Navigation, Theming, and Silos
Google and humans have a lot in common when it comes to reading a website. Both enjoy clear navigation, so they can find what they're looking for quickly. Both are thrilled when the theme of a page matches up precisely to the search phrase they used to find it. And, both will spend tons of time on a site that groups pages of information in a logical fashion.
So, if you want your website to provide a better user experience and get better search engine rankings, take a close look at how your site content is organized in terms of:
- Navigation: How well site information is grouped and displayed -- globally, within site sections, and on individual pages.
- Page Theming: How relevant the page content is to the keywords associated with it.
- Content Silos: How appropriately thematically similar pages are connected through interlinking and URL structures.
This post will provide tips for improving navigation, page theming and "siloing," the preferred method of grouping page content. At the end I added links to a few technical posts for readers who want to dig into the science of content organization.
6 Tips for Navigation
- Make primary navigation high level and incorporate keywords whenever possible.
- Display a visual site map of important pages to make sure they are indexed by Google and easy for visitors to find.
- Provide secondary navigation menus for an overview of all sections and within each section (silo) of the site.
- Use inline text links to connect pages with interrelated themes.
- Use footer links with optimized anchor text to display pages associated with the site's most important keywords.
- For sites with a lot of depth, use breadcrumb navigation that incorporates keywords.
A few key words about keywords. Loading up navigational anchor text with keywords is NOT just about SEO. Generally speaking, the keywords you associate with a given page are the most popular search phrases people use when looking for the content you offer on that page. Therefore, when you use keywords in navigation, you're making life easy for readers by describing a page's content in their favorite terms. This makes your navigation intuitive and your site appealing. It's a colossal blunder to use "clever" terms in navigation, as it confuses people. And Google.
5 Tips for Page Theming
- Keep page content as focused as possible on one or two primary keyword phrases and one or two secondary phrases, or fewer.
- The top page in a given section should be associated with the highest level keywords in that section.
- Create sub-pages for lower priority and long tail keywords within a section.
- Use primary keywords in the H1 tag, and secondary keywords in other H tags.
- Word counts for each page should be equal to or greater than word counts for high ranking competitive pages.
A few key words about page theming. Generally page sections should move down the hierarchy from broadest theme to narrowest theme. In other words, "Widgets" is a high level page, "Green Widgets" would be one level down, and "Automatic Green Widgets" would be two levels down. Determining themes for sub-pages requires a blend of industry knowledge and keyword research. Often times, we find that companies have an internal language for describing and categorizing their products and services that bears little resemblance to the search terms people use to find them. For a lead generation or e-commerce site, it's crucial to use the language of the user, not inside-the-box jargon.
6 Tips for Content Siloing
- Link vertically, to related content within silos, with optimized, followed links.
- Link horizontally, to content across silos, with no-follow links.
- Create "virtual" silos using inline links in text and section navigation.
- All sub-pages within the silo should link to the silo's landing page, but not necessarily to each other.
- Create "physical" silos through the directory structure of the domain.
- For especially complex thematic areas, create sub-silos rather than go, say, 10 pages deep in a silo hierarchy.
A few key words about content silos. Content silos are the end result of a strategic process that begins with keyword research and concludes with a sitemap. If a website is built without a coherent strategy, its content structure will not be coherent, either. To some degree, content silos can be retrofitted on a poorly organized site using both physical and virtual siloing techniques. However, to maximize SEO and user experience, the best option for a disorganized site is often a complete rebuild.
- In-depth instruction on content siloing from Bruce Clay.
- Usability guru Jakob Nielsen talks about sitemaps.
- Nice article from Smashing on navigation menu design - from 2009 but still very useful.