Where Do You Want To Go?
We strive to answer that question for everyone who visits our website. How can we improve website navigation to make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for? Also, how will improved website navigation benefit us when it comes to Search Engine Optimization? Here is a plain English, no-frills guide to setting up website navigation that achieves both objectives.
Why Is Website Navigation So Important?
We want visitors to our website to find what they need as quickly as possible. That makes their visit more satisfying and pleasant. You are much more likely to turn a visitor into a customer when their needs are met on your website. Also, it is important to help Google and other search engines to determine what are the most important pages on your website. Establishing the hierarchy of your web pages helps Google to give a higher ranking to the pages you consider most important to your visitors. Finally, you need to provide the search engines with a 'map' that guides them to all of your web pages. This ensures that all of your website content is found and indexed by search engines. Let's see how we can accomplish these goals.
If your website consists of a few pages, the simplest navigation structure is to list all pages as links from your home page. However, for the purposes of this article, let's assume that you have a growing website that may contain tens or hundreds of pages. Here are some basic strategies that will benefit both your visitors and the search engines.
A Basic Website Navigation Structure
Ideally, you should list the web pages that offer general information in a given category as the top-level of navigation. Pages that provide more detailed information in that category should be listed as secondary to the top-level navigation. This is the logical path that most visitors to your website will take. They will follow links from general information pages to more detailed pages. This navigation structure also lets the search engines know what pages should be given the priority in search results.
Use A Breadcrumb List To Aid Navigation
A breadcrumb is a secondary type of navigation that reveals the user's location in a website or Web application. It tells the user what category 0r subcategory the webpage they are currently viewing is in. It allows the user to explore more pages in that category by clicking on the live link for the category. Breadcrumbs benefit both users and search engines. Google now uses the breadcrumb structure as part of a search result listing.
There are two types of sitemaps recommended by Google. The first is the XML Sitemap. This gives Google and other search engines necessary data on the structure of your website. It typically contains links to all of your web pages arranged by category. It gives search engines like Google additional information about each web page: when it was last updated, how often it changes, and how important it is in relation to other pages in your website. Google and Bing search engines give you the option of submitting your XML sitemap. This ensures that all pages on your website will be found and indexed by the search engines.
The second type of sitemap is created especially for visitors to your website. This is a web page that gives an ordered list of all of the pages and posts on your website for the benefit of visitors (you can see my visitor's sitemap here). This helps visitors to find any page they are looking for on your website.
Both types of sitemaps are recommended to ensure that both visitors and search engines understand the structure of your website, and can locate all pages and posts.
Keep Navigation Simple and Easy to Use
Use both an HTML sitemap page for visitors, and an XML sitemap for search engines. If you use a content management software like WordPress, it has a number of plugins that will automatically update and submit a current sitemap to Google and Bing search engines each time you add a new web page to your website. This is a very useful feature that makes it easy to manage growing websites.
Occasionally, someone may seek a page on your website that is no longer available. A custom 404 page can guide the user to a working page on your website, and/or give them the option of searching for a related page by keyword or search term.
All of these tools, when used in concert, will make for a more satisfying user experience. Also, you help the search engines to find all content on your website, and to index it in order of importance!