How to structure your new website for SEO success

Time to build new, or re-design and existing website? Make sure you have an SEO on your design team, or better yet, hire a design shop that has an in-house SEO department.

Why?

Good design and SEO go hand in hand. Strong information architecture will be an important piece to the success of your website.

In this post, I’ll discuss strategies for structuring the design of your website for SEO success.

Break Up Content Into More Pages – More Bait, More Bites

One of the most common issues I see with small business websites is the “mega page.” For example, it’s not uncommon for a business website to have an FAQ page that addresses the 10 or 20 most common questions that a potential customer may have. In principle, this is a great idea. Your website should address customer concerns. However, putting all of your questions on one FAQ page? That’s a mistake.

Landing Pages

Rather than creating 20 pages of great content, each of which will be indexed and potentially returned for queries, you put all of your eggs in one basket. There are only so many queries that a typical webpage will rank for. By jumbling the entire FAQ together on one page, you reduce the amount of bait in the water by twenty pieces. By contrast, building out 20 separate pages (perhaps the beginning of a blog), and publishing great content on those pages, creates 20 potential landing pages. Landing pages are the first point of contact for a visitor to your website. Let’s consider some numbers. On a typical small business website, the FAQ page might get 100 visitors in a month. Compare this with 20 standalone pieces of quality content. Each of those pages might receive 100 to 200 visitors from search every month.

If each page received even 150 visitors, that’s 3,000 visitors to your site every month. With the right content marketing strategy, this is entirely possible.

Skip The Local Mega-Page As Well

From a local SEO standpoint, location pages that list each office location on the same page are also a mistake. Applying the principles we discussed with the FAQ page, you want to create a unique landing page for each office location. Consider this often cited blog post from Google’s Matt Cutts. Matt argues that creating a separate page for each unique office location, gives search engines, as well as visitors, relevant information about where you’re located, and how to get there.

If your company has a bunch of store locations, please don’t hide that information behind a search form or a POST. If you want your store pages to be found, it’s best to have a unique, easily crawlable url for each store.

Now, as a practical matter, this will be more important for search engines, than for users. However, building an informative page for each of your locations benefits users as well. For example, we optimize our clients WordPress websites, with the Yoast local SEO plug-in. In addition to adding structured data markup, Yoast’s plug-in creates a “route” feature on each location page. The visitor can simply enter their address and directions are auto generated.  Creating separate pages also gives business owners the opportunity to organize the review process, as each page can link to its unique Google plus, Yelp, or Citysearch page.

In addition to unique pages for each office location, it’s also considered a best practice to list each office address, as well as phone number, in the footer of your site. Make sure your developer marks up the HTML with schema.org, a form of structured data recognized by all the major search engines.

Identify Your Most Important Pages and Make Them Accessible

The bigger, and more authoritative, a site gets, the more popular landing pages it will establish in search. However, even smaller websites, should have a hierarchy of pages. Certain pages have a greater possibility of achieving strong visibility, and others, are “money pages,” that are important to the success of a business. While you’re planning the new site, identify your important pages, and make sure that they are accessible to users.

A straightforward suggestion: link to your most important pages from the home page of your website. For example, perhaps you have a a new product or service that you are trying to emphasize. You’ve built a great page that highlights product features, price, and reviews. How do you make users aware of that product? Create a product box for the homepage, and sidebar, that highlights your top 5 product pages.

As a general rule, you don’t want more than 100 or so links on any given webpage, but there is nothing wrong with mapping a hierarchy of pages, with important pages linked to from the home page of your site. This is effective for SEO because your home page is usually the most authoritative. Pages that are linked to from the home page, are also viewed as authoritative, and are more likely to be crawled with priority. But your job isn’t done with the home page.

Since many visitors will arrive at your site on an interior page, make sure that important pages are easily navigable from all the nooks and crannies of your site as well.

Site Map Pages

Later in the same article I linked to above, Matt Cutts mentions, not only the wisdom of creating a separate local page for each location, but of adding an HTML site map as well.

Ideally, you would also create an HTML sitemap that points to the web pages for your stores (and each web page should have a unique url).

A site map will usually go somewhere in the footer of a website. As Google crawls the HTML of your site, they will come to the footer, and the site map gives access to your hierarchy of interior pages. This is certainly a best practice. However, as a site matures and grows, I am an advocate of creating a “site map page,” navigable from the header. Rather than putting the link to the site map in the footer of the site, where users are less likely to find it, adding an “archives,” or “information” page that can be reached from a prominent position, give users easy access to the bowels of your site. Add a descriptive piece of content, and some custom designto the top of the page.

To benefit our readers, we’ve assembled a complete archive of our content, organized by date, author and category…

The site map page can link to important categories, author and date archives, as well as popular posts and pages. Users can then access interior pages easily from a more intuitive location.

URL and HTML Structure

Up until this point, this post has put a lot of emphasis on macro level site architecture issues. You should also be aware of HTML and URL structure best practices, as they can have a big impact on site performance.  For example, it is a best practice to publish webpages with keyword friendly URLs. If your content is about the cost of a Ferrari, your URL should look something like: www.mycarsite.com/cost-of-ferrrai. This is easy to accomplish if you’re using a content management system like WordPress, because the Permalink settings can be manually updated from the post page. In fact, the default for most themes will be keyword rich URLs.

Again, if you’re using WordPress, adding a plugin like WordPress SEO will give you control over indexation, canonical link elements, page titles, and much more.  At a basic level, it is important to be mindful of the HTML <title> element when publishing a webpage. One of the most common SEO mistakes made by small businesses, is to leave this element empty or populated by a page title which is not SEO friendly. The HTML title of the page, is what you see in Google search results when you perform a query. It is arguably the most important on page SEO element.

See also: Writing HTML titles for Google, Humans, Bing

What Do Visitors Want to See?

In sum, a new website design should be mindful of the hierarchy of information that will populate the new design. Users should easily be able to navigate your site, find what they’re looking for, and reach your most important pages with ease. Rather than assembling content on large, bulky pages, create unique content and structure it on multiple URLs so that users and search engines will find the pages via search. Over time, this strategy will create multiple landing page opportunities, which will give your business a larger audience than if you keep your content confined to a handful of pages.

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