3 May 2010

Website Planning –
Site Structure and Navigation

There have been many debates in past years about how links and the overall structure of a website affects the search engine ranking. Using Google as an example, we will explain how authority of a page is affected and provide some practical suggestions for the structure of a site.

A good website structure is important for several reasons:

  • It allows a web page to focus it’s message – keyword usage and terms
  • Control the flow of navigation when a Visitors come to the site
  • Dictates how a search engine will crawl and index the pages of the site

Focus Your Website’s Message

One of the primary steps to creating content for a website is with keyword research. This is very important when considering the structure of your site as well. Let’s examine how a website designer might do this:

  • Examine competitors sites for keywords and site structure
  • Evaluate keywords and select the one that best suit your message
  • Add the keywords to the page title, keywords, description and content
  • Setup navigation links to meet keyword criteria

To ensure that a search engine ranks your page well, it is important that the primary keywords are used, not only in the title, keyword, description and content areas. But also use keywords in the file name of the web page and the directory structure of the website add importance to a web page as well.

Website Directory Structure

The best way to demonstrate how the directory structure can be optimized is to examine how WordPress uses what they call “Permalinks”.

I remember setting up my first directory structure to include the year and month of a post for easy archiving. But I realized I was setting a structure that worked best for me and not my visitors. So I changed the directory structure to include a topic or category in addition to the post name. Here are the two methods:

Date method –
Topic method –

By using a primary keyword in my directory structure, I have increased the importance of that post in relationship to “SEO”.

Another advantage to using this method is that now my directory structure isn’t as deep as before (2 levels instead of 3). For search engines, the home page is considered the web page with the highest level of authority on the website. The further away a page is from the home page the lower the authority it has in search engine ranking.

I have increased the importance of that web page by moving it up a level in the directory structure.

This applies to navigation as well. If a search engine needs to visit two or three links before getting to a web page, the importance of that content is diluted because of the distance it is from the homepage. If your visitors need to go through the same process, chances are they won’t stick around to click through to the content you really want them to visit.

The guidelines to use are:

  • Design a directory structure that keeps the important content close to the home page
  • Design a navigation scheme that keeps the number of clicks to a minimum for important content

Link Spamming

Does this mean that you should put a link on the home page to every web page on your site?

Absolutely not!

This used to be a common practice with some web designers as they thought this was better for search engine rankings. However, the more links you have on a web page, the more a sub-pages importance is diluted by the search engines. It also makes it more difficult for visitors to determine what pages you intended them to visit.

Too many choices? Visitors will probably move on to a competitors site.

This reminds me of an example that was given in a management seminar years ago. The speaker was asking the audience why Joe Montana was a better (American football) Quarter Back than some one like John Elway. The San Francisco 49ers seemed as if they could go years on their winning streak compared to many other teams like the Denver Broncos.

The speaker explained that it was because his manager, Joe Walsh, ensured that Joe had only 3 choices to make at every play. If Option 1 couldn’t be done, try Option 2. If that wasn’t going to work, throw the ball into the ground and stop play. Whereas John Elway had many more choices at every play. This made it difficult to prioritize which action should take precedence over another.

This example can be used to describe the way the structure of a website should be planned.

  • Use a simple directory structure and page navigation
  • Offer the minimum number of choices
  • Use proper and specific direction to the content where you want your visitors

One Comment on “Website Planning –
Site Structure and Navigation

[…] Website Planning – Site Structure and Navigation | Siam Communications Web Services & Tool… There have been debates about how links and the structure of a website affects search engine ranking. We will explain how authority of a page is affected and provide some practical suggestions. (tags: navigation SEO website planning) […]

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