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The Optimal Site Navigation for the Best SEO Results: Drop-Down Menus, Navigation Pages, Filters and Product Pages

SEO Tips, Web Design Tips No Comment

In one of our previous posts we discussed the steps you should take and the elements you should factor in, in order to build universal navigation for your site that will be both search engine and user friendly. In this post, we will continue the theme of internal linking and we will examine a few other components of the site navigation, and namely the drop-down menus, the navigation pages, the filters and the internal linking of the product pages.

Drop-Down Menus – The Point of Controversy

There have been many discussions about the inclusion of drop-down menus in the site navigation. There seems to be an equal number of supporters and opposers to this idea. There are studies indicating that many users find them annoying and dysfunctional. The actual decision whether to include drop-down menus in the navigation or not lies on you, but if you decide to give them a go you should build them in such a way that they are easy for both search engines and visitors to use. Here are a few points you should keep in mind when creating such menus:

  • They should be in HTML. – If they are not, search engines will probably not be able to read them. After the page is loaded, you can make use of JavaScript or CSS to hide those drop-down menus.
  • Have provisions for site navigation without the drop-down menus. – Otherwise, the navigation will not be accessible for Windows 8 and tablet/mobile users.
  • Resist the temptation to include too many links. – Your site’s universal navigation practically links to everything on your website. The recommendation of SEOmoz, however, is not to exceed one hundred links per page.

Building Navigation Pages

In our previous post, we explained how to select category pages on the basis of keyword competition and popularity. However, there are some broader keywords that you cannot target on a product page. For these, the navigation pages can be the best destination. In order to target a certain keyword on a certain navigation page, do the following:

  • Include your chosen keyword in the title of the page.
  • Include your chosen keyword in the page header.
  • Add a paragraph of 150-200 words with an explanation of what your site is offering, including the keyword in it.
  • Use the chosen keyword to link the navigation page to your product pages/conversion pages. However, make sure that does not look out of place and the transition is logical and natural.

The Use of Filters

Filters are a useful tool when you have multiple products on one navigation page, say over twenty. They allow the users to more easily find the relevant information they are searching for. Usually, the filter is placed on the left or at the top of the web page. However, building the URLs in such a way that there is no duplicate content and setting the filter parameters right is a tricky task. You may end up with duplicate pages for “?size=large&price=sale” and “?price=sale&size=large”, for instance.  There are two ways to approach the filter structuring for optimal results.

  • Set an order for the filters. – For instance, let the parameter “size” always be displayed before “price”. In the URL that will look like “?size=large&price=sale”. That way, the filtered pages will all be indexed and there won’t be duplicate pages. However, there is a downside, too. Depending on the number of filters you could have hundreds of navigation pages with different product ranges but a matching intro paragraph.
  • No filter indexing – You can use a hashtag before each parameter. The search engines do not look at the part of the URL that follows the hashtag (#). This way, the traffic aimed at,price=sale will all point at Disabling the filter parameters will fetch the same results in both Bing and Google Webmaster Tools. This way, all the links to both filtered and unfiltered navigation page will go towards building Page Authority only for the unfiltered page, thus improving its ranking probability. However, on the downside, the filtered pages will not be indexed and cannot be ranked individually.

Internal Linking for Product Pages

Navigation does not end with the category pages. For each product/conversion page, you should give provision for the visitor to go back to the previous navigation page (this is called vertical linking) or to reach similar product/conversion pages (horizontal linking). Here is a bit more about these two linking methods.

Vertical linking through Breadcrumbs/Rich Snippets

If your website’s navigation structure is good, the visitors may not need to use the breadcrumbs often. These are usually placed between the product page content and the top navigation. They are used to indicate to search engines and visitors where exactly the particular product page is positioned in the architecture of your site. Furthermore, Google has an option for displaying your site’s breadcrumbs instead of the URL in the search results, which not only looks cleaner in the SERP but also gives your visitors an insight into the structure of your site even before visiting it.

Breadcrumbs can also be hidden as links to the navigation pages for a more natural look, like a link to the category the product falls into. That way, search engines won’t see these as breadcrumbs, but they will still increase the backlinks pointing at the navigation page and reinforce the hierarchy of the site.

Horizontal linking to related products

You can see many good examples of horizontal linking online. Take YouTube or Amazon for instance – each of the product pages there recommends other videos/products. This horizontal linking not only strengthens the upselling opportunities, but also allows the sharing of Page Authority among the product pages, instead of all internal links pointing to the navigation pages of your site.

A Final Word of Advice

Finally, after you have built and structured your entire website navigation, do not forget to test its usability. You should make sure that your visitors will be able to easily find whatever they need on your site. Also, check the indexation of your website through the Google Webmaster Tools to ensure that the Googlebot will be able to crawl the entire navigation. Remove any glitches that might arise and test your pages periodically for the optimal results.