Before we move onto the content of your website and keywords, another important (and often overlooked) area of SEO is the usability of your website. As an SEO copywriter myself, I’ve learned that the main objective of the search engines is to provide a positive experience for the user, and because of this, the most relevant and informative websites are generally ranked first.
It’s also crucial that your website’s navigation is easy to understand and follow for both human visitors and the search engines, and whether it is or not will have a big influence on the website’s ranking in the search results.
If the spiders can’t navigate around your site and read your content quickly and easily, then you won’t reach the top of the organic search results, regardless of how good that content is and how well chosen your keywords are.
The fact is, if you want a website at the top of the search results for your main keyword(s) then you need to build a site deserving of top rankings – and one that fuses top quality content with good site navigation will help you achieve this.
So, when designing a website (or having one designed for you), you want to make sure that your navigation tools are as simple as possible.
During these blog posts, I’ve already discussed many of these concepts…
ALT tags for image links, internal and external linking and relevant anchor text, for example, all serve to make it easier for search engine spiders to navigate their way around a website and index the respective pages, subsequently improving the site’s search engine ranking.
However, there are a few points that haven’t yet been fully covered, which I’d like to briefly discuss now…
* Use Plain Text Links
To begin with, the most important method for facilitating navigation for the spiders is to use plain text links. After all, the search engines (and human visitors) need to find your pages, so try to avoid navigation tools that make this process more difficult for them.
An example of this is a navigation system based solely on drop-down menus, images or flash animation, because as I briefly mentioned earlier, many of the spiders have trouble moving through them and reaching your pages…
And if they can’t do this, those particular web pages may not be listed in the search engines’ index, which means they won’t show up in any results.
This is something that you’ll need to speak to your web designer about because images are still important to the aesthetics of any website. You just need to make sure they’re not used as links or to display text with any crucial keywords that you’d like the spiders to read.
* Use Navigation Menus
Navigation menus are obviously helpful to human visitors as they let people know exactly where to go in order to find what they’re looking for, making their visit as smooth and productive as possible.
However, they are also very useful in terms of search engine optimization because they enable the search engine spiders to find all of the pages on your website quickly and easily, regardless of the page they start out on.
Having a navigation menu placed across the top of your web page (or down the side) makes it easy for visitors to locate what they want, as well as providing an easy pathway for the search engine spiders to reach and index each page.
It’s also a good idea to include your navigation menu on EVERY SINGLE page of your website (a practice known as Universal Navigation). Universal Navigation ensures that your website doesn’t have any “dead ends” (web pages that are reached by clicking on a hyperlink within a website, but which have no hyperlinks to other pages).
Search engines don’t like dead ends, so make sure every one of your web pages can be reached from another, preferably within two or three clicks.
A navigation system that guides users easily through both top-level and deep pages and makes the site easily accessible is absolutely critical to good usability, and such a system will be noticed and rewarded by the search engines.
* Check for Broken Links
Another thing you need to make sure of is that when the search engine spiders navigate their way through your website and reach a particular web page, they can actually view it. What I mean by this is that it’s absolutely crucial that you don’t have any “dead” or “broken” links on your website, either linking towards pages within your site or to external ones.
Broken links occur when people change the URL of an existing link, move their website or change the name of a file in a site. Everyone linking to that website then points to a broken link.
This is obviously not a good thing to encounter from a human perspective, but it can be even more damaging from an SEO point of view because if the spiders can’t reach a particular web page, then the purpose of the link will be lost, and your ranking may suffer.
Thankfully, there are numerous free broken link checkers online that you can use, and a simple search of Google will find them. Ultimately, the correct application of good navigation tools will help your website (and its pages) rise higher in the search engine rankings.
Nick Cobb – SEO Copywriter