Improving site architecture for great SEO

Everything apart from elements

Site architecture includes every component that goes to build your site other than the standard XHTML elements themselves. Think of these as the nuts and bolts holding together the furniture that your content sits on. You should review these in terms of SEO instead of relying on the content itself to do the work.

  • All the good domain names have been taken, they say… still, aim to keep yours short and memorable. Avoid unclear spellings that visitors will struggle to type by memory. Ideally use keywords within the domain name too so that it always carries some rank.
    • Buy up alternative domain names – such as .com variations or common misspellings and use a 301 re-direct to channel visitors to your main domain.
  • Where you expect visitors to type a URL into the address bar make the URL short and clear. This is not important for pages which are only arrived at through links so analyse where simplicity is a benefit to visitors and where it won’t even be noticed.
  • You will also build rank into your content if you use keywords in the directory structure itself – in other words aim to organise your content from the ground up according to the searching needs of the visitor.
  • Understand the importance of canonical urls – these are designed to remove duplicate URLs on your site so that all page rank accrues to one version of a page. This instruction directs search engines to index an alternative page, which is to the benefit also of people using Google because a plethora of duplicate results are omitted.
  • Build into your routine a check for broken links. They are not only seen by visitors as a lack of care but put a hurdle in the way of visitors getting to your content, and you should not assume that they’ll consider it worth the perseverance.
    • Recognise however that broken links do occur and prepare for that eventuality – set up a 404 error page not found that directs visitors back to where you think they would most like to go, in the hope that will be where they choose to click.
    • Internal linking is seen as much more clickable – links within content are considered immediately relevant as opposed to predefined ‘linking’ areas in the sidebar which have a ‘browsing’ aspect. However it is internal links which are most likely to fall foul of any future changes you make to links – it will always be easier to update standard menus and forget a peppering of links across the site.
  • There are two types of sitemaps with entirely different purposes and you need both.
    • A layout guide for visitors allowing them to obtain a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the site. Ideally there should be fewer than 100 links in order to achieve the clarity that they have clicked to find; use links to sub-maps for further detail.
    • An XML file for search engines to gain a comprehensive understanding of the structure – add in every page you want indexed; there is no need to consider human usability.
  • Breadcrumbs are an essential tool to display where a particular page sits in the hierarchy, and additionally will reflect the keywords you have ideally built into your structure. Research by Jakob Nielsen has shown that it is in fact a little-used and little-understood tool by most visitors but those who do use it rely on its consistency. For improved usability the terms should be clickable – this will allow visitors to step back to any page in their journey and add a little power behind your keywords.

Plan your breadcrumbs

The most important factor in attracting visitors to your site will always be good content that people want to read. However the nuts and bolts of the site that hold that content together all combine to make it more easily found, and in many cases more easily used.

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