The latest information on website navigation best practices indicate that despite Google’s recent broad core algorithm updates, flattening the site structure, limiting the number of main categories, and using short, descriptive labels remain three of the best practices surrounding the design of website top navigation for search engine optimization (SEO).
1. Flatten Site Structure
- Flattening the site structure means designing the site structure such that important pages are not hidden deep in the site and content supporting the top navigation categories can be easily accessed and indexed by Google crawlers.
- Below are visual representations of a deep site structure and a shallow site structure. The image on the left shows a deep site structure, while the image on the right shows a shallow site structure.
- A shallow site structure is more effective than a deep site structure as far as SEO is concerned. According to Voltage, a Missouri-based digital marketing agency, Google crawlers will have an easier time understanding what a website is about if said website has a shallow site structure.
- More important pages should be placed higher in the site structure or hierarchy, and supporting pages should be internally linked back to these main pages. The URL hierarchy should also match the site structure. Moreover, users should be able to reach the most important pages in two/three clicks or fewer, and more important pages should use shorter keywords or labels.
- Corey Morris, the chief strategy officer of Voltage, says that by shifting from a deep site structure to a shallow site structure, limiting the number of top navigation categories, and ensuring that the site structure clearly distinguishes the main pages and the supporting pages, Voltage was able to achieve significant improvements in keyword rankings for a client.
- The changes to the site structure made the client 10 positions closer to the top result in Google search. For some keywords, Voltage was able to see keyword position improvements ranging from +32.5 to +290.7 and impression improvements ranging from +100% to +400%.
- Matteo Duò, editor in chief at Kinsta, a California-based WordPress hosting platform provider, recommends the avoidance of dropdown menus as dropdown menus cause confusion and friction on the part of the user. Dropdown menus reportedly hinder search engine crawling, so they are less preferred compared to mega menus that show all items at once and eliminate the need for scrolling.
- The image above shows both the regular dropdown menu and the mega menu. The regular dropdown menu is shown on the left, while the mega menu is shown on the right.
2. Limit the Number of Main Categories
- Limiting the number of top navigation categories means showing only the most relevant categories at the top level and ensuring these categories clearly show the main focus of the business or the main purpose of the website.
- The fact that Google crawlers see the top or global navigation categories of a website as equally important should be a consideration in the identification of the top navigation categories. The top navigation bar or menu should not contain too much information.
- Voltage Chief Strategy Officer Morris says they were able to achieve better SEO results for their client’s website by decreasing the number of top or global navigation categories from seven to three and limiting these categories to labels that are indicative of their client’s core business.
- The top navigation bar of their client’s website previously included less relevant categories such as Resources and Credentials.
- Zoho Academy, a free resource published by software company Zoho, recommends that the top navigation menu include less than seven categories. This is despite the fact that several sources indicate seven as the magic number.
- The top navigation categories should be organized such that the most important categories are the first and last items on the menu. This advice is based on the theory that the items at the start and end of a list are more memorable than those in between. For example, if a company believes its Contact Us page is one of its most important pages, it can place this page at the rightmost part of its top navigation bar.
3. Use Short, Descriptive Labels
- Using short, descriptive labels means avoiding generic or overly creative labels that say little or nothing about what the website or business is about. The language should be close as possible to the language used by the users of the website or business.
- For SEO and usability purposes, the labels should be closely tied to the words or phrases users use to find the website. Generic categories such as Products and Services will not do much for SEO.
- According to Zoho Academy, more descriptive labels will fare better. Take for example Tesla and Bare Studio. Instead of using generic top navigation categories, Tesla uses categories such as Model S and Model X, and Bare Studio uses categories such as Waxing and Skin Care.