The humble footer – long ignored by web designers – has become a site of a sudden burst of creative energy in the past few years, as designers realize the flexibility of the footer as more than a mere placeholder for contact and copyright info. Facilitating this change has been a gradual move away from a fold-centric design ethos, which focused on concentrating major design and navigational elements ‘above the fold’. With the abandonment of this “above the fold” design approach, the footer has become the unit of choice for experimentation with design and navigational elements.
This article takes a look at certain contemporary footer design trends and explores some best practices:
1. Full Sitemap
The inclusion of a separate sitemap page linking to each page and navigational category in the site is fast becoming an outdated practice, as designers have started incorporating sitemaps in the footer itself.
The full featured sitemap, which can often include as many as 50+ links, is organized by category and separated into multiple columns.
This serves a dual purpose:
1. Enhanced SEO: the inclusion of the sitemap across the site in the footer makes it easier for search engine spiders to find new pages on your site and include them in the search engine index.
2. Improved navigation: The footer-sitemap encourages readers to explore other areas of your site which they might otherwise ignore, thereby improving average visit time, bounce rates, and page-views.
2. Smooth Transition from Body to Footer
A footer design trend that picked up speed in 2008, with the most notable example being Vimeo.com, is the smooth transition from the site body into footer. This often manifests itself as the site body flowing into the footer, facilitated via contrasting, yet complementing design elements.
For instance, the lighter cloud and tree themes of the body may collapse into darker footer design elements signifying the ground and a tree-root system. The footer, thus, represents not an abrupt end to the site design, but a continuation of the central themes. Nevertheless, a strong color contrast between footers and header/body is still maintained.
3. Interactivity and Contacts
It has now become common to include address, phone numbers, and other relevant contact details right on the footer itself, besides links to social media accounts. These allow users to browse and connect with your site on social sites – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Often, a few recent tweets are displayed. This imparts some much-needed interactivity to an otherwise bland area of the site.
These interactive features aren’t limited to social media accounts, of course. Designers also include newsletter sign-up forms, advertising, and contact forms into the footer itself. In general, it is about helping visitors connect with your site quickly and easily.
It is amply clear that the ‘less-is-more’ design ethos has been largely abandoned as designers experiment with different layouts and navigational and design elements. The footer is now not merely a signifier of the end of useful content on the site, but rather an extension of it, allowing visitors opportunities to explore and interact further with the site. Going forward, footers will often resemble a mini-site in themselves, with full-featured navigational elements and interactive features that complement the site’s primary content.