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SEO 101 - Part 7: Everything You Need to Know About Site Architecture and Internal Linking

The following series is pulled from a presentation I gave to a group of beauty bloggers hosted by L'Oreal in New York. Most of the presentation is geared toward how to make a blog more search engine and user-friendly, however I will expand many of the concepts here to include tips and strategies for sites selling products or services across all industries.

Common Architectural Problems
Common Architectural Problems
In order to move your site up in the search engine rankings you have to get your optimized content to the search engines in the most streamlined way possible. There are some common problems that often stand in the way of that. These problems may not keep the search engines from finding and indexing and even ranking your content, however they can greatly effect the performance of that content in terms of how well it ranks in the search results.
Too many URL parameters
The web is littered with long complicated URLs such as this:
Aside from changing the actual domain name, the URL above is a real one. Look at it closely, everything after "ProductDisplay?" are the various parameters that tell the browser what content to pull up.
Each "=" in the URL represent a different parameter. Each parameter represents a slight variation of the content. Every variation represents a potentially different page that can be indexed by the search engines.
The search engines want to index valuable content, but URLs such as this can often send engines away. They don't want to be caught into endless loops of variation. While the search engines certainly have no problem indexing dynamic content, once you get more than three parameters your risking losing the search engines all together. The engines tend to shy away from sites with duplicate content or endless loops created by many parameter possibilities. Your best bet is to keep the parameters down to a minimum.
Inaccessible content
Great content is often inaccessible to the search engines either because it's hidden behind search options or buried deep within the site. Setting up a proper navigation and clickable link search structure is essential for any site, but even more important for large sites with hundreds of pages or products.
Some pages have to be buried, there just isn't any other way to go about it. But they don't have to be so deep that they can't be found without a GPS tracking device. It's all a matter of laying out your site's architecture so all pages have a proper place and that the most beneficial content is the easiest to find.
Session IDs
Session IDs create duplicate content by the hundreds, if not thousands. Every visitor to a site is given a session IDs which is appended to the end of each URL visited. Multiply your visitors by thousands and you now have thousands of new URLs all pointing to the same content.
There are some workarounds when using session IDs for tracking, however there are better solutions altogether that you should look into.
Code Bloat
Avoid building navigation links using Flash or JavaScript. Depending on how these are implemented they can often be problematic to the search engines. Pages which are only linked to via these methods can often be outside of the search engines spidering reach and therefore not included in the index.
Directory Structure
Directory Structure
There are three basic directory structures you can have, flat, deep or somewhere in between.
A flat directory structure puts all of your site pages on the same directory level. Each page is essentially one click away from the home page and no page is given any type of prominence.
A deep directory structure is the near opposite. Only a few pages are accessible from the home page, then a few more are accessible from those, a few more from those and so on. This puts some pages many clicks away from the home page unnecessarily.
You want to be somewhere in between. You want a directory structure that makes sense. Pages should be grouped together in broad level categories and only sub-categorized as makes sense from the navigation standpoint. You can go a bit deeper with your URLs but again you don't want half a dozen directories when a few will do just fine.
Internal Linking
Internal Linking
You want to do a good share of internal linking within your site. Not just the navigation, mind you but link from within your content areas and product pages. Good internal linking helps your visitors navigate from page to page and find other areas and products that interest them. This improves visitor satisfaction, leads to more sales and helps improve search engine rankings.
Use whatever opportunities you have to give your visitors opportunities to find these other sections of the site. If you talk about a product or service, link to it. If you have a related bit of information or another similar or companion product, link to it. Using keywords in these links gives the search engines more keyword juice for determining how pages should be ranked.
Site Maps
Site Maps
Site maps provide a great way to allow both your visitors and the search engines to find their way to your content with as few clicks as possible. Your site map should always be no more than one click away, no matter what page the visitor is on. This way, if they get lost in the site or have trouble finding what they want, a quick click to the site map gets them a list of every page or piece of content you offer.
Generally you want your site map to be fewer than 100 links. Larger sites may need a site map that links to other site maps in order to keep all your products and pages accessible as easily as possible. The site map should be the only page on your site that links to every page, unless your site is under 20 or so pages.

(Author: Stoney deGeyter)