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Google SEO: Make your site easier to navigate

Google_SEO-NavigateThe directory structure for our small website on baseball cards.

Navigation is very important for search engines

The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.

Plan out your navigation based on your homepage

All sites have a home or “root” page, which is usually the most frequented page on the site and the starting place of navigation for many visitors. Unless your site has only a handful of pages, you should think about how visitors will go from a general page (your root page) to a page containing more specific content. Do you have enough pages around a specific topic area that it would make sense to create a page describing these related pages (e.g. root page -> related topic listing -> specific topic)? Do you have hundreds of different products that need to be classified under multiple category and subcategory pages?

Ensure more convenience for users by using ‘breadcrumb lists’

Google_SEO-Navigate-1(1) Breadcrumb links appearing on a deeper article page on our site.

A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page (1). Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (usually the root page) as the first, left-most link and list the more specific sections out to the right.

Glossary

  • 404 (“page not found” error): An HTTP status code (see page 12). It means that the server could not find the web page requested by the browser.
  • XML Sitemap: A list of the pages on a particular website. By creating and sending this list, you are able to notify Google of all pages on a website, including any URLs that may have been undetected by Google’s regular crawling process.

Allow for the possibility of a part of the URL being removed

Google_SEO-Navigate-2(2) Users may go to an upper directory by removing the last part of the URL.

Consider what happens when a user removes part of your URL – Some users might navigate your site in odd ways, and you should anticipate this. For example, instead of using the breadcrumb links on the page, a user might drop off a part of the URL in the hopes of finding more general content. He or she might be visiting http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/upcoming-baseball-card-shows.htm, but
then enter http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/ into the browser’s address bar, believing that this will show all news from 2010 (2). Is your site prepared to show content in this situation or will it give the user a 404 (“page not found” error)? What about moving up a directory level to http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/?

Prepare two sitemaps: one for users, one for search engines

A site map (lower-case) is a simple page on your site that displays the structure of your website, and usually consists of a hierarchical listing of the pages on your site. Visitors may visit this page if they are having problems finding pages on your site. While search engines will also visit this page, getting good crawl coverage of the pages on your site, it’s mainly aimed at human visitors.

An XML Sitemap (upper-case) file, which you can submit through Google’s Webmaster Tools, makes it easier for Google to discover the pages on your site. Using a Sitemap file is also one way (though not guaranteed) to tell Google which version of a URL you’d prefer as the canonical one (e.g. http://brandonsbaseballcards.com/ or http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/; more on what’s a preferred domain). Google helped create the open source Sitemap Generator Script to help you create a Sitemap file for your site. To learn more about Sitemaps, the Webmaster Help Center provides a useful guide to Sitemap files.

Google_SEO-Navigate-3

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″>
<url>
<loc>http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/</loc>
<changefreq>daily</changefreq>
<priority>0.8</priority>
</url>
<url>
<loc>http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/</loc>
</url>
<url>
<loc>http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2008/</loc>
</url>
<url>
<loc>http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2009/</loc>
</url>
<url>
<loc>http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/</loc>
</url>
</urlset>

Examples of an HTML site map and an XML Sitemap. An HTML site map can help users easily find content that they are looking for, and an XML Sitemap can help search engines find pages on your site

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