In the previous sections I analyzed webpages from a high level and ignored many details. In this section and the next I dig deeper and get more detail oriented. Roll up your SEO sleeves, things are about to get messy.
The Importance of Good Site Architecture
Before you start examining a website from this level, let me explain the importance of good site architecture. While writing this book I am working with a large client that is totally befuddled by its poor rankings. (Note: This client had me sign a nasty looking non-disclosure agreement, so I am unable to reveal its name.) The company’s homepage is literally one of the most linked-to pages on the entire Internet and at one point had the elusive PageRank 10.
One of its current strategies is to leverage its homepage’s link popularity to bolster a large group of pages optimized for ultra competitive keywords. It wants to cast a wide net with the optimized pages and drive a large amount of search engine–referred traffic to its product pages. It is a great idea, but with the current execution, it has no chance of working.
The problem is that the website lacks any kind of traditional site architecture. The link juice (ranking power) coming from the hundreds of thousands of domains that link to this company’s homepage has no way of traveling to the other webpages on this domain. All of the link juice is essentially bottled up at the front door.
Its content is located on at least 20 different domains, and there is no global navigation that leads users or search engines from the homepage down to categorized pages. The company’s online presence is more like a thousand islands rather than the super continent it could be. It is an enormous waste of resources and is directly affecting the company’s bottom line in a real way.
When explaining site architecture to clients, I start out by asking them to visualize a website like an ant hill. All of the chambers are like webpages and the tunnels are like internal links. I then have them imagine a little boy pouring water into the ant hill. He pours it down the main entrance and wants to have it fill all of the chambers. (As a side note, scientists actually have done this with cement to study the structure of ant metropolises. In one case, they had to pour 10 tons of liquid cement into an ant hill before it filled all of the chambers.) In this analogy the water represents the flow of link juice to webpages. As discussed earlier, this link juice (popularity) is essential for rankings.
The optimal structure for a website (or ant hill, if you must) would look similar to a pyramid (Figure 2-3). This structure allows the most possible juice to get to all of the website’s pages with the fewest number of links. This means that every page on the website gets some ranking benefit from the homepage.
A pyramid structure for a website allows the most possible link juice to get to all the website’s pages with the fewest number of links. NOTE Homepages are almost always the most linked-to pages on a domain. This is because they are the most convenient (the shortest) URL to link to when referring to the website online.
Now that we are on the same page about site architecture, we can move forward. Once I get to this level of analysis, I start really looking at the site architecture. Obviously, this starts at the homepage. Ideally, the homepage should link to every single category of pages on a website. Normally, this is accomplished with a global navigation menu (global meaning it is on every web page on the domain). This is easy to do with small websites because if they have less than 150 pages, the homepage could directly link to all of them. (Note this is only a good idea if the homepage has enough links pointing at it to warrant this. Remember the little boy and the ant hill; link popularity is analogous to the amount of water the little boy has. If he doesn’t have enough, he can’t fill every chamber.) Following are some good and bad examples of this.
Good Examples of Global Navigation
Figures 2-4 and 2-5 show two examples of good—that is, effective— homepage global navigation. In both cases, all of the high-level categories are linked to on the homepage. This maximizes the link value and spreads the value widely across the entire domain.
Bad Examples of Global Navigation
Figures 2-6 and 2-7 show two examples of bad, or ineffective, global navigation. In these cases, the hording of link juice is a bad strategy because it prevents subcategories and low level pages from benefiting from the link juice of the homepage. Without link juice, these pages wouldn’t normally get indexed in the major search engine indices and wouldn’t be able to refer traffic. So then why are Twitter and Facebook’s pages indexed? Google is licensing APIs from Twitter and special casing Facebook. This is a good example of Google making an exception for big websites that they need to index. If these were normal websites, their indexation rate would suffer as a result of their global navigation.
As a result of site architecture, Amazon and Rotten Tomatoes are able to get the vast majority of their product/movie pages indexed in the major search engines. Meanwhile, Twitter and Facebook are having problems getting all of their content indexed, and the engines have begrudgingly been forced to work around their poor architecture. (Trust me, the engines don’t do this often.) These two websites have plenty of links (water), but lack the tunnels (links and site architecture) to distribute them.