It’s a well known fact that links play a key role in search engine optimization. In addition to providing a physical connection between pages, search engines also use links to get advance notice of the content they’ll find at the other end of that link.
While it’s true that search engines place the greatest value on links that come from other websites, they also take notice of the links connecting pages on your own site.
Therefore, SEO consultants will spend a lot of time focusing on the site’s navigation menu, adding keywords to make the menu more self-explanatory. But why is this so important?
“About” Who? “About” What?
On a typical website, navigation menus are often loaded with links, and sometimes forced to rely on context to keep the links short.
For example, the “Services” link tells you… not very much at all. But it’s assumed that you can see that you’re on a landscaper’s website, so “Services” will mean something to you.
While this works from a usability standpoint, it can fall short when it comes to search engines.
The engines are always looking for reassurance that they’re on the right track. “Services” doesn’t say much. But when search engines see a “Landscaping Services” link, and land on a page that matches, they get the reassurance they need, and rank the page accordingly.
A Quick Experiment
Sticky notes are a good test environment for thinking about navigation links. When we jot down a to-do list, we favor brevity to conserve space, relying on the fact that we just need a hint to remind us about what needs to be done.
Yesterday, I wrote “mobile nav” on one, knowing that it would remind me to finish this article.
There was no chance that I’d mistake it for a reminder to buy myself a GPS device. But if someone else saw the note, they might very well have thought that.
That’s the position a search engine finds itself in: trying to make sense of other people’s notes, and looking for that extra bit of information to make things clear.
Designing Mobile Website Menus
So context isn’t enough – we need descriptive links that tell search engines the whole story. But it’s not easy to accomplish when designing a webpage, and it’s even harder when your screen shrinks down to the size of a sticky note.
Mobile designers have no choice but to use short links, small buttons, and lots of context – otherwise, there would be nothing left for the actual content. And yet, with search dominating mobile just as it does on the desktop, we need to get SEO done right.
Alternatives To Overstuffed Menus
One solution is to make better use of copy links. It’s already considered an SEO best practice to try to embed bits of blue text into your content, whenever you happen to reference a fact or feature that can be found on another page.
For example, if the landscaper’s site mentions “sprinkler maintenance” on a lawn care page, that phrase should link to the sprinkler maintenance page. Good for the user, and great for search engines.
On mobile sites, this technique gets promoted from nice-to-have to an absolute must-have. Even on mobile sites that have minimal content, there’s usually more text to be found here than in the navigation menu. Copy links become your best avenue for getting detailed link text on your mobile webpages.
Other techniques you can try: providing a sitemap page with full-size links, or a more extensive footer menu that provides longer links without interrupting the user experience. Either way, you’re giving the search engine just a bit more information to get its job done.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.