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How to Google Search Engine Optimization Guide – Part 2

Table of contents:

Improving Site Structure

Improve the structure of your URLs

Make your site easier to navigate

An example may help our explanations, so we’ve created a fictitious website to follow throughout the guide. For each topic, we’ve fleshed out enough information about the site to illustrate the point being covered. Here’s some background information about the site we’ll use:

Website/business name: “Brandon’s Baseball
Cards”
Domain name: brandonsbaseballcards.com
Focus: Online-only baseball card sales, price guides, articles and news content
Size: Small, ~250 pages

Improving Site Structure

Improve the structure of your URLs

URL structure Image One

Simple-to-understand URLs will convey content information easily

Creating descriptive categories and filenames for the documents on your website can not only help you keep your site better organized, but it could also lead to better crawling of your documents by search engines. Also, it can create easier, “friendlier” URLs for those
that want to link to your content. Visitors may be intimidated by
extremely long and cryptic URLs that contain few recognizable words.

URLs like (1) can be confusing and unfriendly. Users would have a
hard time reciting the URL from memory or creating a link to it. Also,
users may believe that a portion of the URL is unnecessary, especially
if the URL shows many unrecognizable parameters. They might leave
off a part, breaking the link.

Some users might link to your page using the URL of that page as the
anchor text. If your URL contains relevant words, this provides
users and search engines with more information about the page
than an ID or oddly named parameter would (2).

URLs are displayed in search results

Lastly, remember that the URL to a document is displayed as part of a search result in Google, below the document’s title and snippet. Like the title and snippet, words in the URL on the search result appear in bold if they appear in the user’s query (3). To the right is another example showing a URL on our domain for a page containing an article about the rarest baseball cards. The words in the URL might appeal to a search user more than an ID number like “www. brandonsbaseballcards.com/article/102125/” would.

Google is good at crawling all types of URL structures, even if they’re quite complex, but spending the time to make your URLs as simple as possible for both users and search engines can help. Some webmasters try to achieve this by rewriting their dynamic URLs to static ones; while Google is fine with this, we’d like to note that this is an advanced procedure and if done incorrectly, could cause crawling issues with your site. To learn even more about good URL structure, we recommend this Webmaster Help Center page on creating Google-friendly URLs.

Glossary

Crawl301 redirect
Exploration of websites by search engine software (bots) in order to index their
content.
An HTTP status code (see page 12). Forces a site visitor to automatically jump to a
specified URL.
Parameter Subdomain
Data provided in the URL to specify a site’s behavior.A type of domain used to identify a category that is smaller than a regular domain (see
page 6).
ID (session ID)Root directory
Data provided for the identification and/or behavior management of a user who is
currently accessing a system or network communications.
Directory at the top of the tree structure of a site. It is sometimes called “root”.

Takeaway: Choose a URL that will be easy for users and search engines to understand!

Best Practices

Use words in URLs

URLs with words that are relevant to your site’s content and structure are friendlier for visitors navigating your site. Visitors remember them better and might be more willing to link to them.

Avoid:

  • using lengthy URLs with unnecessary parameters and session IDs
  •  choosing generic page names like “page1.html”
  •  using excessive keywords like”baseball-cards-baseball-cards-baseballcards.htm”

Create unique title tags for each page

Use a directory structure that organizes your content well and makes it easy for visitors to know where they’re at on your site. Try using your directory structure to indicate the type of content found at that URL.

Avoid:

  • having deep nesting of subdirectories like “…/dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/dir5/dir6/page.html”
  • using directory names that have no relation to the content in them

Provide one version of a URL to reach a document

To prevent users from linking to one version of a URL and others linking to a different version (this could split the reputation of that content between the URLs), focus on using and referring to one URL in the structure and internal linking of your pages. If you do find that people are accessing the same content through multiple URLs, setting up a 301 redirect from non-preferred URLs to the dominant URL is a good solution for this. You may also use canonical URL or use the rel=”canonical” link element if you cannot redirect.

Avoid:

  • having pages from subdomains and the root directory access the same content
    -e.g. “domain.com/page.htm” and “sub.domain.com/page.htm”
  • using odd capitalization of URLs
    -many users expect lower-case URLs and remember them better

    Glossary
Dynamic URLs301 redirect
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=40349http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=93633
Creating Google-friendly URLsrel=”canonical”
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=76329http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=139394
Site structure image one

Improving Site Structure

Make your site easier to navigate

Navigation is very important for search engines

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.

Plan out your navigation based on your homepage

All sites have a home or “root” page, which is usually the most frequented page on the site and the starting place of navigation 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?

Ensure more convenience for users by using ‘breadcrumb lists’

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 (1). 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.

Glossary

404 (“page not found” error)XML Sitemap
An HTTP status code (see page 12). It means that the server could not find the web page requested by the browser.A list of the pages on a particular website. By creating and sending this list, you are
able to notify Google of all pages on a website, including any URLs that may have been
undetected by Google’s regular crawling process.

Allow for the possibility of a part of the URL being removed.

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/2010/upcoming-baseball-card-shows.htm, but then enter http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/ into the browser’s address bar, believing that this will show all news from 2010 (2). 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/?

Prepare two sitemaps: one for users, one for search engines

A site map (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.

Links

Webmaster ToolsSitemap Generator Script
https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ http://code.google.com/p/googlesitemapgenerator/
What’s a preferred domainGuide to Sitemap files
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=44231http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=1

Improving Site Structure

Make your site easier to navigate

Best Practices

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.

Avoid:

  • 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 (so that it takes twenty clicks)
  • effectively work these into your internal link structure.

Use mostly text for navigation

Having a different description meta tag for each page helps both users and Google, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain (e.g. searches using the site: operator). If your site has thousands or even millions of pages, hand-crafting description meta tags probably isn’t feasible. In this case, you could automatically generate description meta tags based on each page’s content.

Avoid:

  • 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

    Takeaway: For navigation, the focus should be on simplicity and ease of use!

Glossary

FlashUser experience
Web technology or software developed by Adobe Systems Incorporated. It is able to create web content that combines sound, video and animation.The experience gained by a user through using products, services, etc. Emphasis is placed on providing an experience truly sought after by the user, such as “enjoyment,” convenience” and “comfort.”
JavaScriptHTTP status code
A type of programming language. It can add dynamic features to web pages and is used by many web services.A code that expresses the meanings of responses from the server when computers are conveying information to each other. The code is allotted as three numerical digits, with a different meaning depending on the number used.
Drop-down menu
A system in which one chooses content from a menu. When one clicks on the menu, the list of choices are displayed in a list in a drawn out manner.
Accessibility
The ability for users and search engines to access and comprehend content.

Best Practices

Put an HTML site map page on your site, and use an XML Sitemap file

A simple site map 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.

Avoid:

  • letting your HTML site map page become out of date with broken links
  • creating an HTML site map that simply lists pages without organizing them, for example by subject

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” errors.

Avoid:

  • 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

    Takeaway: For navigation, the focus should be on simplicity and ease of use!

Glossary

How Google deals with non-text filesSources of URLs causing “not found” errors
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=72746 http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/10/webmaster-tools-shows-crawl-error.html
Custom 404 page404 HTTP status code
http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=93641http://www.w3.org/Protocols/rfc2616/rfc2616-sec10.html
404 widget
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/08/make-your-404-pages-more-useful.html

Pro Tip: If you have a Bigcommerce store or want to have one and looking for SEO on it, check below references or feel free to contact us.
https://support.bigcommerce.com/s/article/Intro-to-SEO
https://support.bigcommerce.com/s/article/Getting-Started-with-SEO

By KrishnaDasa

A shri krishna dasa devotee, follower of Shrimad Bhagavad gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and a member of Iskcon Bhopal.

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