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.
*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).