Crawl-ability and Visibility in Search
Setting up the layout of your website is an important factor in your long term success and one of the reasons I recommended including a marketing professional in your design process. He or she can work with your web designer to layout the most user friendly and “crawl-able” website. Since search engines read your website much like humans do, this isn’t as hard as it sounds.
The Framework – Building a Solid Infrastructure
There are two basic structures or methods for laying out your website content. Flat, which commands that no page is more than 4 clicks from the top level is the most popular and according to many SEO’s (but not all) is the most SEO friendly because it provides the greatest opportunity for the most visibility. Makes sense however, for sites with hundreds even thousands of pages this structure may not always work. Instead, a more organized and segmented style known as “deep” or “silo” is more appropriate. Ecommerce sites are likely to fall into this category, especially if the products are similar but with slightly varying characteristics. In silo structure, you build pages downward by categories and segment them by characteristics. A silo layout lends itself to sites who either have a lot of products that share similar or overlapping characteristics, or sites with a lot of information in one or two main categories.
Pros and Cons
With a flat structure, the obvious benefits are the higher visibility associated with your pages being less clicks from the home page. Users may get lost or lose interest trying to find information that is buried under more than 4 clicks. The same is true for search engines. They may have a hard time getting to that last layer of pages which could seriously affect rankings, visibility and the overall success of your website.
On the other hand large navigational menus in a flat structure tend to be confusing – just too many options. Each menu item becomes diluted. Users aren’t sure which one to click on to find the information they are looking for as it could be located under more than one menu option. If opting for a flat structure try to keep the 1st layer of pages no more than 6 menu items or less to avoid confusion and maintain the integrity of each one. The benefits of a deep or silo layout are the organization of content into easy to understand categories. If done well, the fact that it requires more clicks to get to certain content should be without consequence.
Linking within the Deep Structure
If opting for a deep structure it’s important to understand how inner page linking affects your visibility. While it seems logical to link everything together, this is actually not the best way. Linking should flow horizontally within the silo and avoid cross-linking between the silos. This will help to distribute link equity more evenly and keep traffic flow moving downward to ensure bottom layers are as visible as possible.
Which One Should You Choose?
Both framework options have their benefits and drawbacks. Considering how much content you have and the type of content you have should help determine the best structure for laying out your website. When laying it out on paper I recommend also including the link structure in your diagram. This helps facilitate building out your website properly and gives everyone who may be maintaining it, a clear indication of your goals. See the illustration below for an example.
Use your inventory management software to print out a list of all your products. Looking at the list find product groupings that make sense or fit together. For example start by grouping your products together in broad categories.
Let’s say you sell men’s and women’s polo shirts. Your broadest category would be shirts then men’s and women’s. From there you could segment by many things depending on the characteristics of your products and what makes sense. Ecommerce sites selling products can still use a flat structure for building their website, it really depends on what makes sense according to the different characteristics of your products. If you sell many products with overlapping characteristics, you may find that a deep structure is best for distinguishing between these different product characteristics. In these cases it becomes necessary to segment and drill down using these characteristics as main categories.