One of the most important aspects of any website is its internal navigation structure. This is what allows your visitors to move freely and easily throughout your site, accessing information and making purchases. Fundamentally, a well planned navigational structure is vital to giving visitors to your website a pleasant and productive experience. What many webmasters fail to consider, however, is the impact a website’s navigational structure can have on its page rankings. A poorly designed website can make it difficult for search engines to access the information they need to assign value to your site, which may ultimately keep your website from achieving the higher page ranking it deserves.
Search Engine Spiders and Website Navigation
Search engine spiders crawl the internet looking at websites and assessing the information contained within them. They rely on the structural design of websites to identify hyperlinks, locate documents, and pinpoint relevant changes in online content. From this information search engine algorithms determine the value of websites, and assign page rankings accordingly. Websites with overly complex, and clumsy, navigational structures inhibit the bot’s ability to crawl through the site’s content. When spiders encounter a poorly designed website, and are blocked from reading its content, they inevitably decide that site offers little user value and so its page ranking suffers.
Navigational Techniques to Avoid
There are a number of common mistakes inexperienced webmasters make when developing a website’s internal navigational structure. Too often web-designers choose form over function, and in an attempt to make their site look more distinctive they end up producing a site that is not only difficult for users to navigate, but effectively blocks search engine spiders from accurately assessing the site’s content. An overabundance of graphics, complex linking strategies, and deep site links leading to empty content tend to confuse the search engine spiders and prevent them from crawling through the website’s content. When a search engine spider encounters a website with these types of ‘road-blocks’ it can only conclude that the site offers little valuable content. Which is definitely not what the webmaster intended, despite all of their fancy design techniques.
The following are some of the most common navigational techniques to avoid when optimizing a website.
- Pages with an overabundance of unique outgoing links (crawlers may not follow every link, and may assume that they are bad, broken, or low value paid links)
- Pages that are too many clicks away from the home page (this deep site structure requires the spider to trawl through too many internal links to reach any relevant content)
- Internal pages that can only be accessed by an internal search protocol
- Internal pages that can only be accessed via a user login
- Pages that redirect before the user can access the desired content
Helping the Spiders to Navigate Your Site
One of the most important things webmasters can do to keep their websites open to the spider’s crawl is to pay close attention to the site’s homepage. Always provide direct, static, HTML links to internal pages you want the spider to notice and assess. Keep your most valuable and content rich pages easily accessible. Remember, like any visitor to your website, the spider begins at the home page. If your website’s landing page does not make it clear that there is valuable information within, your visitors and the search engine spider are likely to go no further. A site-map on the website’s homepage helps both internet users and spiders to find the valuable content your site offers.
Navigational optimization alone will not give your website pride of place in Google’s page rankings, but it will make it easier for the search engine spiders to crawl through your content. It will also make it much easier for visitors to navigate your site, and more visitors ultimately translates to better organic search results. Webmasters and SEO’s need to look closely at the sites they have developed, and the sites currently under construction, giving close attention to the value of a simplified and direct navigational structure.