SEO Q&A: Navigation Elements

Posted by | May 20, 2009 | SEO | One Comment

I’m going to make an attempt at a series of posts around SEO questions/issues that often come up in my day to day workings and the techniques that help us in that work.  If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered, please feel free to leave a comment on any SEO Q&A post, tweet @ThreeDeep or by filling out the contact form.

Q: Why do you recommend creating unique files and/or file names for each page on a site when you can just use AJAX, Flash, Lightbox or Div tags to show/hide content without refreshing the page for a better user experience?

A:  There are several reasons why you would want to paginate your content.  Here are 4 prime examples:

  1. SEO is important!  You took the time to invest in an SEO consultant, now listen to their advice and their techniques so that your site can be properly optimized for search.  If you don’t have pages dedicated to your keywords, how do you rank?
  2. Web Analytics thrives on page names!  Most modern client side Analytics tools make assumptions about navigation, goal conversions, time on site, etc. based on page views logged.  If you constantly refresh your content within the same page, then all activity on this page gets treated as a single page view.   This might not be a problem if you do not have the luxury of employing an analysis ninja on your staff, but if you want insight into what is actually happening on your web presence, this is very important.
  3. User experience doesn’t matter if you don’t get traffic to the site!  If a tree offers a great user experience in the woods, does it actually make a sound?   If your web site offers a wicked awesome user experience, but nobody visits it, does it really matter?   The fact is that if your site does a good job of optimizing content and technical structure for search, Organic referrals can equal 50-75% of your visitors!  Does pagination of your content sound a little more important now?
  4. Personalization of content is great, but what about a default treatment?  In the statistics world, you wouldn’t run an experiment without a control group.  Likewise, you shouldn’t design a site without having a default page that can be viewed by users who have cookies/JavaScript/images turned off.

Like any part of an SEO project, having unique file names for each piece of content may not make or break the search-ability of your site.   However, it is an important technique if you want your site to get traffic.  How many web sites that are made entirely in flash or AJAX actually rank in Google outside of their brand names?  Better yet, how many flash heavy sites have no search visibility at all?

Try not to be lazy while developing sites and over-utilize a single technology piece (Flash) or the latest and greatest innovation (AJAX/Lightbox) and assume that it enhances the user experience because it minimizes clicks.  These technologies should plug in to a well strucuted page layout and be used as elements to a well designed information architecture.  They should not be your information architecture.