I have a site structure of:

Country >
Counties >
Towns >

the county, counties and towns pages are all low quality pages full of links, these are there for the crawlers to navigate and occasionally a customer will not know there postalcode so will drill down this way.

How best to keep the structure but not get any low quality flags against the site?


Don't make those pages at all. You don't want pages for crawlers-only or user-only. If bots find out you're doing this, you will end up much, much worse than is needed.

What you want is a sitemap:
You are creating a link structure for bots to crawl your site;
A sitemap is a link structure for bots to crawl your site

You can upload this in Google's webmasters tools to help the process getting started.
Also, if you have Google Analytics in your website and users visits pages, the GA will find out about those pages. In a way the users will be your crawlers.

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I have a project with the same structure (Regions, cities, counties, categories). Since it's difficult to always have content on all pages, I "noindex" navigation pages destinated for crawlers and do not link to pages with little / no content.

I.e. if you don't have listings for a specific town, don't link to that page in the navigation. Basically you want to avoid almost blank pages to pop up in G. search results.

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Your structure is unlikely to lead to any penalties from search engines. The number of low quality pages is small compared to the number of (presumably higher quality) shop pages.

You should work on improving the quality of these pages so that they can be useful to anybody who visits for more than just navigation. For example if I am looking for an overview of all the shops in a town, I might want to know things like:

  • Which ones are popular?
  • Which ones have the best reputation?

This structure will get all your content crawled by search engines. As such it is great for content discovery purposes. However, it is unlikely to get your content ranked very well. When your important content is four clicks away from your home page, search engines will not assign much value (in terms of link juice and PageRank) to it. You need to find ways to get your content interlinked better:

  • Link to some of the most import ant towns directly from the home page
  • Link each shop to other related shops:
    • in the same town
    • same chain
    • same business type
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  • Is it worth marking the navigation pages (county, town) as no-index? to prevent them diluting the overall indexed pages? – Alex Stephens Jun 30 '14 at 18:24
  • If users would not be happy to land on them from a search engine, then a meta noindex tag on them would be appropriate. – Stephen Ostermiller Jun 30 '14 at 18:42

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