Information Architecture is the Most Underrated Component of Effective Search Marketing

May 23rd

Information architecture is probably the single most important and most under-rated aspect of the search marketing strategy for large websites.

A Recurring Error

I have been reviewing some client sites that could use work on the information architecture front. Some of them want to rank for keywords that they do not actively target. The key to ranking is to create meaningful navigation schemes that reinforce the goals of your site and your target keyword phrases. In addition, a site which is improperly categorized due to poor internal navigation does not flow PageRank properly through the site, which means your ranking data and market feedback will be irrelevant / broken and not show your true potential.

Conversion oriented structure is a type of content. It is one of the biggest advantages smaller players have over large players that operate in many fields, and adds to the bottom line of any site that takes it seriously.

Compare the following...

What Happenst to a Site With Bad Internal Navigation?

A piece meal site with hacked up internal navigation exhibits the following characteristics

  • navigation is inconsistent and confusing, thus it is hard for spiders to know what pages are important and it is hard for humans to work their way through the conversion process

  • if the spiders do not rank the correct pages odds are pretty good that the visitors will come into the site on the wrong page (and have a hard time working their way through the conversion process if they start out at the wrong spot)
  • hard to buy broad keywords using PPC because competing sites are better at funneling visitors through the conversion process
  • hard to buy category level keywords using PPC because it is hard to place people on meaningful content if it does not exist. category pages should be more than a link list or groups of irrelevant chunks of content
  • what should be category pages do not add context, build trust, and build credibility - they are essentially placeholders gluing together various unrelated content
  • if you do not have well defined and reinforced category pages the site is not structured to rank for the mid level category related keywords
  • much of the site's PageRank is wasted on unimportant pages such as photo galleries or other low content pages
  • since PageRank is distributed improperly, the market feedback is largely irrelevant
  • has many similar pages that duplicate each other, cleaning up the errors leads to broken links and other problems
  • the site is hard to grow or market because as your category gets more competitive and efficient you first have to restructure the site and undue the errors before you can compete

What Are the Benefits of Good Navigation?

A site with strong internal navigation exhibits the following characteristics

  • properly flows PageRank throughout the site

  • search engines are likely to rank the most relevant page
  • easier to convert
  • is easy for users to move around
  • builds user trust
  • more likely to be referenced in a positive light than a site with broken navigation (gets free editorial links)
  • converts better, so it can afford to pay a higher lead price for traffic (and thus maintain market leadership even as the market gets more competitive)
  • category pages add context and target different relevant word sets than lower level pages
  • folder and filenames are logical so they aid relevancy and clickthrough rate and the site is easy to build out / extend
  • if you ever make errors they are typically far easier to correct
  • easy to promote seasonal specials or currently hot items

Many website owners with unorganized websites think that they just need more of the same, but in a game of market efficiency sometimes less is more, especially if it is better organized.

Published: May 23, 2007

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Comments

blake
May 24, 2007 - 12:38am

Re: things like photo galleries ... does it make sense to block them via robots files right out of the gate? If you block google to conserve pagerank but that section of your site attracts incoming links, are you making a mistake?

Todd
May 24, 2007 - 12:58am

Totally agree man - IA is absolutely critical, and gets so often overlooked because it's just ASSUMED to be correct once it's done once. It's not always typically thought of as SEO - but it is the foundation of any successful campaign. Without a good IA, you are building your house on a foundation of sand.

May 24, 2007 - 1:00am

It depends on the ratios...if you have a ton of pictures relative to the number of content pages on your site that is probably a problem.

If your pictures get a lot of inbound links and you are not overwhelming your site with them then let them get indexed, and perhaps try to add a decent amount of unique content to each page.

David Kubicka
May 24, 2007 - 3:20am

Hi Aaron,

Can you at some point do an illustration of correct and incorrect information architecture" "Linking in parallel" is a little too vague to me. Since you have experience with this could you point out common flaws, and if you are feeling generous maybe a diagram or two, like a flowchart?

May 24, 2007 - 3:23am

Hi David
I did point out common flaws...such as navigation that does not support your target keywords and overrepresentation of photo galleries.

I am quite backed up with stuff at the moment, but might make flow charts, etc. once I get less so.

David Kubicka
May 24, 2007 - 4:49am

Cool Aaron,

Totally understand the workload, I barely have time to write this. Appreciate your willingness to help.

I understand using keywords in anchor text and not giveing non-textual content too much link-attention. I guess the thing is whether a tree architecture appeals more or whether making almost all your pages (for small sites) accessible from every page - this is my source of confusion, one seems to favor easy usability, the other search engines and pagerank flow, how to find the balance?

Tyler Dewitt
May 24, 2007 - 6:04am

Look like I did a good job on my site structure, my hole site contains the same pr level even all my inner pages have the same pr level as my main page. :)

le_ffrench
May 24, 2007 - 10:49am

To be totally efficient, information architecture should be SEO driven.

By studying user research during a project strategic phase, you can define an architecture that will be both logical for users and highly efficient for SEO

The keyword analysis can also provide essential data to define labels and ultimately help copywriting.

Paul Carpenter
May 24, 2007 - 12:38pm

Bang on. And difficult to achieve. Often yourget hamstrung by a particular design that the client's already bought into, loves with all their heart, and won't change for all the bear shit in the woods.

But it is why I prefer home-built content delivery systems rather than off-the-peg software. You can build your IA as you require, rather than forcing content into someone else's ideal flow.

Richard
May 24, 2007 - 1:20pm

Typo:

"What Happenst to a Site With Bad Internal Navigation?"

Looks bad - sort it!

Aoleon The Mart...
May 24, 2007 - 4:30pm

Aaron,

Great post!

Can you give us an example of a site that does this well and another that does this poorly?

Thanks!

WizardMan
May 24, 2007 - 4:37pm

Apologies if this question sounds elementry but I'm new in SEO. IF I'm building a SILO type structure does linking out from certain pages to "non relative" pages within the same site affect SEO rankings? Could it affect it negatively?

Scott
May 24, 2007 - 5:26pm

Hey Aaron,

Fantastic post! I actually just had this discussion with a client yesterday. Information architecture IS one of if not the most critical aspect of SEO. Without it, you can never really truly maximize your sites ranking potential.

Great Post!

Scott
iSearch Media

David
May 24, 2007 - 7:38pm

Aaron,

Instead of kicking out some flow charts (although, we'd sure appreciate that), how 'bout a couple of examples of sites that are doing it right/wrong. I know - we'll assume SEObook.com is doing right. ;-)

David

May 25, 2007 - 1:47am

Hi David
The internal navigation on this site is sub-optimal for numerous reasons:

  • I am a one man band who works on so many sites
  • I have so many inbound links that it is hard to track them all
  • I made so many posts that it is difficult to remember many of them
  • This site was started when I knew far less about the web
  • This site has a single product for sale that is heavily overrepresented due to the lack of diversity of products
  • Much of this site's structure is based on the limits of the software and conversion goals.
Kirby
May 25, 2007 - 7:02am

Excellent post Aaron. I would one word to your list - intuitive.

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