This article is concerned with the structuring of data (information architecture or IA) within your website to best position it for getting search engine traffic to the pages you want to promote.
IA principles for SEO based on type of website
The first step is to identify what the point of your website is. It sounds obvious, but often the original incentive behind creating a website has been lost in translation by the time the party responsible for building it gets started.
There is of course overlap and this is a simplistic view, but for the sake of illustration, different types of websites and their aims can classed as follows:
– persuade visitors to buy a product sold on the website (e.g. electrical goods, food, ticket to an event)
– provide a source of entertainment to build a large user base (e.g. Facebook)
Aim: a quick sell and repeat business – to quickly catch visitors interest and funnel to target area (sign up or purchase), providing a service appealing enough to come back
IA aim: flat structure, easy to navigate – call to action should be available at any point, the top level navigation items should all point to the target, making it as tempting and easy to continue as possible. In the case of e-Commerce sites, related items to inspire customers and up-sells to maximise revenue. Where websites are selling many different products, a deeper categorisation may be required for usability.
– promote products not sold on the website (e.g. soft drinks, cars)
– promote and convey information about an organisation or place (e.g. a company brochure website, a tourist board)
Aim: a slower sell – provide a positive message, capture visitors imagination and interest
IA aim: often the point of the website is provide reasons to use the product or visit the place, so it can be more useful to organise the website by topics related to unique selling points rather than by logical areas of interest.
General traffic building
– convey information effectively (public service websites – e.g. government organisation)
– become an authoritative source of information in an area with a view to building traffic (e.g. Wikipedia, blogs)
Aim: To provide information as effectively as possible, leading to multiple page views
IA aim: a well defined hierarchy allowing users and search engines to find information in logically defined areas. Offering related articles is a good way of keeping users on the site. Navigation should allow visitors to follow a path, viewing all information in a given topic – breadcrumbs can help here.
IA principles for SEO based on size of website
With a lot of pages, it’s natural to feature several levels of navigation hierarchy so that users can navigate through the site with relative easy. It would be hard to use a large website with a few top level items, each with links to hundreds of pages. In this situation though, it’s useful for users and search engines to have a site-map on each category homepage with links to the lower level pages, to reduce the number of clicks it takes to find all the pages on your website. This scenario can also be used to your advantage, to catch ‘long tail traffic’ (traffic for longer, more specific terms) in lower level pages and funnel back to a parent category page, which in turn gains importance.
A flat architecture is generally best for SEO on a smaller website, using as few levels of navigation hierarchy as possible (2 or 3 levels if you can), again to reduce the number of clicks required to navigate to all the content on your website.
Common used of IA for SEO
Some SEO aims that good IA can help with are common to all websites:
Target a single keyword phrase per page
Ultimately a major aim of SEO is to achieve a good search engine ranking on keywords that potential customers will search on. A good way to do this is to use the Google Keyword generator to create a list of relevant keywords related to your core area of business and create a page for each high ranking relevant keyword phrase, as mentioned in relevance. Be sure the content is actually useful to the user though, rather than just being littered with keywords – visitors won’t be interested and search engines won’t be fooled.
A good tactic to gain traffic is to identify a number of long tail phrases that existing websites may not be particularly optimised for, create pages focusing on these and funnel traffic back to parent pages, increasing your overall site authority.
Navigate to any page on the website in as few clicks as possible
The more clicks it takes for a user to find a page, the less likely they are to stay on your website, or indeed return to it. The more links a search engine spider has to follow to find all of your content, the more likely it is to stop looking before it gets to the end. Also, less importance is attributed to pages further away from the initial page it starts crawling.
Blogs generally have a flat hierarchy defined by categories, which authors select one or more of when writing a new post. It’s useful to define your categories based on popular keywords related to your area of business or expertise. This will help you or your authors to stay focused on the ‘money topics’.
More recently and particularly on blog sites, tagging has been used as a way to identify and navigate to content, often via tag clouds. The idea is, authors type in comma separated free text keyword phrases to describe what’s in each article. Tag clouds then display a visual representation of the most popular articles on the website (or in a particular category), showing larger words for a word or phrase with more entries. This technique provides a more specific, flexible way of indexing content, is useful to users and can provide additional links for search engines. It should be used in addition to categories, not instead of categories, as it’s all too easy to lose sight of the IA you’ve put in place to organise your site strategically based on usability and expected search engine traffic.