We have a very large B2B site that offers a variety of products and services. We're in the midst of a complete redesign, where some of the goals are to simplify the home page somewhat and to clearly show that we offer services as well as products. (In the past, the focus of the site was more product-related.)
We have come up with a couple of potential ways of accomplishing these goals:
One way is a "gateway" method which would simplify the home page by focusing only on the 3 areas of the site that we feel are the most important (products, services, about us), and letting people choose which one they're interested in to learn more.
The other way we've thought about is more of a "portal" method, where the page is still more simple than our current design, but focuses on links to our main category sections within both the products and the services areas.
In your opinion, would either of these methods be preferable in terms of search engine rankings?
It's critical to keep in mind that the search engines often judge how important any given page within a website is by how it is linked to within the site itself, as well as by external sites. Other sites often link to home pages as a recommended resource. This tells the search engines that this site (and more specifically the home page of this site) is extremely worthwhile. This "vote of confidence" is then factored into the overall ranking algorithm of the search engines, with more worthwhile pages being given more weight in the rankings.
Part of this weighting goes beyond the sheer number of links pointing to any given page, and other factors are also looked at. For instance, since home pages by their very nature are considered more important than the average inner page of a site, home pages have the ability to pass on some of their importance to whatever pages it links to. This importance can affect the ultimate search engine ranking for that page.
So if you have certain main category pages that you want to be easily found in the search engines, it would definitely be a good idea to link to them from home page, as well as every other page of your site.
These links tell the search engine that these pages are important.
On the other hand, if you were to choose your gateway method that links to only 3 major areas of your site, you're basically telling the search engines that only those 3 areas are important, and again, they will rank your pages accordingly (only this time, all those category areas that you didn't link to directly will be given less weight).
To put it simply, the fewer clicks from the home page that any user has to make to get to any particular page of a site, the better it will be for your ultimate search engine rankings. Pages that are 1 click away will be given the most weight; 2 clicks away will get some decent weight; 3 clicks away would get less weight; and 4 or more clicks away starts to bury pages and makes their indexing somewhat hit or miss.
With this in mind, I believe it would be most beneficial for you to choose the "portal" design that emphasizes your main categories and sections. I feel it would be most helpful from a search engine standpoint as well as from a user standpoint. From my understanding of website usability, people don't want to have to "dig" for the information that they are interested in. It's preferable to provide a variety of choices right on the home page (as long as you can do it in a way that is not too cluttered or confusing) than to force people to keep clicking deeper and deeper into the site.
That said, if your heart was dead-set on the gateway method that listed only 3 major areas of the site, it certainly wouldn't ruin your rankings completely. You would simply have a little extra work ahead of you. One easy workaround is to use a sitemap to help keep your pages as few clicks away from the home page as possible. It's not as good as a link straight from the home page, but it can still be helpful.
I know some out there are now going to add links to every single page of their site from their home page after reading this. That's not at all what I'm telling you to do! As with everything in SEO, it's important to balance all of the different website issues involved such as usability, the overall professional look of the site, the goals of the company, and of course the search engines.
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
September 15, 2005
CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.
High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.
Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ, Inc.com, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.
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