Chapter 6 - Site Structure Optimization: An Overview
This page was written early 2010, although somewhat out-of-date, some of the information is still relevant today.
Many people think that search engine optimization, SEO, is all about getting links to a website. Clearly, this is an important aspect for high rankings in the search engines. Just as important are improvements one can make to the structure of the website. In fact, site structure is probably the most misunderstood and commonly overlooked aspect to optimizing a website. It is so important that users get the best experience when navigating your website and it will please search engines too!
This chapter, Site Structure Optimization, will teach you about getting that extra edge over competitors who are just concerned with overwhelming search engines with inbound links, but little else. This process of optimizing the structure of the website itself is another four stage process (just like developing an effective keyword strategy):
- Phase 1: Designing the Structure for Website Visitors
- Phase 2: Designing the Structure for “Spiders”
- Phase 3: Anchor Text and Link Reputation
- Phase 4: Improving Index Penetration
The Four Goals of Structuring a Website
- The first goal of structuring or restructuring a website is to improve the user experience. If a customer is happy and pleased with the site, the greater the chances are for higher conversion rates.
- The second goal is to improve the “crawlability” of the most important pages of the website. That is to say to reinforce the appeal of the site to crawlers such as those used by Google.
- The third goal is to improve the page ranking of individual pages within the website. This is accomplished by proper use of anchor text of your own internal links and by adding proper links in strategic places on the website.
- The fourth goal is to improve the “index penetration” of the website, meaning getting more pages listed in the search engines index. Each additional page you can get listed in the search engines improves your ability to improve overall site rankings.
As you may have noticed, these four principle goals of optimizing site structure correlate with the four stages noted above.
Phase 1: Designing the Structure for Website Visitors
To begin, you should consider that designing a website is all about creating a positive experience for your website visitors. If you can create a fun website structured for human interaction you will, in all likelihood, do very well with the search engines without any other effort.
To begin, we will start by explaining the basic structure of a typical website.
The World Outside: The World Wide Web
We begin with the World Wide Web itself, a “network”, which for our purposes in this chapter means the world of the internet outside a website. At this point the only thing you need to consider is that what happens on the internet matters when it comes to how other sites talk about and link to your own website. We will get into this more in Chapter 8: Link Building and Development.
In short, if pages on outside your websites properly link to your site and clearly match what the user is trying to find and they have a positive experience once on your site they will come back, bookmark you or refer others. At the same time, if the pages you link are appropriate in type and content the visitor will be pleased with your ability to properly direct them to useful and desirable information. We refer to this concept as ‘user experience’.
Level 1: The Home Page
The first level to a website is the home page which is usually where visitors enter the website. This page sets forth the purpose of the website: what services or products or information you have to offer site users. The homepage is where you make your “first impression” and set the overall tone for user experience.
Even if you perform proper search engine optimization, SEO, in all likelihood your homepage will still receive the most visitors of any page on a site. The clearer you inform users of the purpose of the website and the easier it is to navigate the website and find exactly what you want them to find – the better the homepage. Using a site search along with analytic tools can help you improve the functionality of the homepage and we will go over that in more detail in Chapter 9: Measuring Your Results.
Level 2: Category Pages (or Pathways)
The second level of a website is the setting of category or directory pages which take the site user deeper into the website and closer to their intended destination in the website. For a website offering vacation rentals such as www.bastay.com these category pages might include ones for one bedroom apartments or apartments in Palermo, etc.
There have been several usability studies conducted on websites and they confirm that users of a website do not mind clicking on a few pages to get to their desired information, but only if there is a clear and well-structured pathway.
Structuring your navigational elements in the website into small groupings of only a handful of choices along with standard user interface items (such as page listings and links along the top or left side of the page, or blue underlined links) will assist your website visitors to easily find and follow your intended pathways.
For search engine optimization, SEO, purposes the second level of a website is typically the pages directly linked to from the homepage of the site.
Level 3: Content Pages (Destinations)
If you have a typical website, the third level – content pages – is where website users will find the most important content of the site. For SEO, search engine optimization, purposes this third level of a website is typically any pages that are to be found two clicks from the homepage.
A typical website user enters the site at the home page, then clicks to the category or pathway pages and then ends up at the content pages, Level 3 – destination pages. For websites offering products of services, these level 3 pages are the ones containing detailed information, benefits and pricing. For content driven sites, these are the pages with the key articles making a website a valuable source of information.
Level 4: Deep Content
For many websites three levels are all that are necessary. However, for others a fourth level is important. This is the level where website users find supporting pages for products and services. In the instance of our example luxury apartment rental website www.bastay.com these are the pages where clients can request premium apartments for a specific time frame and can order or find more information regarding additional services such as a Buenos Aires Tours or information about Real Estate Investment.
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