4 Ways to Optimize Site Structure for a Solid Search Engine Ranking Strategy

by Jason Acidre on August 22, 2012 · 23 comments · Search


There are so many areas of a website that are needed to be optimized when it’s aiming to rank better on search engines, seeing that search engines use hundreds of ranking factors to assess a site if it’s really worth displaying to searchers. Though a big portion of that usually comes down to how the site is well-structured for ease of use and accessibility for search crawlers.

I’ve always believed that on-site optimization is 80% about relevance, since it’s a huge factor that makes a site or its content usable to searchers (if they are finding your content useful or relevant to what they are really looking for). If you’ll ask me if that belief has changed over my 2 years practicing SEO, I’d definitely say no.

But aside from “relevance”, a lot of factors are now being more prevalent in the optimization processes of a website, such as optimizing it for speed, sociability, usability and conversions.

So I’d want to share in this post some simple processes that can help you strengthen your overall search ranking strategy by optimizing the site structure for relevance in order to improve its usability as well as conversions.

Information Architecture and Strategic Keyword Designation

Knowing which keywords fit certain pages of the site is very important when optimizing for both users and search engines. Your site needs to let users see that they are landing on pages that answer to their queries.

In basic keyword mapping, different types of keywords are designated to different types of pages more often than not. For instance:

  • Industry terms are mostly found more effective when used on categories or subcategories (especially for ecommerce sites, like “men’s shoes”).
  • Long tail or more specific keywords are commonly used on product and/or informational pages, as the page type will more likely give direct answers to the search query (ex. “vans authentic core classics”).

So in this process, it’s best to first map out the entire site to see which keywords should be used on different pages of the site, which will not just make them rank better on SERPs, but also to ensure that the search-driven traffic that they’ll be receiving will find the page(s) relevant to the search terms they’ve used.

A fast way to do this is through a method that I use – using Excel and Neils Bosma’s free SEO Tools for Excel (you can download it for free here).

The first thing to do is to export all the site’s pages to an excel spreadsheet through the site’s XML sitemap.

Open an Excel workbook, go to “Data” > choose “From Web” > type in the URL of your site’s XML sitemap > and click on “import”.

Three more dialog boxes will show up (just hit on OK), then your site’s XML sitemap will be imported to the excel worksheet.

The next part of the method is to use Neils Bosma’s SEO Tools. After downloading the excel add-in tool, unzip the downloaded file and drag-drop the “SEOTools.XLL” file on the workbook you’re working on. (for more detailed instructions, you can also check out the tools’ download page).

Click on “Enable this add-in for this session only”, and then you’ll see the tools added on your excel’s main tabs:

Once installed, you can start extracting all of your pages’ title tags. In my case I’ve deleted the 3 other columns, since I will only need the list of the URLs.

Go to the cell next to the first listed URL > Go to “Onpage” > Choose “HtmlTitle

The formula will show up, where you can click on the space between the parentheses, and then click on the cell where the first listed URL is placed.

Click on “OK” to extract the title tags for each listed URL.

Note: There are also other functions and metrics that you can use with the SEO Tools for Excel (like amount of links, social shares, traffic, PageRank, etc…), though we’ll only be using the URLs and their titles for this task.

As soon as you’ve generated this list, it’ll be easier to assess if your pages are targeting the most relevant keywords for their content (based on the URL, level in site architecture and its title).

This list will also allow you to see if you’re cannibalizing some of your major keywords, or have used them predominantly more than once on other deeper pages of the site (this also occurs when targeting singular and plural form of keywords through separate pages – like having “yoursite.com/headset” and “yoursite.com/headsets”).

Make sure that you are applying the right keywords to their respective informational pages, transactional pages and/or categories to draw more action from search visitors.

Descriptive Navigational Links, Permalink Structure and Page Titles for Relevance

These three areas can initially define to users and search engines what your site’s pages are about. Use descriptive keywords to make sure that people will easily understand what the pages are about that they’ll be visiting when clicking through your site’s navigation.

Apply it to your deeper pages, especially if you have a large site, because these navigational links can tremendously impact how your site is ranking on search engines.

Your site’s structure will eventually pass through the link juice it’s getting from external websites to your deeper pages.

This doesn’t just apply to large ecommerce websites, as any type of website can also use this style to improve structure and relevance. Like what Raventools have done on their site’s main and footer navigation:

Which somehow attributes to why they could be ranking very well on search engine result pages, knowing that many of their pages contain these navigation links:

Use your Unique Selling Point (USP) to present Content

An effective content, web and even as a whole business marketing strategy believes in the principle that every page of the site should be treated as a landing page that can directly or indirectly help in revenue generation.

Leverage what separates your business from your competitors or your USP through your content to instantly generate interest and actions from your visitors. Implementing this on your content strategy is a strong indicator of uniqueness of content, which of course what search engines like these days.

Assess and identify your online brand’s strong points and exemplify it through your site’s content.

Look at Zappos, they offer free shipping and video reviews, and they’re using it as a part of their content strategy.

These kinds of web experiences make users stay longer on the site. Even if you’re just sharing or selling ideas through blog posts, as long as it can compel people to read/share it, the better it’ll perform in terms of search rankings.

Building strong internal links and link passages

This is where your content marketing efforts will come in. Build content assets or strong pages that have high potentials of getting links (editorially or via outreach), social shares and/or ranking better on SERPs for informational search phrases and use these pages to support your site’s important pages through internal linking to help them rank better on search engines and also to make them become more visible to your visitors.

You can also use Traffic Travis (you can download it for free) to check pages that are getting links and have good PageRank that you can pass around to your site’s other topically relevant and important landing pages.

This method is definitely a great substitute for manual link building, as the internal linking process can improve the site’s overall domain authority, plus it also helps in making your important landing pages more visible to your target audience where you can easily trigger their interest (through your compelling content).

What’s next? Build Authority!

Start doing real company shit stuff (#RCS) to establish your site as an industry leader. Earn links, mentions, readership and customer loyalty by doing what real companies do!

There are so many things that you can do to really create an impact for your online marketing campaign in terms of promotion, whether you choose to do viral content marketing or build links that will really add value to your or your client’s business.

All these stuff – proving your brand as an authority – will eventually make your search engine ranking strategy prevail, especially when these authority-passing links/mentions start flowing through your site architecture, which will make all your pages rank competitively on search results.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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