Hello SEO and Infrastructure Architecture (IA) specialists – it’s Wednesday, so it’s time for another Search Engine Academy post about IA and SEO.
We’re still covering one of the major IA systems – navigation. You can read the first IA & SEO navigation post, then take a look at the second part of navigation, IA and SEO. Come on back when you’re caught up!
In part three, we’ll look at global, or site-wide navigation systems. And at the end of this post, I’ll tie IA into SEO. That’s a promise.
If you use a global navigation system as part of your IA efforts, this navigation scheme will be on every page of your website for visitors to easily travel back and forth to at least your high level pages and topics.
Usually a global navigation scheme is at the top of every web page where it’s easiest to find. Your critical, important topic areas and functions should always be in your site-wide navigation system. And since it’s on every page, guess what? It really impacts the overall usability of your website, so if there’s one area you really care about from a web visitor’s perspective, it’s your top navigation bar or global navigation system.
Global navigation systems can look really nice in a variety of ways. You can design it so that page tabs appear up top instead of bars or text links. You really want to think long and hard on this navigation bar at the top, because it provides the context for your web user. Every web site will have different user needs, so please – don’t just copy someone else’s design because it looks nice on your site.
How do you identify a global navigation system on a site? Many web sites use more than one navigation scheme on multiple pages. A truly global navigation system is the only that will consistently be shown on every single page of a website. Other navigation systems can supplement the main navigation system.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself tweaking what constitutes your global navigation system for weeks on end. Get feedback and review your navigation paths and funnels in your web analytics program to see how easy or hard it is to use.
On very large sites, global navigation systems can be supported by local navigation systems. For example, many newspapers have a national, local, business, sports and lifestyle section for their papers. These would be local navigation systems to support whatever global system the newspaper company developed and implemented.
Local navigation systems are great for setting up sub sites, or a site within a website if your content and functionality supports a separate navigation system to help your web visitor, not confuse her.
In Infrastructure Architecture, there’s yet another navigation system that’s contextual. This can be for related items, products or information resources. Perhaps you really like a site that has similar content, you really respect it, but it doesn’t fit neatly into one of your other navigation systems. Create a contextual navigation scheme to make this connection.
Contextual navigation can also be created from text links within your web content pages. But keep in mind, if those links are really important to you to assist your web reader, you may want to make them stand out better than just as a text link. You could put the links in an enclosed box on the right side of the web page content, for example.
One pitfall you have to maintain awareness of is making your navigation system look balanced on every web page. Let’s face it, we’ve all been to websites where every other sentence has a text link. This is confusing, exhausting and leads to information overload.
When designing your website, be sure to develop a wireframe that clearly shows a balance between your different navigation systems on a page. This is why creating a wireframe for each page can clearly show if the page is going to be incredibly cluttered or “just right.” Lots of navigation systems on a page can completely overwhelm the content.
Many web designers like to drop down menus, roll over functionality and cascading menus. Always keep your SEO in mind as well, and be sure you’re making search engine spider-friendly links to enable crawling and indexing.
If you plan on using graphic navigation systems, don’t forget that despite the fact it’s 2012, there are still a lot of places that only accommodate dial-up users. If your pages take too long to load due to lots of graphics – including graphic navigation schemes, the web visitor will abandon the process on your site and go find someone else’s to look at.
And be careful if you fall in love with icon navigation systems! If your site is designed for new users to your business or website theme, they may not know the iconography of your industry. Mix it up with text as well. Icons are great for complimenting text labels.
Are you still living in the 1990′s and using frames on your web pages? I sure hope not for a number of reasons, pretty much all of them SEO-related, but from an IA standpoint, frames can make navigation systems difficult to design and implement. Do yourself and your site by performing a makeover and getting rid of frames. You’ll be glad you did!
That’s it for this Wednesday’s post about IA and SEO. Remember, review your web analytics to see how many pages are being navigated. If some of your most important pages aren’t being visited, go back over your navigation system. Tweak it a little, then check analytics again.
Next week, we’ll talk about supplemental navigation systems for your web pages. Until next week…keep on doing SEO and see how you can begin implementing IA in little ways on your site.
All the best,