SEO Friendly Site Structure – If You Build it, Will They Come?

Your site’s content is at the heart of what your site will rank for, and to a strong degree how well it will rank. Simply put, you need lots of it. I mean tons. Building authority takes more than a page or two, it takes a page or two or ten on every sub-topic of every category of a big idea or kind of product.

OK…once that’s done, now what? You built it, now will they come?

They will come only if you’ve structured your information in a way that’s easy for visitors to navigate, and for search engines to understand. You will see the traffic you desire only if your content complements your overall goals, your reputation feeds itself from top to bottom, and you’ve got good structure.

For most of you, this means your product categories. No matter what your content or end goal, the same rules and considerations apply whether you’re looking for more units sold or more quality page views. Solid structure can bring exponential search engine value to good content, regardless of what form it takes.

Your ultimate goal is to organize your content from very high-level and broad, general strokes to the widest number of sub-categories that make sense for your site. Furthermore, you want to create quick ways for your customers and search engines to browse the entire selection and to drill down to the specific kinds of products they’re looking for.

Here’s how you get there, using a hypothetical shoe retailer as an example:

  1. Start with an audit of your product offerings. What is it that you’re selling at a very high level? In the case of our shoe retailer, we might list out that we sell dress and casual shoes (or is it “footwear” that your customers are seeking?) by major brands for men, women and kids. From this, we already have several ways to organize our products: By end user (men’s, women’s and kids), by use (dress and casual) and by source (major brands).
  2. Take your list to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. While far from exact and with some gaps, this tool offers a free look at how people use Google to find your products. Start with the highest-level terms and note the searches that people use to get there. You should start seeing a hierarchy appear within these terms, starting from the top level (shoes) to more specific terms (men’s shoes, women’s dress shoes) to the most specific (men’s black oxford shoes, women’s cross training shoes).
  3. Compare your findings to your product list. Now that you’ve seen how people search for the whole range of your site’s offerings, start drawing out the categories that these can create – with pencil and lots of blank paper – or at least make sure to save your Excel spreadsheet regularly. It’s not always as straightforward as it seems, but spending hours or even days getting it right the first time will save you weeks of making up for it later.
  4. Classify your products. Start dropping your products into these buckets. Don’t be afraid to classify a specific product multiple ways. As long as it will legitimately add value to your product offerings in that category to your customers, you’re safe. Extra content for the page is nice for search engines, but it’s more important to have a smooth and non-jarring experience for your customers.
  5. Leverage your products. Your products will make up the bulk of the unique content on any given category page – so make sure that any information that will be included about the product helps to paint the intended picture to the search engines. For example, include ‘loafers’ – or better yet, ‘men’s loafers’ – in the names of all of your products that fit that description.
  6. Race to the bottom. Give shoppers – and engines – the ability to quickly get from the front page of your site to all of your categories and subcategories. Link influence flows from the top of your site, and the fewer number of links between the most influential page and any other point in your site, the more that can flow through to all categories.

Naturally, there’s a lot more work to be done if you want to make a serious run at competitive keywords. A good structure, however, sets you up for success in so many directions: Title tags, internal linking, navigation and direction for other on-page content are but a few. Take the time to build a good foundation – and they truly will come.

Submissions are now open for the 2009 Search Engine Watch Awards. Enter your company or campaign before July 17, 2009. Winners will be announced at SES San Jose.

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