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SEO

Ranking better with better IA & URL structure

It’s been a long time since listing one service per page, owning exact match domains, repeating keywords and exact-anchor-link-spamming would secure the first position in search engine results.

Today, more than ever, site structure can underpin rankings. Clear information architecture and URL structure are critical to whether a site ranks or not.

Information Architecture

Information architecture used to be about linear sitemaps.

This doesn’t Work!

Not only does this mean that the sitemap becomes outdated as soon as extra services or products are added, a site quickly becomes disjointed and is not future-proof.

Does it reflect the user journey? Probably not. It reflects the way a business is structured.

Think User, Think Search Engine

Mindmap, Mindmap, Mindmap

Think core pages for the business – i.e. what pages do you want visitors to really get to? Your contact page, tick. Your newsletter sign-up, tick. Your privacy policy? No tick.

Think user pages for real people, i.e. the pages that people are really looking for in keywords they use.

Now visualise the transition between those pages. Every keyword search query has a different intent and every user expects to see different information dependent on their stage within the buying cycle.

Creating a fluid mind map allows you to add pages to the sitemap without causing “site bloat” or cannibalisation. It gets you away from the linear thought processes behind site maps that put a business structure behind the website structure.

URL Structure

There are countless theories about URL structure and its effect on rankings. Should you go three categories deep and not worry about rankings? Or should all pages be second tier?

Lets interpret what Gary Illyes said last week at SMX Advanced and compare it to the real life scenarios.

And let’s be honest – we have to take the word of Google Employees with a pinch of salt...

Length of URL

If it is further away from the root, it signals to us that it must be less important.

The length of the URL doesn’t matter to Google. Sitemap protocol specification also limits the URL length to 2047 characters. This means that it does matter to ISP’s. Internet explorer is the ISP that cannot handle URL’s longer than 2083 characters.

However, IE11 now accepts longer URL’s it is worth keeping beneath 2000 characters to ensure user experience across all IE browsers. Will IE catch up with other browsers? I should hope so.

The length of the URL is reliant on the information architecture and internal linking settings. Keeping the URLs to one directory deep will keep URL’s short.

For Brochure sites this is fine, but ecommerce sites suffer from long URL’s naturally.

CMS systems such as Magento use tiered linking by default, which can create extremely long URLS.

http://www.example.com/example-category/example-sub-category/example-product.

As you can see, the depth of your category structure has a direct impact on the length of your URL’s.

Keywords in the URL structure

Google’s Gary Illyes has stated that keyword’s within the URL structure has no impact on rankings. If this is the case how can he explain the amount of poor quality sites still ranking with an exact match domain? This hasn’t been publically updated since September 2012 perhaps its time for a EMD update?

For most sites using CMS systems, the keyword will automatically be added every time a new page is added. Well, that’s if you have optimized correctly, the H1 should be your page name, should include the keyword and should be unique to any other page on the site.

So yes! Keep your keyword within your URL structure. Not only does it help users know what the page is about. It still is within best practice.

Structure of URL’s

When asked about the structure of URLs and its ranking benefits, Illyes confirmed that URL structure does matter for discovery and “If it is further away from the root, it signals to us that it must be less important.”

So basically, think of your category structure. Don’t add more than 4 tiers to the site as crawl and index rates will be substantially affected on these lower lying pages.