Thursday, May 22, 2014

Optimizing your website structure

Optimizing your website structure

As you focus on more and more keywords and themes, you'll be developing more content on your website, and you'll start to have a lot of pages to hold this content. It's going to be important to structure all of these pages in a meaningful way, because in order for search engines to return your pages to searchers in response to relevant search queries, they need to understand how your pages relate to one another. Let's imagine that you're visiting a bookstore for the first time. You're looking for a fiction book written by an author whose name starts with the letter J. Since it's your first visit, you don't know where anything is, and you're going to have to learn the layout of this new bookstore.

Optimizing your website structure | we can help
Optimizing your website structure
Fortunately, the bookstore has some really good navigation to help you out. You look at the  directory to find where the fiction section is located. Once you reach the fiction section, you identify the specific shelf that has fiction books written by authors whose names start with the letter J. You then look at that shelf, and you find the specific book that you were looking for. Now imagine you keep going through this process to learn the entire layout of the bookstore. You'll figure out all the different sections and shelves, categories, and authors. And eventually, you'll end up knowing about all of the individual books.

This is exactly what a search engine does, it crawls and navigates an entire website to learn what's there, how it's organized, where exactly all of the content can be found, and what it's all about. Now imagine that instead of simply visiting the bookstore, you now work at the bookstore. You've learned everything about how the store is laid out and where specific books are. If a customer walks in the door and says, hey, I'm looking for a fiction book written by an author whose name I can't remember but I know it starts with the letter J, you'll be able to immediately guide them to the book they're looking for.

Now, you're the search engine. People come to you looking for information, and you point the way to it. And you can do this quickly and efficiently because you've understood the content and how it's structured. On the Web, a search engine will find your homepage and start to navigate through your website, through your links. The way you link to pages within your own site is important, and it's known as internal linking. If you're an online store, for example, you might have a system of product categories that link to subcategories that hold links to individual products.

If you're an informational site, you may be organized by topics and then dates of publication. Whatever structure and strategy you choose, a clean site structure will really help search engines understand your entire website, find your content, and help searchers find what they're looking for. On the other hand, a bad site structure can be detrimental to a search engine understanding your site. You might find websites that have no navigation at all, or force you to scroll for hours through a single page, single tier site map to find what you're looking for.

You might see links that take users down at dead-end path with no way to get back to where they started, or you might click on links that go to pages that don't exist anymore. If a search engine can't understand the layout of your site, or doesn't believe that the structure makes sense, or finds all kinds of missing pages, they may not come back as much, and they certainly won't be recommending you to other people. Because everyone's websites and objectives are different, there's no right structure that works for everyone. The most important thing to remember is that your site structure should be clear to you and it should be clear to people.

Remember, search engines are just trying to emulate human processes. So once you spend some time designing and developing a site structure that's logical and easy for people to understand and navigate through, you can feel confident that search engines will understand your site structure as well.

Steve Steinberger

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