Anatomy and Deployment of Links · Index · Part 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · Expand · Web Feed

While outlining universal nodes and topical anchors, discussing link placement and supporting search engine crawls, I've dropped a few snippets of information on internal linking in a Web site's (outer) navigation. Now lets draw the whole picture by looking at the impact navigational links have on search engine placements.

Web site navigation obviously must be user friendly. User friendliness plus a few tweaks and shortcuts implemented for search engine spiders makes up a search engine friendly navigation. Laying out navigational links to lead users straight to the content they're searching for allows some fair search engine optimizing. What you never should do is tweaking the linkage for the engines when this results in a loss of usability and visitor support.

Technically, outer navigation elements are a part of the page's template (see page partitioning and link placement). Search engines can distinguish templated page areas from the body's (unique) content. As a matter of fact, they weight text and links differently depending on the page area. How much power navigational links have with regard to ranking depends on the site's architecture. On sites where the outer navigation is very repetitive, that is the menus get duplicated over and over with very few page specific items, those navigational links are treated like artificial links and their power gets downgraded next to zero. You will find this kind of flawed design at many eCommerce sites, where the static outer navigation (i.e. links to product lines and home page) is identical on most pages. The in-depth linkage is represented by the dynamicly generated inner navigation, that is links nearby or within the page body.

Since it makes no sense to deal with impotent page areas, clever developers balance the linking power by placing as many in-depth navigation as possible at the outer navigation areas. The goal is to drill down the outer navigation to the last node (e.g. product), while restricting the inner navigation to within-the-node linkage (e.g. product sizes and colors). Sometimes it's even possible to integrate a complex node's internal navigation with the outer navigation. This approach enables powerful linking in the peripheral areas, because every node comes with a different menu, that is less repetition (link duplication).

Another advantage of node specific outer navigation is, that it supports internal authority hubs. Having less than a handful of links leading to upper levels, most of the linking power gets used to strengthen on-topic (navigational) links. Additionally, a node specific outer navigation, e.g. a left handed menu, bread crumbs near the top and horizontal links at the bottom, develops enough linking power (mostly received from deep inbound links) to support the root and the main sections as well. Thus having a search engine unfriendly DHTML menu or flash based navigation at the top or right side of the page doesn't harm anymore, it may even help to establish topic authority hubs.

To demonstrate the impact keywords placed in a page's templated area can have on rankings, here is an example of a node specific outer navigation where a search engine assigns a lot of weight to navigational anchor text. The search term is "Internet Google", which is by the way a totally useless #4 spot, because nobody searches for it. I've picked it because it pulls 68.5 million results at Google, "Internet" is not closely related to the on page content (the word "Internet" appears only once in a navigational link and the URL), and at least it looks like a popular search. Here is the SERP:

Google's first SERP for 'Internet Google'

Look at the snippet and the screenshot of the page at the time of indexing. The sequence of keywords in the bread crumbs' anchor text makes (most of) the placement on the SERP.

This page is about 'Google Sitemap Validation' and has not so much to do with 'Internet'

It works fine with a few other useless keyword phrases taken from the page's bread crumbs too: Utterly Useless Keywords: smart internet business google Utterly Useless Keywords: it consulting internet google Utterly Useless Keywords: smart internet google Utterly Useless Keywords: consulting internet google ... but don't expect it's that easy to achieve top rankings in competitive markets. However, keywords within the navigation can help to define themes and topics, so you should use your most important keywords in prominent navigational anchor text.

Bread crumbs are a great way to break down a site's theme to topics and sub-topics. This You are here path to the root index page, placed near the top of each page, can act as an authority hub's sole connection to it's upper hierarchy levels. It's not even necessary to repeat the complete path to the root in the left handed menu.

By the way, consistent linking of the current node is neither lazy nor useless, because in complex nodes the current page is often different from the node's point of entry.

Other important navigation element are top level links, stored popular searches and horizontal views. The number of top level links, leading to the home page and main sections, must be kept as low as possible to avoid dilution of topical authority build around the rich nodes in deeper levels. There is nothing to say against nicely formatted top level links which aren't spiderable, e.g. in java based drop down menus, if they improve the surfing experience. From a SEO point of view they are (in most cases) pretty much useless.

Horizontal views are for example indexes of all image galleries, all tutorials related to a product line, or all articles related to a broader theme. These indexes may or may not reflect a part of the site's hierarchy, but mostly they are used as more content type oriented than theme specific layers. Like site maps, horizontal views should not contain more than 100 links per page, 15-25 links plus descriptions and/or previews are a proven limit. The content linked on a site map page or on a horizontal index should be describable with a short catchword (phrase) in a manu item. If that doesn't work, probably the collection of links is useless at all.

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Anatomy and Deployment of Links · Index · Part 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · Expand · Web Feed

Author: Sebastian
Last Update: September/7/2005 [1st DRAFT]   Web Feed

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