Web Site Architecture and Search Engines Part 2
Reader question: I hear search engine marketers talk about site architecture all of the time and how important it is for search engine optimization. What exactly is site architecture and how should I be implementing it on my Web site?
Answer: In Part 1 of this article series, I addressed the directory structure and navigation schemes as a part of Web site architecture. In Part 2, I will address URL structure, file names, and hyphenation.
To review, the building blocks of site architecture are:
How directories are set up on your server
Site navigation scheme
Type of Web page
Page layout and structure
Subdirectories, file names and URL structure
Many Web developers like to divide different sections of a site into subdirectories in order to keep related pages close to each other (on a Web server).
On a larger site (>250 pages), this strategy makes sense. On a smaller site, this so-called SEO strategy might be confusing for site visitors.
Search engine spiders might have difficulty reaching deeper pages in your Web site, particularly if the site navigation scheme and cross-linking structure is not spider-friendly. Keep your pages closer to the root directory instead of in deeply nested into subdirectories.
Some search engine marketers recommend creating extra subdirectories in order to place extra keywords in the URL, particularly if a domain name does not contain an important keyword phrase. For example, let’s use one of my company’s domains:
This domain is supposedly poor because it contains no keywords. One of the design services we offer is logo design. In this instance, search engine marketer might recommend that we create a subdirectory called “logos.”
In this example, the subdirectory structure will look like this (excluding all pages except the home page):
The URL will look like the following:
Then, to really increase the number of keywords in the URL, search engine marketers might suggest the following file names:
In my opinion, this search engine marketing strategy can be a waste of time AND can confuse site visitors.
Suppose your target audience wants to find the page that showcases your logo designs portfolio. Just by viewing the following file names, can you tell me which is the most likely URL that visitors will select:
Confusing, isn’t it? Using keyword-rich file names appears to be a popular search engine marketing strategy yet it can easily confuse site visitors.
File-naming structure is often a good focus group question or usability test question. Before you listen to any search engine marketer’s advice on this topic, always use a focus group or usability testers. You might find that directory structure and file naming hurts more than it helps.
URL structure – hyphens or no hyphens
The reason search engine marketers like to use hyphenation in both domain names and file names is to get keywords in the URL. They use term highlighting in a search engine results page (SERP) as evidence of its importance.
For example, if you perform an INURL search at Google or Yahoo, you will see that keywords separated by hyphens are highlighted in the search results.
Let’s be honest. How many of you have reviewed your Web analytics software to determine the number of site visitors who use INURL searches to find your site? If people do not generally perform INURL searches to find your site, then do not obsess with using hyphens in your domain names and file names.
Sometimes, using hyphens can be a good strategy. Some good reasons for using hyphenation are:
Your company name is not available as a domain name. Another company has already registered it. For example, we market a company called Corrugated Metals, Inc. (CMI). When they decided to register their domain name a few years ago, some other company (that sold corrugated metals) already reserved it. However, the hyphenated version, corrugated-metals.com, was available. Since it makes sense for this company to own the hyphenated version of their company name, using the hyphen is fine.
To protect your brand. If you find that both the hyphenated and unhyphenated versions of your company name are available, purchase both of them. But remember, with an optimization campaign, only submit one domain to the search engines.
Different spellings. The example I am using pertains to our own site, though I am sure many businesses have the same experience. Our company name is based on the CEO’s first name, Grant. However, when people hear our domain name on a radio show, at a conference, or in general conversation, they mistakenly believe our company name is a combination of two words: grand and fantastic. Hence the misspelling of grandtastic. Since we commonly see this misspelling in our site statistics software, we also registered the hyphenated and unhyphenated versions of the misspelled domain.
Recently, in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), keywords are being highlighted in the URL, words that are not separated by hyphens or forward slashes. I observed this for standard keyword searches – not INURL searches.
What does this mean to a Web site owner? Remember, information from a site can be used for display in SERPs that might not be used for relevancy.
Part 3 of this article series will address the types of Web pages, page layout, and cross-linking. View Part 1 here.