I can’t count how many times in the past couple years I’ve heard people talk about how important information architecture (also referred to as IA) is to SEO. Yet it’s almost always presented in a way that calls upon a lot of highly technical lingo. Taxonomy. UX. Contextual browsing. Mental model. Ontology. Semantic web… Honestly speaking, I don’t even know what half the lingo means in the moment I hear some of these words.
And my eyes instantly gloss over. Yet in truth, even though I’m not a rocket scientist (nor a library sciences major), it turns out I totally get it – not from a linguistic perspective, but instead, from a visual and marketing perspective. So this is the first in a series of articles that will present otherwise highly complex concepts in hopefully easy to understand ways.
Before I proceed, let this be a warning to anyone reading this article who, themselves, might in fact be, speak and breathe in highly technical terms. I’m not here to profess that I fully grasp every single thing about IA. In fact, I may even over-simplify some of the concepts I discuss. I ask your forgiveness in advance, simply because my goal of this and future related articles is to help non-technically advanced people in our industry. The more I (we) can help others understand these principles and concepts, the better we as an industry will become, and the higher quality both of users and search engine results…
Rocket Science Simplified
Okay – so what’s this thing all about? From an SEO perspective, Information Architecture, in plain English, is:
The way and means by which content on a web site is organized and presented for users and the search engines to be able to easily digest and gain the most value from.
Some (but not necessarily all) of the most important aspects of achieving successful information architecture for SEO include:
- Research & Investigation
- Testing & Analysis
- Structural Modeling
- Establishing Relationships
So What? I already do all that stuff…
Unfortunately, many people who “think” they know SEO really only know just enough to be dangerous. Or they know enough to get some pretty significant results, but then they hit a performance ceiling.
Just Enough To Be Dangerous
In the former, this can mean the site they’re working on LOOKS like it’s been optimized. It SHOULD be found in the search results. And maybe it does show up for important phrases. Yet the majority of the site ends up stuck on the 2nd, 5th, or 15th page of search results.
(No offense to people I’ve worked with who know just enough to be dangerous – I’m a specialist in SEO and I’ve dedicated hundreds upon hundreds of hours to learn things specific to SEO while you focused on other things, which means I have no clue about those things while you do…)
The Illusion of Success
In the latter, everything APPEARS to be optimized. And in fact, visitor counts coming from search dramatically increased after their work. The site shows up on the 1st page at Google organically for a lot of phrases. Yet ultimately, many of those are the “low hanging fruit” we suggest newbies focus on. Or the visits come from mostly long tail phrases. And that, in turn, means that the site owner is actually missing out on potentially huge numbers of visits or conversions.
(No offense to people I’ve worked with who, until I came along, thought you’d achieved monumental things. The truth is, relatively speaking, you did. It’s just that, because of what I’ve learned over the years, I happened to discover that at one time I too lived under this illusion – and invested a lot of time and energy in learning how to break through to new levels… And that’s why you hired me, for which I am most grateful!)
Too Many Concepts for One Article
Given how much there is that’s involved in a comprehensive approach to information architecture, this first article is going to cover just one such aspect of this topic. I’ll break it down into it’s most basic concepts, yet it’s an area of critical importance. the topic at hand today is Link Relationships and Content Focus.
Link Relationships and Content Focus
How many of you old school SEO people remember the days back when it was common practice to flood the footer with links? Or for you who might now be in the process of filling your individual page content areas with dozens of links directly in the text? You heard, at some point, that either one or the other (or both) of these methods was acceptable. Or you thought it was. Because someone well respected in our industry said something once or six times about how important internal links are. And that it’s all about anchor text…
Or you learned that it’s important to have the links for each section of the site show up on each page within that section…
Or maybe you’d heard that it was a good idea to provide links to “related products”. Or provide ways for people to sort large product result sets…
Well did you ever stop to consider that even though the underlying principle is valid, there can be, under some situations, serious flaws in all of these? Maybe you haven’t seen where it’s a problem, yet maybe you haven’t paid enough attention to consider that it IS a problem, if you thought you have been getting “good enough” visit and conversion numbers…
And maybe using nofollow isn’t enough to address those concerns!
Example Site Internal Link Structure
Again, this article isn’t going to be able to cover every specific scenario regarding internal site links. Yet let’s take a look at an example site and hopefully you’ll get the pattern of what to look for and consider…
A Word About This Example