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Building it Better -- Small Business Site Architecture

Carrie Hill
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The stability of everything starts with the foundation. Businesses built on a strong foundation grow and flourish. Pumpkins growing on strong vines grow large and round. Web sites with solid architecture can have stronger search results.

If you're thinking about designing or redesigning your small business Web site, get organized before you start. There are a few steps to building a site wherein each page supports its theme, and each theme supports the goal -- more conversions.

Main navigation pages should be limited to each corresponding theme that supports your goal, and child pages should support each theme. It may sound a bit complicated, but I'll use some visuals to show you what I mean.

Research

This wireframe was built for a client who runs a catering business. We narrowed their main navigation down to a few themes and the important brand and contact information.

Themes were determined through keyword research and demographic targeting. We also talked to the client about what their most important services were, and then ordered the services in the navigation to put the most important first and foremost in the design.

Organization

I mentioned "themes" before. That's a great way to organize. Put the weddings together, the social gatherings together, and the corporate catering together.

Some other ideas for themes would be "heating, ventilation, and air conditioning" for a HVAC Web site or "purses, shoes, and jewelry" for an accessories Web site.

For our catering client, weddings and wedding catering encompasses a majority of their business. We put that navigation item first and also will be building some larger segmenting buttons within the site to be sure that option is available to anyone who really needs it.

Main Navigation

Navigation is extremely important -- but it shouldn't be overwhelming. Not every page needs to link to every other page on the Web site. Use your themes to get people dialed into the section of the site that will serve their needs.

Now that we know what the main navigation will be, we build the second-tier navigation. I don't like dropdown or fly-out menus, it makes it somewhat difficult to get the cursor on the right spot and it clutters up pages. You can deliver the second tier of pages that will serve their needs further after users have chosen the segment they're interested in via the main navigation.

If the user is looking for a wedding caterer, they've clicked on the "Weddings" button, and they're given a subset of choices on the weddings page.

This forms a "theme" for a portion of the Web site that supports the overall goal of the site: to book catering jobs. Pages linking together with similar subjects support each other. The best part of this setup is you're using pages that already have content to build each corresponding theme.

Each section of the site is built in a similar fashion. We have sections for catering meetings, and other events. The blog features information on past events and tips for planning your wedding or business meeting.

Wedding Themes

Although the catering Web site isn't quite ready yet, I have another example of second-tier navigation to show you. The Rusty Parrot Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has themed their Web site in a way that un-clutters their main navigation, but lets users cruise through multiple sections of the Web site -- all without dropdown or fly-out navigation.

The main navigation is consistent through the whole Web site:

Rusty Parrot Main Navigation

Once you choose an option from the main menu, such as "Activities & Attractions," you're given a subset of navigation:

This ensures that we're not unnecessarily linking a snowmobiling page with a spa page, but the user can still get there if they so choose. Feasibly, you can make your Web site very "deep" with this technique. I try not to go much past third-tier pages in most cases -- this helps the search engines find and lend value to all of your pages.

Rusty Parrot Second Tier Navigation

You can do this work for yourself, even if you aren't designing the Web site. Use this research and outline to interview design companies and make sure they're willing to give you what you're looking for.

Our design department finds building Web sites from our wireframes much easier than deciding where to put things themselves. The added benefit is you're thinking of search results, while most design firms are thinking of look and feel. Put those thoughts together into a really nice product.

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you'll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.


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