Search Engine Optimization is broadly broken down into two parts. The first and the area you as a web site owner have most control over is on site optimization which covers everything you can do to a web sites content, domain name choice, directory structure, internal link structure, anchor text of internal links etc… The second part covers links to your website, PageRank (PR) acquisition, anchor text of external links, reciprocal link exchanges etc…

In this section of our SEO Tutorial we’ll broadly introduce on site optimization, how to optimize your web site for better search engine rankings with good Google rankings our primary goal.

Web Site Directory Structure

You will also find our Domain Name Choice page helpful in understanding how to name your new domains, directories and files especially the Why Hyphenated Domain Names section.

Before we discuss how to link your pages together you need to decide where to physically locate your websites pages. There are many ways to organize a site including putting every file in the root of the domain to breaking up sections of a site into various directories (the latter is usually advisable).

There is a common misconception that pages in the root of a domain (www.website.com/web-page.html would be a web page in the root of the domain) will be ranked higher than pages deep within the directory structure www.website.com/web/web-page.html will be one level deep). In fact it used to be believed by some if you went too deep with your directory structure (over 4 directories deep – www.website.com/web-1/web-2/web-3/web-4/web-page.html) those web pages would not even be spidered at all (not true BTW)!

The reason for this misconception is to do with common linking structures, not directory structure. The directory structure tends to mimic the link or navigation structure of the site and if it takes at least 4 links to go from your home page to the deepest pages of your website some might be missed by the search engine spiders. What’s more those deep linked pages will tend to have 1 or a very small number of unimportant links to them and so as links are very important they won’t be seen as important by the search engines. Put another way if you only send one unimportant link to a page on your site why would the search engines believe it’s an important page and rank it highly!

So the reality is you can put your pages as deep as you like as long as they are linked correctly (try to go for no more than 2 clicks from the home page, 3 at the very most and if in doubt site map).

Organize your Website into Sections

To decide how to organize directory structure take a look at your sites content, can it be broken down into various sections based on helpful keywords?

If it can you should since the keywords within a directory name (if done correctly) can help a pages SERPs. For example all of the SEO Tutorial pages are within the directory “seo-tutorial”; www.seo-gold.com/seo-tutorial/. They will all benefit from the keywords tutorial and seo since the major search engines take the domain name, directory and file names into account.

If you haven’t already read the section Why Hyphenated Domain Names you might want to take a look now. In summary when naming directories etc… use hyphens (-) not underscores (_) or multiple words together (seotutorial would NOT make a good SEO friendly directory or filename, seo-tutorial is better).

So by putting your pages in the right directory you give them a small boost without even trying. File names work the same way, which is why we use descriptive file names where possible like www.seo-gold.com/seo-tutorial/web-site-optimization/ for this page. So this page will be given a small boost for the following words from the domain, directory and file name (seo gold seo tutorial web site optimization). Remember use hyphens (-) as a separator not underscores (_) since the latter is not a word separator to the search engines.

Quick SEO Tip – when deciding on directory names either use single words or multiple words (like the /seo-tutorial/web-site-optimization/ example above) separated by hyphens (-), do not use underscores (_) (i.e. www.seo-gold/seo-tutorial/ is good www.seo-gold/seo_tutorial/ is bad). See Choosing a Business and Domain Name for further details.

Web Site Link Structure Optimization

How you organize your web site is very important to SEO, if organized correctly it will feed benefit through the site to the most important pages giving them a better chance of obtaining higher traffic SERPs. If poorly organized important sections of your website may be completely over looked by the search engine spiders!

There are two basic site structures, completely interlinked and a hierarchy (pyramid type structure with the index page at the top).

Interlinked Website Structure

Realistically this structure can only be achieved for relatively small sites since every page links to every other page. If you have a 250+ page website it looks a mess to link every page to every other (250+ links from every page!!) and so it is not advisable (not a good idea for SEO reasons either).

This brings us to the question when should a site be completely interlinked? Difficult to give a clear cut answer since there will be small sites where interlinked is not suitable. A very general rule would be above 100 pages and don’t interlink, below 30 pages interlink completely.

This leaves a huge number of sites between 30 and 100 pages where interlinking may or may not be a good idea. To decide if interlinking is a good idea look at the anchor text of what the links will be. If most of the links are of a similar theme (anchor text wise) then it’s probably a good idea to interlink.

In other words look to see if the anchor text will improve the general optimization of most pages of your web site. If you have a site that almost every page is about a similar subject (uses similar phrases), for example, if one page is about SEO Services another about SEO Consultant and a third about SEO Tutorial etc… you can see having each link to one another will help with SERPs related to SEO. You want all these pages to link together in someway, the easiest would be to interlink via a menu.

Hierarchical Web Site Structure

We’ve dealt with small sites, now lets consider larger sites. There are a lot of ecommerce sites about selling hundreds and even thousands of products. Most have a hierarchical navigation system where the home page links to the most important department type pages (listing multiple products) which then link to individual products.

You might have a site with 30 department pages (linked from every page of the site via the menu) each listing ~20 products each, which then links to those 20 individual product pages. With this example we’d have roughly a 600 page website.

The above would be a very good structure for that type of site, not an excessive number of links per page and those very important department pages get 600 links each since every page links to them. But how far can this model be stretched, how many pages? It depends on numerous factors including the sites design/look, how many department type pages there are how many products there are.

Take a look at Software Store which sells software (it’s an affiliate site). The menu on the left has about 50 links on it. Take a look at a categories and you can see it lists 10 products and the left menu isn’t longer than the list of products (it looks OK). So for this site 50 department links from every page works. We have sites using the same design with over 70 links on the menu (others have less than 50), beyond that and it doesn’t look so good!

Other sites will be limited by their design and so you might not be able to get the number of links on the menu you’d like or you might have a really large site with hundreds of department type pages. In these cases you’ll need to build smaller webs of pages. so lets look at a an enormous site like amazon.com.

Amazon has millions of products for sale over tens of thousands of what we are calling department pages. There is no way it could have all the department pages on one menu!! What Amazon has done instead is break it’s inventory up into related sections (31 of them currently). Each section is like a site in itself with a link to the main 31 sections. So there’s a Book section, Software section etc… By breaking the site up this way they have been able to keep the basic hierarchical navigation structure for each section where the main page links to the important department pages which in turn link to deep product pages.

Why use a Hierarchical Website Structure?

Now that we’ve seen the basic hierarchical structures available, why do we want to emulate them? For most sites the home page (main page) is the most important (it tends to have most links to it, highest PR), it will probably be optimized for the most important phrases. The same tends to be true for the department pages, they deal with the general theme of your site. The department pages will tend to focus on the higher traffic SERPs, while the deep product pages will tend to focus on more obscure lower traffic SERPs.

The search engines (Google in particular) determines relevancy of a page for a given SERP not only due to the content of the page, but also the links to that page (the Anchor Text of the links). This site has over 700 pages indexed as of July 1st 2005, every page has the same left menu so all of them link to this page with the anchor text Web Site Optimization. This tells Google etc… this page should be ranked highly for Web Site Optimization. This is a new page (July 1st) and the links won’t take full effect right away, but given time and some external links pointing to this page and it should do OK for the SERP Web Site Optimization.

If this page was not listed on the left menu, but instead just one link from the SEO Tutorial page it would probably not do as well. OK, so now you are thinking “shouldn’t we link every page together then?”. When thinking about individual SERPs, yes because more links to a page, more likely it will do well. However we have to think of the web site as a whole. If we added every link we could from every page we own it’s going to mess with the optimization of the content etc… of individual pages.

You could for example add 40 links from a footer with small text and it won’t look too bad, but that won’t only benefit those 40 pages, it will add 40 lots of anchor text to every page. Will all that anchor text help every page? Probably not, most large sites are quite diverse and so the anchor text of the links is also diverse. Look at the left menu of this site. Currently there are 3 main sections “SEO Tutorial”, “SEO Services” and “SEO Book Store” with the latter having 2 sub-sections “Search Engine Books” and “Web Design Books”. The most important SERPs for this site are phrases related to SEO and Search engine Optimization.

Look at the anchor text of the links on the left menu, most of them use SEO, Search Engine or Optimization as the anchor text. Only the “Web Design Books” sub-section doesn’t help the main SERPs, so from 25 links 15 help the main SERPs, 10 do not. We could easily add 25 more links to that menu without ruining the look of the site, but it will be at the detriment of some pages SERPs. Basically we can’t help all pages equally, we must concentrate our main efforts on the most important pages, those whose search engine rankings will result in greatest traffic.

Fortunately this doesn’t mean the deeper content pages do poorly in their respective SERPs. You will find the deeper content pages tend to gain lower traffic easier SERPs. The sort of SERPs where you don’t need masses of links/anchor text to do well. SERPs like MSN Today where a little on page optimization is enough for a top 10 listing.

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David Law : AKA SEO Dave, Search Engine Optimization Expert, Internet Marketer, Stallion Responsive WordPress SEO Theme Developer and nice guy :-) SEO Gold : Lincolnshire, England, UK

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