• James Clark

    Nice article but can I clarify if the internal links should be anchor text? Would it not be sufficient to have a hieratical navigation menu?

  • Tom Schmitz

    I assume you mean hierarchical and that you are not trying to use priestly powers for seo. My apologies, I could not resist. :D

    Top links, including the top navigation are among the more influential links on your website. If you mean drop down menus with multiple levels, you are still linking to all of those pages from every page, totally flattening your website.

    If you mean using generic keywords in the top navigation, SEO keywords are always preferable to generic text in the anchor text. That said, sometimes you are scrunched for space, and not every page has to be an SEO hub page. Some SEOs are less concerned than I about this because anchor text from external links is much more influential than from internal links.

    However, if you are really serious about SEO and creating an awesome smart website instead of using plug-n-play convention or doing it like every website does, take the time and effort to make a website that communicates exactly what you have and how awesome you are in descript, non-generic terms. Sometimes this is really difficult, but if you can do it along with a great design and usability your website will have a huge advantage.

  • James Clark

    Oops ;D. Got it, thanks Tom!

  • http://www.growtap.com G.T.

    “First, we are pushing PageRank down into the site. What may not be obvious is you are pushing PageRank back upwards. PageRank is a renewable resource.”

    I think this is really the key. It’s not a one way river, which is how most people talk about it.

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi all-

    Oh my gosh…with all due respect, I am a regular reader of your column, Tom, and normally a fan. But I think you missed the boat on this one.

    I think everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, needs to throw away the concept of PageRank when coming up with a site’s information architecture and corresponding navigation scheme(s). You build an information architecture first and foremost for users…then you accommodate search engines.

    SEOs need to stop thinking of DHTML menus as an SEO “solution” when users do not complete tasks efficiently with them or just don’t use them at all. (Or, more likely, swear and give the “WTF” facial expression during usability tests and field studies.) Or a keyword stuffed fat footer.

    Site navigation often becomes a usability issue when PageRank becomes part of the discussion.

    The “key” isn’t PageRank. The key is users/searchers. I always encourage people to sign up for an information architecture class or 2 or 3. Read the good books about the topic (Peter Morville and Donna Spencer are good authors). The tough pill to swallow? If you don’t have the aptitude for information architecture (IA), then hire a qualified information architect, someone with that aptitude.

    I don’t have the aptitude for all aspects of SEO. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to admit when I don’t have an aptitude.

    I have the same point of view for navigation design. SEOs still can’t get past the fact that text links and drop-down DHTML menus are not necessarily the best navigation/technical architecture choice. Hire a professional navigation designer if this is not an aptitude. Or become an expert.

    Deciding the number of links per page should be a human choice, not a PageRank choice. Some pages by their very nature will have and should have a lot of links ( a site index for example). Some pages will not.

    Wish I could agree with the article and comments. I can’t. I’ve been doing search-engine friendly design and architecture since 1995. I am amazed that these misconceptions and attitudes toward searcher-friendly navigation still exist.

  • http://www.site-seeker.com Levi Spires

    I agree with Shari, somewhat.

    It seems like more often I’m spending more time debating who comes first, Google or the user. The user always wins! However, we shouldn’t downplay Google’s sovereign rulership over the Internet.

  • http://simplyclicks David

    Slight overclaim in the title but a good discourse on the subject.
    I am currently working on a SEO project where the design brief has completely ignored how Google and current visitors use the site. The client and designers expect SEO to solve their problems. The problem is that the client brief suggests that every page should be reachable from every other page. This has meant the creation of a drop down menu system that crowds the page. As well as diluting pagerank and reducing the focus of each page its aesthetically ugly. On tablets, 6% of users, and mobile phones, 2% of users, the menu looks a mess.

    I’m not a fan of SEO and Google is everything but along with user navigation it should be a core part of any design brief.

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow


    The client who believes in the 3-click rule or its variations (“every page should be reachable from every other page”) does not understand information architecture, navigation design, and website usability. It’s a gross overgeneralization.

    That belief shows a fundamental lack of understanding of searcher behaviors and findability as well. I understand myths and misconceptions are difficult to overcome. But I wouldn’t back down because the result is a website that doesn’t meet the needs of searchers and search engines.

    If an site is architected properly, then “diluting PageRank” should be the least of your concerns.

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow


    People do not always know this about me. I’ve been a web developer since 1995. I have never discounted crawlers as the 3rd browser (as Danny Sullivan has called it for years). I don’t discount Google when I come up with a site’s information architecture and corresponding navigation scheme(s).

    I’ll say it again: I build a site first and foremost for users, and accommodate search engines. I have a difficult time believing that one must be sacrificed for the other most of the time.

    Maybe too many people don’t know what information architecture is (or website usability for that matter) to make a logical conclusion. They keep clinging to stereotypes, myths, and personal beliefs.

    Information architecture by PageRank???? No wonder SEOs continue to have a poor reputation.

  • Tom Schmitz

    This column is written for the SEO perspective.

    I acknowledge there are different interests when it comes to site structure, including design, SEO, and usability. That is what I meant when I wrote:

    “Using internal linking to create a vertical site architecture is like setting-up a Monopoly board for game play. You still need to buy properties and add houses and hotels to have a chance at winning.”

    I also wrote:

    “Your site architecture and internal link structure create the framework within which you optimize, but there is much more to SEO.”

    Perhaps I should have written, “… there is much more to SEO and web design.”

    Design, SEO and usability have to work together to create the best experience possible for both people and search engines. Should the SEO person stand passively back while someone else suggest a drop-down spider navigation that links to every page three or four levels deep? I think not. Should the design lead blindly submit to the SEO request to put keywords in every navigation link when it will make the site difficult to scan or understand? I wouldn’t.

  • Tom Schmitz

    PageRank is such a dirty word, isn’t it?

    We SEOs avoid it like the plague because of the confusion between Toolbar PageRank and Real PageRank. It’s impossible to isolate. PageRank is only part of Google’s 200+ ranking factors. The days when a PR5 page outranked a PR4 or PR3 page are long past us. Because it’s confusing we skirt around it.

    And yet… Sometimes you have to talk about PageRank. Site architecture is one of those times.

    PageRank is raw ranking strength. It’s authority. That’s it. It has nothing to do with relevancy or content or a myriad of other ranking factors. Just plain link juice. As uncomfortable as it is to talk about PageRank, it should not be ignored. Why do we cross-link posts or pages within a website? To send relevancy via anchor text, yes, and also to deliver authority, i.e. PageRank.

  • Tom Schmitz

    Shari, when you wrote about DHTML menus as an SEO solution are you writing about menus that link to every category, topic, and sub-topic page and perhaps more? Because I think these wreck SEO far too often. Except, in my experience with numerous clients, it’s usability run wrong. Designers want to make it easy to find content, yet inevitably, people do not click on those deep-navigation links. All the designers accomplish is to over-flatten websites, to wreck any hierarchy.

    I think you and I agree far more than you think. We’re just approaching it from different directions.

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi Tom-

    I know we agree a lot and have the same approach. It takes a lot to get me to comment. it was actually the comments that inspired me to post.

    PageRank is difficult to isolate from any SEO discussion — completely agree.

    I am just tired of the “SEO mythology” of information architecture by (perceived) PageRank. I hate the quick-fix solutions of mega menus when it really isn’t a solution. I don’t believe people know the definitions of SEO, information architecture, and website usability…or even user experience. So I write about those very things so that we all can have the proper context.

    My comments and feedback will probably lead to an article. Always looking for inspiration…thank you for that.


  • http://www.commenti.org/ vijaychauhan007

    Nice going through this post.. I liked the structure thing the most. You have nicely covered many things in a single post. I was just wondering that what does it for a simple to get PR 5+. I have been backlinking to every possible website since a year and a hafl, still my website PR is only 5… Saaddd.. Anyways nice post..

  • innki

    what is the difference between on-site and off-site optimization for example in a clothes online webstore!