Search Engine Optimization (SEO) goes beyond building links and sprinkling keywords here and there. For your SEO campaign to succeed in 2017, you have to lay down the foundations and master techniques that would benefit your website for years to come.
This three-part series will guide you through the 3 most important aspects of SEO: (1) usability and site navigation, (2) authority and relationship building, and (3) optimization for relevance.
Today, I’ll talk about Usability and Site Navigation – the foundation of any SEO-friendly website.
Importance of Navigation
Unless you’re building a one-page online calling card, your website can’t survive on just pages alone. It must be built within a planned structure, which should be able to improve usability and accessibility (how easily a search engine can find and crawl your site).
A proper navigation guides your visitors to what they’re searching for (whether it’s a product or information), and guides search engines with a clear definition of what your website is about.
Usability and site navigation should be one of the first things you work on, before diving into keyword research and content development.
Elements of a SEO-friendly Site Navigation
Navigation isn’t as simple as installing flashy menus. Instead, it is a combination of several elements that create one, well-designed site architecture. These include:
When planning your site’s structure, use a pyramid as a guide. The homepage is the top-most part of your pyramid, followed by top-level category pages, and then subcategories. Follow Search Engine Journal’s recommendation about a shallow website – or “one that requires three or fewer clicks to reach every page)” because it “is far more preferable than a deep website (which requires lengthy strings of clicks to see every page on your site.”
2. URL Structure
There’s a reason why WordPress is considered a SEO-friendly platform. WP makes it easy for ordinary folk to change URLs into versions that make sense (such as www.seo.com/services/writing/) instead of leaving the default version (such as www.seo.com/asdf123). Search engines and users both benefit from clearly-defined URLs, and in turn, so do your site.
3. File Naming
Another important (but often forgotten) element to site navigation is file names. Whether you’re uploading images, videos, PDFs, or any other file into your site, it’s best to rename it with a descriptive title (such as www.seo.com/about/steverazinski.jpg) instead of just “IMG.1234.jpg.”
4. Internal Link Structure
Every page at the top of your pyramid should link to the subpages under it. Not only does this show search engines which contents are related, it also gives your visitors a hassle-free way of accessing all information you have on the site.
This problem, more commonly known as ‘duplicate content’ or redundancy issues occur when two pages have similar or identical content. When this happens, search engine bots decide which one to keep and to drop. If both are just as important, you have to tell the search engine what to do with these pages by setting up 301 redirects or adding canonical tags within the code.
6. Server Errors
Broken links, outdated links, 404/500 error pages, and other lost pages can be annoying to visitors and a bad sign to search engine crawlers. You can find and fix these pages by using Google’s Webmaster Tools.
If you haven’t created your HTML sitemap before, you have to do it now. Then every time you make changes to the site structure, update and re-submit the XML sitemap to Google’s Search Console.
8. Site Speed
All your efforts in building a usable and accessible site is worthless, if your site pages load so slow. There’s 3 critical reasons to fix speed of page loads:
- Google considers page load speeds as one of its ranking considerations.
- Visitors get frustrated with slow-loading pages and leave.
- Fast-loading pages is important to mobile search (which will replace PC/desktop search in the near future)
This list of on-page SEO isn’t comprehensive, but fixing them now can dramatically affect how search engines (and your visitors) view your site. Many of these tasks won’t even be noticed by visitors directly, but they improve user experience one way or another.
Now that you know the importance of a carefully planned and organized navigation and site structure, I’ll talk about how to build authority and relationships in the next part of the series.