Rethinking Navigation for Better SEO

Image of a globe with the title SEO representing SEO practisesRethinking Navigation for Better SEO

In the new world of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), it’s becoming more about what you say than all of the technical ways that you say it. The new post-Panda and post-Penguin Google rankings, for example, are focused on finding subject matter experts on certain topics who are asked to write about that topic across multiple websites.

Search engines are looking for rich and varied content on your core subject within the body of your website. In our series on Search Engine Optimization, we’ve focused on how to pare down your expertise into one of a handful of keywords (or topics). Now it’s time to optimize your website navigation to help your audience find your valuable content more easily – as well as the search engines.

What is navigation?

Your site navigation, in essence, is how you choose to organize all of your content on your website. Most of us understand the concept of creating folders and directories that help organize all of our offline files. It’s no different with your website. Unfortunately, most business owners create their website navigation directory structure before they’ve created content – or thought strategically about what their core focus areas will be for that content. For example, your navigation is probably organized into the standard categories of:

  • Home
  • About Us
  • Products and Services
  • Contact Us
  • Blog

There’s nothing wrong with that structure from a user experience, but it’s not optimized for what someone might be interested in or how they may have arrived at your website. If they were searching for “wicker patio furniture,” for example, it may take the user several clicks to get there from your main home page. (“Products and Services” – Furniture – Outdoor – Patio – Wicker – that’s 4 clicks to get to the section they wanted.)

From a search engine’s perspective, it’s not much clearer. Nowhere in your navigation process do the words “wicker patio furniture” appear all in one string. (In the example above, the last page with all the search results might be called http://randomstore.com/products-and-services/furniture/outdoor/patio/wicker) If you had searched for “furniture outdoor patio wicker” (which is not how humans will normally search for things), this page might have been on the first page of your search results, since that’s how it was structured and how the search engine read it.

The Focus on Content Marketing Changes Everything

Again, these days it’s more about how helpful you are to your end audience than pushing out your products and services. Does your content answer their frequently asked questions? Does it inspire or inform them about key industry trends? Does it position you as a trusted advisor instead of a product brochure? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s time to rethink how you approach what the purpose of your website really is. If you do not want to change to optimize for SEO and content marketing, I promise that your competitors will.

You will always want to keep about half of the core elements in your navigation – home, about us, contact us – these are always universally used and useful to your end audience. However, the other areas should be about your core subject matter expertise and keywords – what do you want your business or your staff to be known for?

The business approach

If you want to focus on your business, try creating 2-3 areas in your navigation that sum up those core offerings you know more about than anyone else. In the example we’ve been using, I might select:

  • Home
  • About Us
  • Outdoor Living
  • Dream Kitchens
  • Clean Garden Spaces
  • Contact

Once those decisions have been made, I will want to move all of my content under one of those sections. The wicker patio furniture is moved under outdoor living, and I would continue to make sure that all sub-folders also followed a more “semantic” or natural flow (outdoor-living/patio/furniture). I would also take any blog articles or photos that were posted on the website in this area and feature them in this new Outdoor Living content section as well.

The featured expert approach

You can also poise your business around key personalities that have deep expertise in your subject matter. The risk to this approach is that unless those people are the owners of your business, you risk them building their own personal brands with your company and then leaving to build their own company (or work for a competitor). Great examples of this happen all the time; think Ty Pennington creating a whole brand from being a support carpenter on Trading Spaces. In this approach, my site navigation might change to:

  • Home
  • About Us
  • Jane Doe’s Outdoor Living
  • Dream Kitchens with John
  • Gary’s Garden Sense
  • Contact Us

Obviously in this scenario, the blog content will be more prominent in each of the sub-sections of your website. You will also want to supplement written content with rich media, such as video or photos of project work. The products that you sell will be recommended by your experts – and you will even want to go so far as to have every product have a short endorsement or story behind why it is recommended.

How this helps SEO

Organizing your content into your keywords around your subject matter expertise infuses them into every part of your website. If “outdoor living” is one of your most important keywords, every single page in that section of your website contains http://randomstore.com/outdoor-living in the URL by default. The old days of worrying about meta tags and keywords are gone – the search engines want to see the level of commitment to changing your URLs around your subject matter.

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