Navigation is very important for search engines
The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.
Plan out your navigation based on your homepage
All sites have a home or “root” page, which is usually the most frequented page on the site and the starting place of navigation for many visitors. Unless your site has only a handful of pages, you should think about how visitors will go from a general page (your root page) to a page containing more specific content. Do you have enough pages around a specific topic area that it would make sense to create a page describing these related pages (e.g. root page -> related topic listing -> specific topic)? Do you have hundreds of different products that need to be classified under multiple category and subcategory pages?
Ensure more convenience for users by using ‘breadcrumb lists’
A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page (1). Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (usually the root page) as the first, left-most link and list the more specific sections out to the right.
Allow for the possibility of a part of the URL being removed
Consider what happens when a user removes part of your URL – Some users might navigate your site in odd ways, and you should anticipate this. For example, instead of using the breadcrumb links on the page, a user might drop off a part of the URL in the hopes of finding more general content. He or she might be visiting http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/upcoming-baseballcard-shows.htm, but then enter http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/ into the browser’s address bar, believing that this will show all news from 2010 (2). Is your site prepared to show content in this situation or will it give the user a 404 (“page not found” error)? What about moving up a directory level to http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/?
Prepare two sitemaps: one for users, one for search engines
A site map (lower-case) is a simple page on your site that displays the structure of your website, and usually consists of a hierarchical listing of the pages on your site. Visitors may visit this page if they are having problems finding pages on your site. While search engines will also visit this page, getting good crawl coverage of the pages on your site, it’s mainly aimed at human visitors.
|<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>|
Examples of an HTML site map and an XML Sitemap. An HTML site map can help users easily find content that they are looking for, and an XML Sitemap can help search engines find pages on your site.
An XML Sitemap (upper-case) file, which you can submit through Google’s Webmaster Tools, makes it easier for Google to discover the pages on your site. Using a Sitemap file is also one way (though not guaranteed) to tell Google which version of a URL you’d prefer as the canonical one (e.g. http://brandonsbaseballcards.com/ or http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/; more on what’s a preferred domain). Google helped create the open source Sitemap Generator Script to help you create a Sitemap file for your site. To learn more about Sitemaps, the Webmaster Help Center provides a useful guide to Sitemap files.
Create a naturally flowing hierarchy
Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure.
Use mostly text for navigation
Put an HTML site map page on your site, and use an XML Sitemap file
A simple site map page with links to all of the pages or the most important pages (if you have hundreds or thousands) on your site can be useful. Creating an XML Sitemap file for your site helps ensure that search engines discover the pages on your site.
Have a useful 404 page
Users will occasionally come to a page that doesn’t exist on your site, either by following a broken link or typing in the wrong URL. Having a custom 404 page that kindly guides users back to a working page on your site can greatly improve a user’s experience. Your 404 page should probably have a link back to your root page and could also provide links to popular or related content on your site. Google provides a 404 widget that you can embed in your 404 page to automatically populate it with many useful features. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to find the sources of URLs causing “not found” errors.