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SEO Step 3 of Ten: Site Structure

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Welcome to part three in this ten part SEO series. The ten parts of the SEO process we will be covering are:

  1. Keyword Research & Selection
  2. Competitor Analysis
  3. Site Structure
  4. Content Optimization
  5. Link Building
  6. Social Media
  7. PPC
  8. Statistics Analysis
  9. Conversion Optimization
  10. Keeping It Up

Overview

Website structure and SEO are a combination of topics that I’ve always had a particular interest in because of my background in software engineering. I have worked on, or maintained over 150 corporate websites having seen many of the things that can make a website go wrong, which can seriously impact a websites operation and search engine rankings.

Of the three pillars of SEO (Structure, Content, and Links) I find the structure of a website to be one of the most under rated things, even among search engine optimization companies. The structure of a website consists of several elements which all are interdependent on each other. These include the code behind your website, how your website interlinks, and the technologies used in your website.

At this point I’m going to strongly recommend that you’re using Firefox with the Web Developer Toolbar installed. The web developer toolbar gives you an easy way to validate your website, test your site on multiple screen resolutions, and around another 100 functions.

Valid Markup and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

I have made it practice to develop all my projects in XHTML 1.0 Transitional (my personal preference so I can use target="_blank" and rel="nofollow" attributes) or XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS 1.0. XHTML is a reformulation of HTML 4 as an XML 1.0 application. It is a very clean and semantic markup language which will also force you to write cleaner code. Whether you choose XHTML or HTML 4 your code will be friendly to the search engines (stay away from 3rd party standards like IHTML).

As for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) it gives us the ability to abstract the design out of a webpage, or site into a secondary document. This gives us a lot of advantages, and very few disadvantages. By removing redundant design code from your website you place the content closer to the start of the document, while reducing your code to markup ratio. It also makes it easier, and more cost effective to maintain your website as you can implement simple design changes by only editing on file.

When converting a website from table based design, to pure CSS based design there is generally around a 40% decrease in code. The reason for this is when most people use tables they end up placing tables, within tables, within tables all with their own attributes (height, width, border, etc). Now multiple all that redundant, and unneeded markup by the numbers of pages of you site and you’ll quickly see how Google (or any other search engine) will be able to index you website more efficiently.

In my research, and experience I have concluded using these two technologies in conjunction with each other is a part of guaranteeing your websites success, especially with its compatibility with Google. You will also find if you do any research on this topic a recurring mantra of CSS fanatics tables are for tabular data not design.

You’ll find that most of the highly organically ranked SEO companies implement CSS based design on their own websites. For examples of CSS based design check out Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning, SEOMoz, and Quenet Consulting.

Website Templating

Now I’m going to start this section with a rant about Dreamweaver templates, and how useless they are. As a SEO / Web Developer there is nothing I loathe more than seeing a Dreamweaver template. If you’re going to template a site use a technology like Server Side Includes, PHP Includes, or ASP includes. The disadvantages of Dreamweaver templates are:

  1. Embedded comments in your code can reak havoc on Keyword Density Tools
  2. If you need a non standard footer in an index file you will need to break it from the template, creating issues for future template updates.
  3. If you have a disagreement with your web developer / designer and you part company if he doesn’t supply you with the template it’ll cost you.

When building websites I personally use PHP for implementing Server Side Includes. PHP is a relative easy language to learn for implement simple things like includes. It is also one of the most popular Apache modules, as of April 2007 there were 20,917,850 domains, and 1,224,183 IP addresses with it installed. PHP is also available for the Microsoft IIS (Windows Server) web server.

Search Engine Friendly URLs

One thing that I can’t stress enough is try to stay away from Dynamic URLs, these are URL addresses with variables, and values following the "?" character. Google used to state that it had troubles indexing sites with dynamic URLs, and to a degree this still holds true. If you are going to use Dynamic URLs always try to have less than 2 variables in your URL. I have seen sites with excessive products, and URLs where Google / Live / Yahoo all have a different number of pages cached.

A better approach is to URL Rewrite your URLs. For the Linux side Apache has Mod Rewrite, and for Windows you can use ISAPI Rewrite. When you implement a URL Rewriting system you are essentially creating a hash URL lookup table for your site, than when a server query comes in it checks the hash table to see if it finds a match then feeds it the corresponding entry.

To put it into simple terms what we strive to accomplish with URL Rewrites is to mask our dynamic content by having it appear as a static URL. A URL like Article?Id=52&Page=5 could be rewritten to /Article/ID/52/Page/5/, which to a search engine appears to be a directory with an index.htm (or whatever default / index page your particular web server uses). To see an implementation of Mod Rewrites check out Dr. Madcow’s Web Portal in the Article Section, and Link Archive.

Dynamic Websites and Duplicate Content

If there is one reoccurring theme I see in a lot of dynamic websites on the internet is that they can sometimes present the same content on multiple pages. An example of this is when you visit a website that allows you to "view a printer friendly version of this page", a better web solution implementation would be to develop a printer friendly Cascading Stylesheet.

Another goal is also to avoid having any additional URLs on you site such as Links for changing currency with a redirect script, links to "Email to a friend" pages, or anything related to this. Always use Forms to POST date like this so that the same page, or a static page to reduce page count. This issue seems to plague a lot of custom developed ecommerce / CMSes. I’ve actually see CMSes that will present up to 5 URL / Links for each page, in the long run the spiders got so confused in indexing the catalog that some of the main content pages were not cached.

Internal Site Navigation

If built properly most websites will never have a need for an XML Sitemap, other than to get their new pages indexed that much quicker (Ecommerce & Enterprise being exceptions). I will however recommend that every website have a user accessible Sitemap linked from every page to aide your users, and for internal linking.

Most sites with indexing problems have issues with their internal page linking structure. The biggest of all these issues are websites that implement pure javascript navigation based system, these systems depend on Javascript to insert HTML into pages as there rendered. Now Google can parse javascript menus to find URLs, however all of these pages will only be linked from the JS, and not the pages there located on (expect no internal pagerank passing). The best Javascript menus are menus that manipulate your code on your page to change which sections are being displayed via CSS. An example of a hybrid CSS / Javascript menu that I like is QuickMenu by OpenCube (these guys have a great support department).

Keep I mind the more internal links you have to a page, the more internal strength this page will be given. So when in doubt link it up.

Testing Your Site Structure

When it comes to reliable website deploying all I can say is "Test It, Test It, and then Test It Some More". When testing structure I rely on 3 different programs / firefox extensions. The first is Xenu Link Slueth, this is a great tool to run on your website to figure out how many pages can be spidered, and to find dead links. The second is the Web Developer Extension for Firefox, make sure you always validate your code when you make changes. And the last is consult Google and Yahoo to see how many pages are in your index compared to how many pages Xenu found, on Yahoo or Google type site:www.yourdomain.com (Don’t use Live’s site: function it is useless).

After you’ve finished testing your code if you need to debug it I strongly recommend the Firebug Firefox Extension, and the IE7 Developer Toolbar.

Conclusion

When trying to maximize your organic rankings your internal structure is paramount, consider your site structure to be equivalent to the foundation of your house. If your foundation is not built adequately your house may be livable, but may have long term issues. With websites your long term issues will be a failure to maximize your ROI of your website, so practice safe and smart structure.

SEO Step 3 of Ten: Site Structure
Top Rated White Papers and Resources
  • http://liquidwealthonline.com Perfect Wealth Formula

    Great information here, lots of effective things to think about.  I agree especially with the search engine friendly url section.  So many of my business collegues come up with these ridiuclously hard to spell and/or long urls that in no way serve a positive SEO purpose.  Less competition for the rest of us though!

    Cheers,

    Justin Michael

  • http://dnohr.dk/Profile/ Webudvikler

    Thanks for this article!

    But I just really hope that, people begin to use some of these advices for site structure. There is just to many websites which failure to much at site structure and best practice :\

  • http://www.riversagency.com web design chapel hill

    it is imparative that you keep an eyey on your site for duplicate content throught the site for both dynamic websites and flat sites.  This seems to be taking more away from sites in the rankings category than ever.

  • http://www.bluewavedesignstudio.com charlotte seo company

    Site structure is very important for both seo and conversion.  Site infostructure is key for sites that have alot of content.

  • http://www.seowebdesignfirm.com/seo-company.htm seo company syracuse

    You need to have good site structure to allow the easiest path for the robots to get in, index, cache and rank a site.  This is an issue for alot of poeple who spend thousands of dollars on SEO, yet the firm they use never does a technical analysis to determine if the site has structural issues.

  • http://boston.seowebdesignfirm.com/ seo agency boston

    Site structure plays a big part in seo and indexing of pages.

  • http://www.jpnetquest.com Norbert

    site maps on your web site and site maps for the spiders are two different things. I run into this confusion a lot. Both help, but they are two different animals.

  • http://www.webpromotiontuorials.com web promotion tutorials

    I feel always to start with Google’s webmaster guidelines to know what to Do & what not to – After that learn how to implement google’s guidelines ,Google give stress to the following points

     

    1. No spam
    2. site structure
    3. site layout
    4. fresh unique content with targeted keywords
    5. topic related directory listing
    6. links from topic hubs

    & your at the top of SERPS

  • http://www.hemroidshelp.com/ hemroids

    Structutal analysis is key, I would agree. Also, checking integration and export from server-to-live is very important. Header checks can be used as a diagnostic tool as well.

    A site hierarchy based on silo’ed topics translates well to natural text, strong internal linking and LSI.

  • http://www.creativebox.ltd.uk SEO Scientist

    It may be ten years old but the theory that, if the user can’t get to every page within three clicks then your site is useless, still holds true.

  • http://www.crbuses.com used buses

    Often it is interesting how good site navigation – thinking about the user – and keeping everything within 2 clicks from home and accessible to the user – helps dramatically with SEO.

    I find that good SEO is very linked with usability for the customer.

  • http://seo.pittwebsite.com Pittsburgh SEO

    Daryl,

    Thanks for the post. I Like hearing that other tools people use when going SEO and development. Most of your data is right on – a good read for newer SEOs. Although I’ve been at SEO for some time myself it’s good to refresh and read some data on it again. As well, I like that you mentioned some references of SEO companies using CSS / XHTML. Have you ever looked at SEOmoz’s code? Pretty clean stuff!

  • http://www.cool-designs.org ????? ?????

    Dotay there are many site menus softwares that can build a very nice dynamic site menu with no javascript and so google crawler can read all the links.
    I recommend an use extendstudio.com they heve nice google friendly  menus.
     

  • http://marketing-webmaster.info Joao B L Moraes

    Let’s face something. Google does not have a Doctype declaration, has not a valid html code… And about the use of css with <div> tags Google is right to say not able to "see" where the content is located. In other words, is the div’s content in a hot spot of a page? I see a lot of tips about how to do and the sameone that proposes does not apply the "tip".
    Everybody is abble to see se source codes of high traffic sites and most of them are not a good example of well structured site.
    There is a lot o things to consider and more than 200 factors to be top at SERPs. About Xhtml pages, they should start with an xml tag as the first line of the page but.. IE goes to quirks mode since it does not accept anything before a doctype declaration. W3C recommend char set utf-8 and so many people are not aware that his client ftp program does not support utf-8.
    Anyway, it’s a great article that we should follow what can reallu be done.

     

  • http://travel-guide2india.blogspot.com travelling to India- Famous tourism places in India

    I have read some where that all the links of your site should be 3-links deep fromm the home page.I think this thing has to be kept in mind when you are internally linking the site.

  • http://www.websitesforjewelers.com jewelry website design

    Good all-around resource list Daryl. I am amazed at the number of designers and developers who do not understand the basics of good site architercture and creation – such as using div whenever possible and seperating code from design.

  • http://www.paraibainternational.com tanzanite

    A quality well-researched taxonomy is a must-have for any startup company searcing for high rankings in vert competitive genres. I have found that Theme Zoom – although pricy – is an excellent tool that helps to research and ‘silo’ topics for your future website to that information conforms to LSI theory and is laid out excellent for the user.

  • http://www.acne-support-group.com/acnexus.php Acnexus

    I agree a lot of websites these days have very difficult site structures that it actually takes training to use the actual website. A good URL is definitely necessary as well as all the other points you’ve mentioned.

  • http://www.swankigifts.com/article/entertainment entertainment news

    Great article about site structure. It is definitly key when working with larger content sites.

  • http://www.newfoundlandbusinesses.ca Newfoundland Business Directory

    Never thought of this before.  Now I have some SEO work to do!

  • http://www.animaroo.com puppies for sale

    Very nice points here Daryl. Another point to mention is the element of seperating the css to positioning and design / markup in two seperate files.

    Also, position of content in the site structure can and should be controlled by use of the div so that content can be closer to the beginning of the document.

  • http://rowanlandscaping.com/NC/ Guest

    thanks for the great information Daryl

  • http://www.skintagsolution.com Skin Tag Removal

    Helpful article Daryl.

    I think proper breadcrumbing is very important, and helps link popularity in a very helpful, non spammy way.

  • http://metalgenius.com Metal Detectors For Sale

    Great article outlining some of the base fundamentals for SEO of a blog or website. On site SEO is one of the most important factors in moving up the SERPs. Get it wrong and you are dead in the water. Get on page SEO right and you can sail past sites that have been trying to move up the ranks for ages.

  • http://www.homeremedyhaven.com Home Remedies

    Daryl, excellent article. I noticed that Wikipedia tends to use a flat style linking hierarchy instead of a triangle trickle setup. Is there an advantage to this setup for particular sites?

  • http://www.phpdebutant.com Php Tutorials

    I agree.. the list areeffective and very useful. This is a big advantage and very helpful especially for newbies like me.

  • http://www.answerblip.com/articles/cars/parts-and-repairs Car Repair Facts

    Thanks fo the great information about site structure.. It truley is the cornerstone to good rankings and usability.

  • http://blog.igate.ro Daniel

    Great article .. !

  • http://www.m4s73r.com/ Internet Marketing Indonesia

    thanks for your article. Very help me. I will more like visit to webpronews site. :) Fantastic

  • http://www.seochester.co.uk/ SEO Cheshire

    Exccelent information, I will read the other parts of this SEO guide, many thank’s.

  • http://www.amoils.com/warts.html Wart Removal

    Validation and proper Doc Type rarely matter, but the rest of the points are quite important, especially site hierarchy.

    Very often site owners think that by stuffing 80 links into a left side ‘meganav’ they can reap the benefits of SEO, but in fact, each page should to pages that are related.

    The larger the website is, the less it makes sense to arbitrarily link to every main category in the site from every page.

  • http://www.search24online.com Search24online Cheap Affordable SEO

    I have a query …does a w3c valid website get any help in SEO? ..or just it is help ful for showing properly in different browser…

  • http://www.frankenradar.de/restaurantsuche Restaurant Franken

    A very good article about the importance of a good site structure.

  • http://www.firesprinklersystemsinfo.com/ Fire Sprinklers

    Great starting point. I think it would have made sense to include pre-market research as point one. Although it is not directly related to SEO verbatim, it does dictate keyword direction, and since most of SEO is about keyword selection

  • http://www.answeraddict.com/faq/football-questions football trivia

    thanks for the great article.

  • http://www.rankbetterseo.com chicago web design

    Definitely agree, keeping it up is a key to SEO

  • http://www.sightseeingtourslondon.com/original-london-sightseeing-tour-p-32.html Original London Tour

    Nice post… I would like to say that from my point of view having a site that complies with W3C guidelines also appears to help in SEO listings.

  • http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-120107536.html BASF relaunches its Investor Relations website

    M2 PRESSWIRE-3 August 2004-BASF: BASF relaunches its Investor Relations website; Clear navigation structure provides…

  • http://www.smartin.in web designer kerala

    You made a great analysis in this article . Would help web designers to make websites with a little bit of seo by tweaking code and maintaining other aspects

  • http://www.studiothink.com/ Vancouver Web Design

    Considering the duplicate content/”printable version” issue:

    There is now a way to get away with printable versions without altering content – the new canonical meta tag is perfect for this. Also, Im not sure if it would be categorized under “site content” but the htaccess 301 redirect to eliminate “/index.html” and “/index.php” is also a big part of server side SEO.

  • http://www.belfast-northern-ireland.com Belfast Visitor

    I am a newbie when it comes to web design, but I am using Site Build It, and so far seems good.All my pages are indexed in google after just a few weeks.And find my site climbing up SERPS.
    Good to read your article, for an explanation of how and why it works.

  • http://www.online-promotion-services.com/ Triloki Singh

    SEO friendly structure makes easy to get top keyword ranking in search engines. Mainly url rewrite to static pages make it easy more. and internal linking of pages through a content or website template also be good for good indexing.

  • http://pokercalculator-free.com/ odds calculator

    Thanks Daryl for the informations you share,really good ones!

  • http://signature.eu.com Signature Web Designers Kent

    Awesome article. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Since anyone can try and pass themselves off as web designers these days, clients should beware of expensive imitations, I’ll definately retweet this article, as it’s a lesson and an inspiration to professional web designers and those starting out on a career as web designers.

  • http://www.premiumseocompany.com Los Angles SEO

    SEO company will create and manage your website so that it among the top results when potential clients run searches on popular search engines.

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