35 | Site Navigation for Beginners with Linda Hogenes


This episode is all about intelligent architecture (or as I keep trying to call it; artificial intelligence … which it’s not) and making changes to your navigation to optimise your site for search engines as well as user experience.

Linda Hogenes is Head of SEO at CoolBlue, an ecommerce company in Netherlands and Belgium, which has 10 stores.

Why is making changes to navigation is important for SEO?

Customer experience
Showing search engines what’s relevant and what’s not
Pointing crawlers to the right direction via links as well as the customers
Reflects (or should reflect) the hierarchy of a website
To pass authority/page rank
Remove ‘Orphan pages’ because if there are no links then Google is unlikely to index those
Working closely with User Experience and doing user testing to understand how people shop, what wording to use and how generic to go at the navigation is important. You need to also understand the correct landing pages to ensure these convert. People navigate from the homepage to the page they’re looking for, how do we make this as easy as possible so that they shop with ease.

Alina has been doing a lot of testing and at some points the UX agency would suggest having a generic landing page that combines categories, in order to cut down the links in the nav, we’re therefore checking what happens when you add an extra step and layer. Essentially, it’s offering less authority as well as an extra click in the journey of the customer. It’s important to therefore balance UX and SEO by testing.

Linda suggests that every page is linked to. Together with that, add links, not necessarily to child or parent pages but more around sister or other relevant pages. Linking to pages that you find important too. In terms of going about it before the testing and the process before making changes, Linda said they looked at link value distribution across pages and thought about changing navigation to offer more link value to those important pages.

Identify important pages through a crawl, for example use Screaming Frog. You can then quantify the number of links going into those pages and see if it affects the page by increasing that number. Test it for rankings and conversion and other metrics and see if it’s a good idea that way. For SEO it’s harder to identify because you can’t AB test it but look over time to see ranking changes.

Tip: Start by looking at what pages have potential, if they’re on page 2 then test it to see if adding internal linking improves its movement.

There’s a risk factor of changing the whole navigation so doing it in stages is really useful to ensure there’s that balance between UX and SEO values.

There’s a great information architecture article by DeepCrawl. If you want to read the white paper, I couldn’t find it online but I can email it over to you. Please email me using [email protected] with the subject line ‘DeepCrawl’s white paper’.  

Here’s another great article on site architecture by Tom Capper.

URL Structures:

We suggest that you create a different URL to your hierarchy, here are the reasons why:

Keep URLs short and readable for users (good UX)
Allows you to change things without losing rankings via URL changes due to redirections
E-commerce sites especially often dual locate pages so this will be easier to do
URLs are not a ranking factor and are more for usability

Breadcrumbs are great indicators to show what the page is about as well as indicating what the parent pages of that page are. It’s also a great internal linking tool, aside from the navigation.

There’s evidence that shows higher click through rate if breadcrumbs appear in the search results via the snippets.

We spoke about breadcrumbs with Fili Wiese in Episode 31.

Smart Internal Linking Between Categories:

We recommend creating internal linking between categories and not just in the navigation. Cross-linking is a great way to do internal linking as it can be helpful to customers primarily. Use email data for example and be smart by offering other products that are bought with another category. Between those categories are you able to connect those things in between.

Otherwise they’ll use internal search or navigation so what happens if they didn’t know they wanted that product until they saw it? Testing shows that page views increase using this method which is a great way to upsell and increase basket sizes.

Automation of Data

Automation of data is great, especially as it helps when you have bigger scaled campaigns. You can’t automate everything but it’s a great way to add internal links for example without it being too manual. If you have the data, you can then feed it in so that the links are automatically created on the site.

Firstly, it’s great for personalisation because you can automate a particular link dependant on that customer segmentation and profile. You can see what they’ve shopped for before for example or what they like and can suggest, using your data, what else they need/might want.

For SEO purposes however, you can create an API of data that automated the links or even breadcrumbs. As I suggested before, use email data or other (GA/SiteCatalyst etc) to feed into this machine which will create internal linking between categories.

Testing Considerations

Any change in navigation, AB test it and look at conversion rate, bounce rate etc., whilst thinking of possible advantages/changes for SEO.
Check if people actually are using the internal linking you’ve added. Search engines look at engagement metrics too so this is important.
Check for page view increase, especially if you’re looking at interlinking and helping people navigation from one category to another.
Monitor both desktop and mobile as screen sizes can make a difference to the journey.
Do user testing to understand the best anchor text for SEO contextualisation as well as usability.
“Keeping the user happy would mean Google will be happy with you as well” – Linda Hogenes

Crawl Budget

Determine which pages you want indexed and which will be your landing pages. You want them all to be crawled and then on the flip side, you want to cut down the crawls for those less important. Internal links help with pointing that out to Google and search engines. Perhaps even add nofollow links to those pages you don’t want to be looked at.  

Linda Hogenes is on Twitter (@linda_tweet) and LinkedIn if you wanted to get in touch.

Related Episodes

Technical SEO in 2019 with Fili Wiese

Filters & Facets with Sean Butcher

Music credit: I Dunno (Grapes of Wrath Mix) by spinningmerkaba (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/56346 Ft: Jlang, 4nsic, grapes.


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