While the discussion has started much earlier, the first book about Sustainable Web Design in the English speaking realm was Tim Frick’s Designing for Sustainability – A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products & Services, which was published in 2016 by O’Reilly. In the book, Tim explains the foundations of sustainability and its definition and outlines a framework for designing more sustainable digital products and services, which consists of the categories design and UX, content, performance optimisation and green ingredients, including green hosting. The book also includes research on devising meaningful ways to measure the environmental impact of digital work and looks at what a more sustainable future Internet might be.
Published just this year (2021), Tom Greenwood’s Sustainable Web Design (available at A Book Apart) goes into detail on how we can measure our impact, how we can design low-carbon websites, what sustainable web development looks like, and how green web hosting works. Tom also explains how to sell Sustainable Web Design, which he has experience with his agency Wholegrain digital. He talks about being selective when it comes to projects, something that I always advocated as well, but was hesitant and wary of people’s reactions. You can get a little taster of Tom talking about his experience in this podcast episode 103: Sustainable Websites – Tom Greenwood, Wholegrain Digital.
While Google’s John Muller commented on Reddit that HTML sitemaps are not worthwhile for SEO purposes  , there may be enough other reasons to keep them around. Sitemaps have arguably become a bit of a rarity, but there’s good examples of sitemaps making sense for a variety of reasons.
What is a sitemap?
A sitemap is a file where information about the pages, videos, and other files on a site are provided, as well as their relationships between them. These can be provided in form of a .xml-file, which is created solely to aid the search engine in crawling the site and finding the files it is looking for. But the contents of a page can also be mapped out via HTML, which is then usually linked in the footer of the page.
Should a sustainable website have a sitemap?
An HTML sitemap can help with the organisation of a website, especially larger ones, with structuring content and keeping track of all pages. It can therefore serve as a project management tool. But it can also aid in highlighting the value of the website and identify the most relevant and unique keywords for SEO. Moreover, an HTML sitemap can aid in enabling page links in a natural way to drive visitors, help them find their way to difficult to categorise pages. The biggest potential of a sitemap, in terms of making it sustainable, probably is, that it can help identify orphaned pages, understand user journeys and optimise them, aid in SEO and therefore findability (one of Tim Frick’s principles of Sustainable Web Design) and in a good page structure. However, sitemaps still only make sense for large websites, or new content needs to be crawled fast (like for news to be displayed on Googe News), there is no need for a sitemap on a portfolio page or the site of a small local business, blogs, for example, should avail of RSS feeds instead.
The following shows the sitemap of online magazine designorate.com. It is linked in the top menu via “About” and also in the footer of the page.
The sitemap in this case definitely helps in finding pages that are otherwise difficult to find. Pages that are listed last in the sitemap don’t appear in the menu, the page “Design Ressources” actually links to the “Publications” page. I also find the list of resources under “Design Thinking” very helpful and wonder why it isn’t adapted in the top navigation. Overall, the structure and organisation of the page is difficult to understand, but through looking at the sitemap I find the resources a lot more helpful than if I looked just through the menu.
Let’s have a look at another example, the below is the sitemap of the online directory mygreendirectory.info, I couldn’t find a link to a sitemap but found it by chancing it and entering /sitemap in the URL.
First things first, it would be helpful if the list was presented in two or three columns, it took three full-screen images to puzzle together the above image. But since there is no link to the sitemap anywhere visible, it is safe to say it was created for the search engine, not the visitors. Again, the sitemap headings don’t correlate with the navigation items, the “FAQ” page doesn’t exist, the “Offer” navigation link leads to a page called “deal”, which is blank, same as the “Events”, but I guess that was to be expected in a pandemic. The navigation item “Add a listing” is linked to the page “advertise”, which I suppose summarises this not so honourable intention of a website. A few cheesy stock photos and a poor logo, and a page that let’s you buy ad space. The lack of reviews on the listings doesn’t create authenticity either. A long way to go for mygreendirectory.info.
Conclusively, sitemaps can be beneficial for large websites such as directories for a variety of reasons, but they won’t save a poorly structured website.