Cross-Linking and Search Engine Optimization
Web site designers and developers should know how to create search-engine friendly design templates. However, most Web developers seem to think that if they create a text-link site navigation scheme, then a Web site is automatically search-engine friendly.
In some situations, adding text links to a Web site might make it a search-engine friendly site. Realistically, though, a site needs more than a single set of text links to make it search-engine friendly. In addition to a spider-friendly navigation scheme, all Web developers should know how to cross-link Web pages with related content.
Cross-linking and calls-to-action
One way to cross-link related pages is to consider each page’s primary and secondary calls-to-action. Balancing primary and secondary calls-to-action can be tricky. If site visitors feel forced into taking a desired call-to-action too quickly, then they will most likely exit the site. People will not “Add to cart” or “Subscribe” without understanding the clear benefits of taking the call-to action.
On the flip side, if site visitors are not encouraged to take a desired call-to-action on key pages throughout a site, then Web site owners might also lose sales and conversions.
What is a Web site owner supposed to do?
Whenever I create a Web site architecture, I always go over the various calls-to-action with my clients. First, I present clients with a list of potential calls-to-action:
Add to cart
Fill out a form (usually a contact form)
After that, I then ask my clients to prioritize their calls-to-action. Almost every page on a site will contain multiple calls to action.
For example, a client’s target audience might be people who are not very Web savvy. This target audience might be more comfortable speaking on the phone rather than filling out a form. Therefore, this site’s primary call-to-action will be to call an 800 number.
From a Web design standpoint, I now know to make the phone number very prominent on every page of the site. I might place the phone number in a global masthead. Since many Web pages require vertical scrolling, I will also include the phone number in a global footer.
Cross-linking on ecommerce sites
On an ecommerce site, I already know that a product page’s primary call-to-action is “Add to cart.” Many Web developers, usability professionals, and online marketers feel that nothing should distract from the primary call-to-action. I do not agree with them.
Granted, on a product page the primary call-to-action should be emphasized. Usually, I will place the “Add to cart” button near the center of the screen. Why? Eye-tracking data consistently shows that the first place that site visitors look at is the center of the screen. I might bevel the “Add to cart” button to make it stand out from the rest of the graphic images on the page. Or I might make the “Add to cart” button a warm color (red, yellow, orange) with both a bevel and a drop-shadow effect. The point is to use graphic design principles to naturally call viewers’ attention to the primary call-to-action.
What if site visitors are not ready to “Add to cart”? The price might be too high. The size might not be available. The color might not be the one the shopper wanted. In these situations, the ecommerce site can offer similar products. I call these secondary calls-to-action alternatives.
In general, I tend to place the secondary calls-to-action in the right column of every product page. Using two or three alternatives per product page is sufficient.
Another type of cross-link on a product page is an upsell. For example, if a site visitor purchases a computer, that person might be interested in related products, such as a computer mouse or a computer bag. Upsell links can also be placed in the right column of a product page.
What if a product page contains two types of cross-links: upsells and alternatives? I tend to place upsell links before alternative links because the primary business goal of an ecommerce site is to sell products.
Cross-linking serves two functions. First, cross-linking communicates to both search engines and site visitors that you (the Web site owner) consider content to be important. On an ecommerce site, for example, cross-linking with alternative and upsell links communicates that you consider all of your product-page content to be important.
Breadcrumb links and global navigation emphasizes category-page content. Alternative and upsell links emphasize product-page content.
Second, cross-linking also provides alternative calls-to-action in the event site visitors are not yet ready to make a purchase. In conclusion, whenever you create page design templates, make sure you make relevant cross-linking a part of the template.
Shari Thurow is Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc., a full-service search engine marketing, web and graphic design firm. This article is excerpted from her book, Search Engine Visibility (http://www.searchenginesbook.com) published in January 2003 by New Riders Publishing Co. Shari can be reached at email@example.com.