Danny pointed out)? Their's even features 'breadcrumbs', and, by providing a few different 'mega footers', Apple - arguably - have solved the related info problem. Nothing related to 'Help', as such, although that's obviously very general/variable. –  Bobby Jack Jun 22 '10 at 10:48
    
It really depends on the website, but in general I'd say yes. The context sensitive footer is much more relevant and contains less noise. Remember that navigation is not just about getting closer to the desired content but also about hiding things that the user is not interested in. A full sitemap contains too much noise in some cases. –  Zoltán Gócza Jun 22 '10 at 14:31

With my limited SEO knowledge, I am under that impression that footer text needs to be relevant to the current page in order to be useful for SEO. It would therefore change with nearly every click, and then it can become a bit confusing for users.

We've had to implement this off the back of SEO recommendations in a recent site redesign. In user testing I was asked several times what is was and why it was there.

One of our other issues is the the SEO recommendation demands that we use very similar link text throughout the footer, which is a nightmare for scan reading.

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Do you have an example of the "very similar link text"? That sounds bizarre. –  Bobby Jack Jun 21 '10 at 11:41
    
Home insurance, car insurance, travel insurance... etc. –  Ali Jun 21 '10 at 12:28
    
Well, the question refers to the Apple website. Just browse any of apple.com's main pages (top nav) and you'll see the contextual footer changes from page to page. –  eknown Jun 23 '10 at 14:58

In the name of minimalism, I would try and show only the links which are likely to be of use for the task in hand (whatever that may be).

Apple's website, for example, uses different sets of links for each section.

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Some website uses footer navigation to solve SEO issue on Global Navigation , for example : BBC.com, their global navigation is not working when you disable JavaScript and they use footer navigation to solve this issue.

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@Bobby - its not that simple, but the rough measure most SEOs use is .85 pagerank / number of links on a page - amount of pagerank passed on to linked pages.

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-many-links-is-too-many - has a great write up explaining the basic concept.

@Patrick is also right that its complicated. Other factors also affect the relative value of a link such as shown here - http://www.seomoz.org/blog/10-illustrations-on-search-engines-valuation-of-links

Here's a sample to understand how menus/footers can be great or suck for SEO.

pagerank 4 homepage 10 pages in footer that are linked to (assume no other links) - each page gets .85x4/10 or .34 pagerank from the home page

However, the footer is on every page so if the top level children have a pagerank of 2 you get .85x2x9(9 other pages linking to one of the primary children)/10 or 1.53 pagerank passed from the other links in the footer.

At the end of the day - its complicated, but the general rule of thumb is unless you need 1000 links - don't provide that many or segment them a little more effectively. Most SEOs try and stick to less than 100 links on a page.

This where the conversation usually breaks down in to white, grey, and black hat techniques for link sculpting, but I'm not going to go there.

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Thought you might like this - seodesignsolutions.com/blog/seo-tips/… - from today –  Chris Kluis May 6 '11 at 19:05

Create a full-blown footer showing up on the home page, and a reduced one within the site.

You get the benefits of having all the content that you desire to show and link to, but at the same time you're not cluttering the content pages, and you save bandwith as well.

I employed this solution at http://centrumcyfrowe.pl/, and the client was happy about it.

(I think that fat footers (especially when you limit them to the home page) are benign. Users instinctively distinguish between the header/body/footer sections of the site, and if not interested in any of them, they just glance, and move on. You can also make a good use of a fat footer design-wise: sometimes it's good to have something to frame your layout with.

Note that I'm not advocating visual clutter. The footer is at the margin of the content, and if so it does not interfere with the reading/scanning flow of the user.)

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