Building to Convert, Building to Rank. Website Architecture Strategy

You hear a lot of professional SEOs and SEMs talk about it (i.e. Jill Whalen, Alan Bleiweiss, Stoney deGeyter, and more). They talk about creating solid, core-related SEO; things that don’t chase the algorithm but build strong websites that benefit users and search engines. One of those solid-core SEO items is website architecture (a.k.a. site information architecture).

Never was there a more important and essential step that’s often overlooked, ignored, or thought of as obsolete. If that’s the case, then I have to ask what good will hard-fought, great linking campaigns and well-engineered social marketing campaigns do you, if your site is a lumpy, disorganized, non-streamlined hot mess? Exactly. Nothing but frustrate users, send your site bounce rate rocketing into the next galaxy, and have search engines questioning whether your site really is spam?

Take your foot off the link building pedal, ease up on social traffic herding, and for next few minutes let’s show you how to build a site from the ground up that will make those extra-curricular activities worth their weight in gold.

 

Making Blueprints: Research and Conversations

Before you build the first page, you need to know what you’re building. You’ve got to have a smooth, level foundation if you’re going to build anything on top of it. You’ve got to have information, organization, and categorization; you’ve got to have conversations with your client.

 

Things to Discuss and Questions to Ask

  • What products/services need to be highlighted?
  • What products/services are you known for now and what do you want to be known for in the future?
  • What does the client consider their most important conversion(s)? That is, what conversions will generate the most revenue?
  • Discussing how their sales process works internally, and how best to make leads flow through the site

The bottom-line is that an SEO must perform an investigation, digging deep into the client’s business in order to understand what’s important to them, what generates revenue, and how best to balance those needs with an a site architecture that gets people to convert and allows for good organic indexing and ranking.

Whether it’s a redesign or a new site, the fact remains that not understanding a client’s products, services, and what’s most important to that client (whether it’s portraying a certain public brand image or showcasing the right products and services to maximize profits) is going to kill your site before you even start.

 

Optimizing The Blueprints

By asking the right questions, an SEO will see exactly how a site will need to be organized (while envisioning areas for scalability without Frankensteining the site) , how to silo/theme it (i.e. does this need its own section, does that really need its own section, where to break out pages, and where to combine them), and get some initial ideas where the top-level category keyword research is headed.

As an SEO, if you’re not part of initial site building meetings with a client, it’s time to get involved. It doesn’t do anyone, you or the client, any good if you get the site and it’s not structured, organized, or named properly. Months of work could be wasted.

 

Running Flat, Even if You’re Deep

The next major hurdle in site architecture is getting your site as “flat” as possible, even if its deep. The reality is that keeping websites to 2-3 levels deep is a challenge, especially a large product-driven site or a very large article/content-driven site. Sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Spiders aren’t all that different from users: they want to get to get where they’re going quickly, get the information they need, and get out and get on to the next thing. SEOs are supposed to make that a reality. For spiders and humans alike. They want logically organized information that’s topically related (i.e. getting semantic and temporal association) that’s click-distance away.

 

Internal Linking Structure Mapping

That’s just a really fancy way to say how you’re going to link in the site and where you’re going to link in the site. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Top Level Navigation
  • Left or Right Navigation
  • Sub-Level Page Navigation (i.e. breadcrumbs)
  • Body Content Linking
  • Footer Linking

Add in block-level analysis by search engines, and that leaves one sure-fire way to flatten your architecture: body content linking. Understand that you should be judicious with content linking, linking where it feels and looks normalized, then linking it upstream within the silo, downstream within the silo, or cross-category.

Infromation architecture

*Also, don’t forget to use some targeted anchor text when you’re doing that linking*

With your internal linking effort, especially through body content linking, you flatten that architecture for search engines and users, allowing them to access more content and easier. The end result of a thorough Blueprint phase should yield you a IA that is organized, category-themed, and user click-paths that are as streamlined as possible (both upstream and downstream).

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5 Comments

  1. After reading this excellent post. I just sat back and fantasized about what it would be like to have a client willing to go through this exercise with me before leaping forward on design work.

  2. Scott:

    Thanks for the kind words on the post! If you can make some of these practices a staple in kick-off meetings with clients, then you’ll be half way there.

    The design and info gathering can be happening in conjunction with one another, but I’d assume any designer would want this information and structure just as badly as any SEO/SEM would want it.

    All it takes is one step forward. 😆

  3. Tony, this is an EXCELLENT post and one after my own heart, the foundation of SEO – Information Architecture.

    Laughing at Scott, because I’m dealing in both areas – one client willing to do it right this way (feel like Heaven) and another client who has rushed into design and doing IA backwards (feel like …)

    VERY well written!

  4. Dana,

    Wow! Thanks for the kudos on the post; it means a tremendous amount to me coming from you! 🙂

    Clients are clients. They’re going to do want they want to do, but as I mentioned to Scott, insisting on kick-off meeting where all this is discussed, is going to be a key to victory.

    After all, mock-ups might win you the business, but after the glow wears off, it’s always a “What have you done for me lately” approach.

    A great IA will get you there almost all the time.

  5. Tony, I so agree!

    CAVEAT and what happens with most corporate projects is that the launch meeting, ongoing communications and development happen, flows smoothly. The C-level takes little interest, nor do they care about the details. Then they may chose an arbitrary launch date, often by Board pressure. Thus, foundational IA planning gets shoved under the rug.

    Now, I ask for CEO sign-off of the IA – lessons learned. 🙂

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