So much gets written about SEO in terms of content it’s easy to overlook the other half of the optimization equation. That would be site architecture – or the behind the scenes contribution to the SEO challenge.
Let’s look at three contributors to site architecture – headers, page layouts, and navigation -- and how to use them to your benefit.
Describe your site with<Head> information
The header information provides search engine spiders with information about your website and its purpose. The most common elements of the header are:
- "Title" – a web page's actual title.
- Meta description - "Metadata" is "information about information.” In the web design world it includes metatags for your site's Description and Keywords.
In preparing your header information, be sure you keep your target audience(s) in mind and use titles, description, and keywords that are relevant to your site’s content -- and will attract their attention when they see your site’s listings in a search engine.
When it comes to keywords, this might sound counter-intuitive but keep your list shorter rather than longer. Keywords is one arena where less provides greater targeting and more ability to attract the spiders. We recommend a list of about 10 keywords.
If you have a large site with diverse products or services, then break your site into sub-groupings so that you can have relevant header information for each grouping throughout your site. How many groups will depend on the size of your site and the variability of products and content.
Design page layouts with CSS
When you’re planning your website, you certainly want to consider how your content is laid out on your web pages to appease the search engine gods.
Fickle gods are much quicker to give thumbs up to sites built with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) than they do to sites built with frames and nested tables. CSS is easier for robots to navigate and understand.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use frames or tables but recognize the SEO hurdles you might create for your site if you do. However, if you can accomplish what you want to do using CSS layouts, then use this best practice.
Images are great ways to convey information and help tell your story but robots don’t favor them. Never fear, though, because you can use descriptive ALT text to provide information behind the image the robots can understand.
Drive navigation with text
Text-based navigation is much better for SEO than image-based menus. If you really really want image-based navigation for design considerations, though, then employ ALT tags to help improve searchability, as described immediately above.
Plan out your navigation so that it makes good user sense in how pages are grouped together. And keep navigation as simple and direct as possible. Remember that pages that are closest to your root directory are most important.
Real-life example of benefits of site architecture
Enabling Technologies Corp.
Intellicore Design Consulting redesigned the website for Enabling Technologies Corp this spring. The new site recently scored 1,414 visitors between May 1 through July 15, 2009 — and this is 1078% of the total visitors in the entire previous 6 months.
Although Ellie Vollerthum, VP Marketing with Enabling, made some changes to her website’s content, the main change in the new site revolved around design and development (a.k.a. site architecture).
If you want the full details, check out our Enabling case study.
Here’s the thing. As important as site architecture is, search engine spiders aren’t who you’re trying to motivate to some particular action via your website. People are.
As you design or redesign your site, always keep the people factor front and center because, at some points or maybe many points, you’re probably have to balance your site’s usability with its SEO-ability.