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SEO - Make your site easier to navigate

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.
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?

A sitemap (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.
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.
Good practices for site navigation
• 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.
• creating complex webs of navigation links, e.g. linking every page on your site
to every other page
• going overboard with slicing and dicing your content (it takes twenty clicks to
get to deep content)
• Use mostly text for navigation - Controlling most of the navigation from page to page on
your site through text links makes it easier for search engines to crawl and understand your
site. Many users also prefer this over other approaches, especially on some devices that
might not handle Flash or JavaScript.
• having a navigation based entirely on drop-down menus, images, or
animations (many, but not all, search engines can discover such links on a site,
but if a user can reach all pages on a site via normal text links, this will improve
the accessibility of your site; more on how Google deals with non-text files)
• Use "breadcrumb" navigation - 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. 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.
• Put an HTML sitemap page on your site, and use an XML Sitemap file - A simple
sitemap 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.
• letting your HTML sitemap page become out of date with broken links
• creating an HTML sitemap that simply lists pages without organizing them, for
example by subject
• 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/2008/upcoming-baseball-card-shows.htm, but
then enter http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2008/ into the browser's address
bar, believing that this will show all news from 2008. 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/?
• 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"
• allowing your 404 pages to be indexed in search engines (make sure that your
webserver is configured to give a 404 HTTP status code when non-existent
pages are requested)
• providing only a vague message like "Not found", "404", or no 404 page at all
• using a design for your 404 pages that isn't consistent with the rest of your site

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