Recently, whilst working on a client’s website, I realised something –
I realised that some marketers consider website navigation and URL structure to be the same thing.
And because of this, there is a disconnect between SEOs, other Digital Marketers and to some extent, Web Developers.
So I thought to touch on the topic of IAs today, and shed some light as to how SEOs view and treat IAs.
The Information Architecture of a site has different components to it.
Two of these components are the navigation of the site, and the URL structure of the site.
Now, typically, these are regarded as the same thing. It’s just referred to as the site navigation.
And for the most part, considering it the same doesn’t do any harm.
However, there are times where you might want to treat them as two separate entities.
So, the navigation of a site, is what you would see when you visit a website.
You enter a site and see a list of items at the top of the site.
Often enough, chances are what you’ll see is a mega-nav. A lot of sites, especially big sites, use mega-navs.
Think of ASOS, for example. They have a big-arse navigation at the top, right?
The point of the nav, whether mega or just regular, is to have the most important pages on there.
This purpose is for search engines to crawl, and also for users to easily find and navigate to the important pages.
These ‘important pages’ will be the topline pages on the site.
You can’t include every page in the nav, it defeats the purpose of having a nav.
So, only carefully selected pages have a place on the nav.
One of the ways that this is determined is by the hierarchy of pages.
SEOs look at hierarchy a little differently to the way it’s shown in a nav.
We do so with the URL structure.
You see, to SEOs, directory paths are pages.
So, when we look at the URL of a site, and see that several pages are within a directory path, we know this means the directory above it is more authoritative.
So, for example… let’s use Apple UK for this example.
Apple.com/uk/, this directory ,the ‘/uk/’ part, is a page on the site.
You also have apple.com/uk/mac/, where /mac/ is another page on the site.
With these 3 pages – the homepage, the UK page and the Mac page – an SEO would look at this and say, the homepage is the most authoritative, and then the UK page, and then the Mac page.
An SEO would gather this just from the way these 3 URLs are structured.
As SEOs, we know the URLs have been structured this way for a reason.
What we indicate to search engines, with this type of structure, is that the authoritativeness of pages is reflected in the URL structure.
Another way to show the authoritativeness of pages is in the site navigation – most important, prominent pages are put in the navigation.
So we show the authority of pages in the navigation and with the URL structure.
In an IA, the authoritativeness of pages is displayed as a hierarchy – it’s displayed vertically.
SEOs look at the hierarchy of a site horizontally, and specifically, the URL structure.
So whilst a Marketing Manager would look at the site navigation in an IA and see the hierarchy of pages, an SEO would look at the same site navigation, and think of the hierarchy in terms of URLs.
So if you’re wondering why SEOs make suggestions to a site navigation in the form of URLs, this is why.
We look at the site structure in terms of the URLs, not the navigation.
This is why I want to point out that the two, website navigation and URL structure, although spoken of interchangeably, are actually different things, different entities.
This distinction might lead you to ask, well, which is the more important?
The answer to this will depend on who you’re asking.
The two have both search engines and site users in mind.
For site users, the URL structure doesn’t really matter.
For users, you really don’t need to have a URL as a readable text.
You could just do it the old school way – non-readable, with random letters and numbers.
As long as the anchor text is readable, so a user knows where things are – what they’re clicking on – a URL could be gibberish.
This is in theory.
You definitely don’t want to use a gibberish URL on your site.
For SEOs, the URL structure, considers search engines first.
To an SEO, the URL structure of a site is far more important.
Having a URL structure, a ‘clean URL structure’ – as we like to say – allows search engines to discover and crawl pages easily – emphasis on the word ‘easily’.
This is also why we suggest having targeted keywords in URLs, that are readable and descriptive of the pages.
Making accessibility easy for search engines helps with rankings.
The Apple URL structure isn’t the way it is accidentally.
There’s been strategic thinking that’s gone into it.
Strategic thinking that ties in with the way content is organised into pages and how pages are organised and located on the site, both with the URL structure, and the site navigation.