SEO Site Architecture, Fini

Today, we’ll finish the mini-series on site architecture’s relationship to SEO with a little treatise on everybody’s favorite web development topic, navigation! Yay!

Site Navigation: The system of links within a website that  connect the various pages and parts of the site together and facilitate movement between them.

If the internet is the world, and every website is a town, site navigation is the road system. Anybody who visits your site uses your navigation to get around the site, hopefully find what they’re looking for, and—if your town is all about retail—buy something. Navigation can make or break a website. And not only does navigation play a huge role in the way visitors interact with the site, they also make a HUGE difference in the way search engine spiders get around it.

Site navigation is made of up of several important elements, all of which add together to make a visitor’s experience easy, useful, and fun.

  • Main site navigation is the primary method for gaining entry inside. Usually across the top and down the left side.
  • Secondary site navigation points to particular pages within the site that have special significance.
  • Footer navigation lives at the bottom of pages and is a handy place to reiterate your most important internal links.
  • Sitemaps play a marginally useful role for site visitors (some of whom are known to depend on them) but are critically useful to search spiders—a well designed and implemented sitemap can definitely help get your pages indexed.
  • Breadcrumbs appear on internal pages and let visitors know just where they are (might look like: home > category page > sub-category page > product list > product). They are usually made of links to help folks return to where they’ve just been. To search engines, they also count as links.
  • Internal search can be helpful as a navigation aid of last resort, but also is used as a primary method of navigation by a small percentage of internet users. Search navigation is not particularly useful to spiders, BUT it can create an indexing hazard:  search navigation creates a unique dynamic page to display search results. This can lead to over indexing, which some engines might interpret as deliberate spam And spank you for it. You should remove all search results pages from indexing through a line in your robots.txt file.

Here are 5 characteristics of good main site navigation:

  1. Links look like links. If your internal links are all cute bunnies and frogs and no one can tell they’re suppose to click on ’em, nobody will.
  2. Links are easy to find. People are used to the web, now, and expect to find certain things in certain places. They expect navigation to be in banner across the top, under the header, in a column down the left side of the page body, or in a column at the right side of the body. This doesn’t mean you can’t bend the rules with an innovative, eye-catching design—but if you do, make sure the navigation is obvious.
  3. Links are made from text. This is something a lot of sites used to do wrong, though more and more are coming around. Links can be made of anything. Some great site designs use images as links, or JavaScript, or widgets or whatever. Might look great, but the problem is search spiders cannot read images. Not even if the image has words in it. They cannot read JavaScript very well, either. What they excel at is reading text. So if you want a spider to be able to navigation and index your content, you must provide text link navigation. Complex navigation schemes such as pulldowns, flyouts, buttons, roll-overs and the like can now be done using nothing but text links modified by CSS. Do that.
  4. Link text uses valuable keywords. Not every link needs to be a “money” keyword, but any navigation link that points to an important section of your site should definitely use keywords that are known to have search potential, are within your grasp competitively, and are likely to lead your visitors to a positive action. The reason for this is that search engines count any link pointing to a page as vote in favor of the page’s importance. Outside links count more than inside links, sure, but inside links still count. And if you have a 10,000 page site with the same text navigation link on every page, well, let’s  just say the page that link points to should do pretty well for the keyword you used.
  5. Every link works. Seems simple enough—make sure all your main navigation links go to real, live, functioning pages. You’d be surprised at how often webmasters make changes to content and forget to update the navigation links. Don’t be one of them. Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure that every nav link points to the page it describes.

That’s all I’ve got on SEO navigation…. Enjoy!

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