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I am currently working on the site navigation, of an eCommerce site. In trying to develop the most effective site navigation, I have been spending some time looking at how other site's go about it.

From an SEO perspective, it is abundantly clear that a site's structure needs to be user friendly and logical; with URLs reflecting the site's directory layout.

This, of course, makes perfect sense. With this in mind, I was wondering if the site's Navigation itself, has any direct impact on SEO. The reason for asking, is that I have come across many site's, often appearing at the top of search results, whose site Navigation does not reflect the logical order of their site's structure. As a result, this has left me wondering on how best to approach a site's Navigation and whether it needs to 100% accurately mirror the site's structure.

Let's say I have the following URLs:

  1. www.example.com/athletics/running/schedules/
  2. www.example.com/athletics/swimming/schedules/
  3. www.example.com/athletes/john-doe/ (A Sprinter)
  4. www.example.com/athletes/jane-doe/ (A Swimmer)

For me, I would assume a site's Navigation would have to look something like this:

  • Running
    • Schedules
  • Swimming
    • Schedules
  • Athletes
    • John Doe
    • Jane Doe

With John Doe being a Sprinter and Jane Doe being a Swimmer, I would see some websites place these Athletes within their respective disciplines, despite not being apart of the same URL structure. In other words, creating a Navigation, which would look like ...

  • Running
    • Schedules
    • John Doe
  • Swimming
    • Schedules
    • Jane Doe
  • Athletes
    • John Doe
    • Jane Doe

Here, we would have John Doe (/athletes/john-doe) and Jane Doe (/athletes/jane-doe) placed within the broader Running Menu (/running/).

Would this cause an issue with search engines; since search engines may wonder why John and Jane Doe are appearing within both /athletes/ (as far as the site structure is concerned) and /running/ (as far as the Navigation is concerned).

I see a lot of eCommerce sites, where their Navigation does not mirror their site/URL structure, yet they seem to be ranking fairly well. I am just wondering if Navigation plays any part in SEO. Or maybe it does but their Navigation creates a high Click Through Rate and thus negates any negativity from a contradicting Navigation?

  • Do search engines factor a site's Navigation structure, when it comes to SEO... Oh Hell yeah! These are links to your most important pages. Nav is primo importante'. – closetnoc Apr 28 '18 at 0:10
  • Here is a brief and simplified explanation of how it works. webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/82029/… – closetnoc Apr 28 '18 at 0:18
  • Thank you for the link. Popped over and Commented/Upvoted accordingly. :-) Whilst I understand the information, over on that link, what I am getting at here, is if a URL is placed under multiple Menu Items within the Navigation (as I have seen with many eCommerce sites), would this not confuse the search engine or would it simply follow all the other signals? – Craig Apr 28 '18 at 1:47
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    Let me see if I got this right. More than one link to a single page from navigation? No problem! Just keep in mind the value from the home page to the linked page will be split between two links. That's all. Cheers!! – closetnoc Apr 28 '18 at 1:55
  • Both answers so far are steering you in the right direction. Do what is right for users, go not get weird, create good content, organize it well, send traditional signals, write whole sentences and do not play the keyword chase game, ignore the SEO B.S. and create a good and proper site and all should be fine. Honest. You will be sooooooo ahead of the game it is not even funny! Cheers!! – closetnoc Apr 29 '18 at 0:40
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Accessibility

One thing in terms of navigation, content in general actually, that Google likes much is accessibility, often referenced as Section 508.

If you can make your website Section 508 compliant, I think you'll end up with a really good on page SEO that will boost your website. It's just not that easy. It's a lot of work that, as you do it, seems totally superfluous/useless (at least if you're not handicapped yourself or know someone close who is.)

This includes:

  • alt="..." attributes to images
  • title="..." attributes to images and anchors
  • full close caption for videos (by full close caption I mean including description of important elements of a scene, especially if the elements are important to understand the video as a whole.)
  • full transcripts of audio
  • possibility to change the size of the font and still have a site that's functional
  • a way to print a page (this can be used to transform the page content to audio)
  • everything easily accessible using just the keyboard

The main reason why Google likes it is that it gives the search engine most if not all the necessary data to indexed everything including your images, videos, audios, and more.

If you're using a CMS, there may be some plugins that will help you with such.

About the Directory Layout

Matt Cutts says that GoogleBot checks parent pages. Frankly, I have not noticed that in my logs ever. So I don't think that's the case. However, for sure, another thing he said is that it knows to organize the data by grouping it per folder. This is why directories can be important for a website.

For an e-Commerce site, I would definitely put items under varying folders that represent categories, sub-categories, etc. Google takes those as additional keywords for the content on such pages (which is why adding the date to your blog posts in your WordPress website is not such a good idea.)

At the same time, Amazon does not use such in their path. The path starts with the name of the product, then it includes some other information. But in truth, I nearly never get an Amazon page in my searches. So it could very well be that they don't have the right SEO scheme for Google (they have so many affiliates, it probably doesn't matter to them.)

Repeated / Unmatched Links

Several things on that one.

In terms of usability, it's probably good to have repeats. After all, you remind the user that he/she can also go see this or that info. No problem there.

In terms of repeated links, this may be a problem. Not the link in itself, but in amount of juice passed down to the next pages. Say your page has a rank of 6. That page has 1,000 links, 500 that are repeats, you will pass 6 / 1000 of your page juice to those links when you could have passed 6 / 500 (so 2 × more!) ranking power... If you are to have 5 or 6 athletes with that few links repeated, I wouldn't worry about it at all. If you have a very large amount of duplication, that's where I would question my navigation.

Google made a statement about this, which they called sculpting, and this is why a page with 1 or more links to a given page sends juice as if there was just 1 link, but it uses the total number of links to divide the page ranking. So say your page rank is 6 and you have 100 links, you pass 0.06 juice power per link, but if you repeat the same link multiple times, it still only gets 0.06 and not 0.06 times the number of times that link is repeated.

In terms of unmatched links (i.e. /athlete/... among the /running/... or /swimming/... folders), there is absolutely no problem with that. Google does not check that at all as far as I know. I do that all over the place and it does not look like it has any impact.

Reference to Similar Products

One thing which I think works best is a set of similar products under a product. This is also part of your navigation.

This list could also be products that were purchased recently, that people purchased along with the current product, that are best sellers, etc.

This list can also appear when people click on the Checkout button (i.e. upselling). You just want to make sure it's not in the way to the actual checkout.

  • Thank you for your answer. Have I got it right, that PageRank (Juice Power) would be divided by the total amount of links (unique and repeated) on the page. Then this 'Juice Power' would only be passed through to unique links. Therefore, repeated links being ignored; avoiding repeated links generating a cumulative amount of 'Juice Power'? – Craig Apr 28 '18 at 23:40
  • @Craig if there is more than one link, the value is divided, not ignored. Just do not get carried away. There are perfectly valid reasons to have the same link twice on a page such as navigation and in content. Also, Pagerank the algorithm is for inbound (back) links. The same theory applies for internal links, however, it is simplified by a fairly large degree. So PR does not exactly apply the same. Also as far as PR is concerned, it is far more complicated than the example above otherwise there is a severe curve to the result. Still, applying the simple math to internal links works okay. – closetnoc Apr 29 '18 at 0:37
  • @Craig, yes. 2x the link to the same destination counts toward the divisor, but only 1x the juice is passed. mattcutts.com/blog/pagerank-sculpting – Alexis Wilke Apr 29 '18 at 1:41
  • @closetnoc, I agree that you should not get hung up on such details, but at the same time, repeating your menu 3 times is just not a good idea... – Alexis Wilke Apr 29 '18 at 1:42
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    @AlexisWilke ... Thank you for this comprehensive answer. I was not aware of Section 508. Being UK based, I am more familiar with the UK's Equality Act 2010, which includes web accessibility. As well as the Internationally recognised WCAG 2.0. – Craig Jun 1 '18 at 19:00
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Let me make this simple.

Focus on user experience before you think of SEO

Google says: Show what best for the user.

When you think of navigation and structure, pay attention to user experience more than SEO. Better user experience leads to quality and longer user visits which are factors for SEO.

A page can be ranked even with poor structure with good quality content and quality backlinks etc. But if you are building the foundation then get it right.

Following points should be considered:

  • Design the website navigation which will be easy for the user.
  • Make the URLs easy to read and avoid duplication and not too long.
  • Have breadcrumb if possible.
  • Focus on quality content on the page.
  • Make the page lighter to load.

I see a lot of eCommerce sites, where their Navigation does not mirror their site/URL structure, yet they seem to be ranking fairly well.

The ranking is impacted by various factors. As stated above, there are many other important factors like Content on the page, backlinks etc impacts the ranking.

The point to understand is, let's say you have good quality content and quality links similar as your competition then if you will improve the user experience then you will on the edge to rank high.

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It's better to use the name of athletes as a filter and you can have them as url parameters. So next you can do your best on SEO by having the right keyword sheet, write best meta title and the other on-page SEO factors.

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