Site Architecture is a critical component of SEO. When you are starting on a new site design, you have to begin by thinking through the SEO plan as part of the design. Here are 12 quick tips on how to get your site architecture right:
- Complete the steps below before writing 1 line of code for your site. It will save you time and money.
- Have an experienced person do keyword analysis for your business. Keyword tools, such as Wordtracker, and Keyword Discovery provide wonderful insight into the mind set of your potential customers.What terms to they search on when looking for products like yours? Keyword tools can tell you that. You need to map your web site copy to these terms, because these are the terms that will engage them the most. This would be great tools to use even if SEO did not exist.
- Use your keyword analysis to define what content you need for the site. Each major keyword is a potential topic for you to write about. If your potential customers use these phrases when looking for products like yours, then you want to grab their attention by writing content related to those phrases.
- Search engines (and users) like sites that have a simple hierarchical structure. These types of sites are also easier to maintain, so everybody wins when you build a site with a simple tree like structure.
- Search engines (and users) like to see a simple, clean global navigation scheme, that uses the same approach across all the pages of your site.
- Users also benefit from the use of breadcrumb bars that help them understand where they have been, and how they got to the current page. Not so much for search engines this one, but still a really good idea to implement.
- Keep your site relatively flat. Search engines look to us for clues as to what content you find important on our sites. If the content is 4 clicks from the home page, how important can it be?
- Keep the link density low. A good rule of thumb is to have less than 200 links on your most link dense page. Unless your site is considered quite important by the search engines, they probably don’t look at much more than that on the page. It’s also not very user friendly.
- Avoid parameters on your URLs. If you are generating your site from a database, use Mod Rewrite (or equivalent) to re map the URLs. Map www.yourdomain.com?catid=1345&prodid=164 to something more like www.yourdomain.com?catid=cars&prodid=ford+taurus. Once again, it’s also more user friendly to look at too.
- Oldies, but goodies #1: Every single page on your site should have one unique URL that brings you to that page, and no more than one. This saves you the enormous headache of duplicate content problems, and you don’t want to go there. This means you can’t use session IDs. You also need to make sure that your web site application does not allow a given page to be described by 2 or more different URLs. It also means that you need to:
- 301 redirect all your http://yourdomain.com/* pages to http://www.yourdomain.com/* pages (OR vice versa)
- 301 redirect http://www.yourdomain.com/index,html to http://www.yourdomain.com
- 301 redirect http://www.yourdomain.com/index.htm to http://www.yourdomain.com
- 301 redirect http://www.yourdomain.com/index.shtml to http://www.yourdomain.com
- Oldies, but goodies #2 Don’t bury your pages in Flash. If you are going to use Flash, then read this article for tips on implementing Flash in a search engine friendly manner.
I am sure there are more. I am trying to keep the above list focused on site architecture, so I stayed away from things like link building. If anyone wants to make suggestions, I will be happy to add them.
UPDATE: For suggestions on avoiding duplicate content in very complex site hierarchies, see “Planning for Complex Site Hierarchies.”