Navigation for Usability and SEO
Never design a user right out of your Web site; do everything to keep them there, browsing around. If you follow this rule of thumb, search engine crawlers will also "run around" the Web site looking for pages to add to their database.
1. Be consistent and consolidate wherever possible. "Help," "FAQ," "Information" and "Instructions" can be all put into one page or one "hub" that is devoted entirely to assisting your user. Break the info up inside the hub if necessary, instead of having four pages that mean basically the same thing. In addition, saying "Information about blah blah," uses those all-important keywords, whereas "Information" isn't helpful to engines.
2. Always use breadcrumb trails. This type of navigation is similar to a popcorn trail. For example: Home > Hub> Bucket A > Bucket B > Bucket C, or
Home > HubA > HubB > HubC with sub-breadcrumb trail navigation for buckets. (See Part 1 of this article for more information on hubs and buckets: (Structure)
Breadcrumbs are used in conjunction with regular navigation. They don't replace it. They're nearly always text links, in a smaller font. Large sites should have top-of-the-page navigation pointing to the top-level pages and hub navigation on the left with breadcrumb navigation inside, and footer navigation should be placed at the bottom of the page.
3. The footer of your pages is also important. When all else fails, there must be a fast way "Home" or to the "Contact" page, at the very least. The footer is a good place to feed text-only links that are redundant to the top-level navigation, so your user doesn't have to scroll back up to the top of the page. Supplying this added convenience also allows another shot at keyword insertion, and helps users who have their graphics turned off.
4. Use keyword phrases within your main content links. These links may go to the exact same place as top-level navigation links but they're labeled with keywords related to the same topic. For example, a top-level navigation link may be labeled "Search Engine Optimization," while a text link lower down on the page from inside a paragraph (pointing to the same page) might say "Search Engine Marketing." Since users and engines use both terms heavily, you're covering your bases by taking this extra measure.
5. Always use a sitemap. Create a content-driven sitemap containing links to the inside pages of your Web site (or in the case of huge sites, links to the top-level pages). A Table of Contents is also helpful in some cases. Be sure to link to your sitemap or TOC near the top of the homepage as it will be picked up by crawlers, and also appreciated by site visitors. Hint: Pay to have this page included in any search portal that offers a regular refresh, if you add new pages on a regular basis.
Behind the Scenes
You've probably heard this before, but it's worth repeating. Be extra careful with "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) HTML editors. The generic code they create will often not meet the needs of all users or search engines.
1. Never underestimate the value of your Title tag. Each page must have its own descriptive Title tag that matches the topic of the page exactly. This text appears whenever someone bookmarks the page, and it provides important information for the search engines. Remember that Meta keyword tags are nearly useless these days but are known to be somewhat helpful when the content of the page strongly supports those keywords. Therefore, be selective with what you put in that tag. Don't waste time calculating density and meeting Meta keyword character specifications. Just focus on backing up the actual content on the page, or using synonyms and misspellings.
2. Build a pyramid with your code. One of the easiest ways to satisfy search engines and users is to quickly get to the point of a page by designing it like a pyramid. Put the most important information at the very top of the page, in text or text links that go to top-level pages. Content should be placed so that the most important, useful information is at or near the top of the page, above the "fold." The least important information and links should be lower on the page.
4. Get into the habit of placing keywords in your "image alt tag" text and "link title" text. For example: <a href="seo.html" title="Learn more about Search Engine Marketing and Promotion">Search Engine Optimization</a>.
Who says you can't be creative while trying to adhere to search engine optimization or usability standards? Just remember to offer instructions on how to work any new site features, or ask your visitors if they had any trouble navigating, ordering, searching, etc. Some of the best ideas are based on good old-fashioned customer service feedback (i.e., user testing). Though it may seem like a lot of extra work now, with a little practice, designing for searches, sales, traffic and users can become second nature to you.
November 19, 2002
Kimberly Krause Berg is the owner of Cre8pc.com, Cre8asiteForums.com and co-founder of Cre8asite Webmaster Resources Directory.
Kim's career began in 1996 as the Webmaster for an Internet magazine publishing company. Later, while working for "dotcoms", she built websites, incorporated search engine optimization and performed Internet software application usability/user interface testing. For years she freelanced on the side by performing search engine optimization services via Cre8pc.com. Now a self-employed usability/SEO consultant, this mother of 2 is an advocate for home and small businesses. She specializes in what she calls the "marriage between search engine optimization and usability" and to that end offers Cre8pc and Cre8asiteForums as teaching sites.
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