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Understanding site navigation

From: Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

Video: Understanding site navigation

If the search engines can't find your pages, they can't index them. In a later video, we'll be looking at XML site maps, a way for you to give the search engines a virtual index of all the pages on your site. But that's not enough. You need to provide a way for search engines to travel through your site and find all the pages you want them to find. It's entirely possible to build navigation structures that the search engines can't navigate. It's not so common these days, but I've seen many sites using navigation techniques that are essentially invisible to the search engines, effectively blocking search engines from all pages except those that have links pointing to them from other web sites.

Understanding site navigation

If the search engines can't find your pages, they can't index them. In a later video, we'll be looking at XML site maps, a way for you to give the search engines a virtual index of all the pages on your site. But that's not enough. You need to provide a way for search engines to travel through your site and find all the pages you want them to find. It's entirely possible to build navigation structures that the search engines can't navigate. It's not so common these days, but I've seen many sites using navigation techniques that are essentially invisible to the search engines, effectively blocking search engines from all pages except those that have links pointing to them from other web sites.

In order to understand how this can happen, you should understand the concept of server-side and browser-side rendering of web pages. Components of a web page can be created either at the server before being sent to a browser or after arriving at the browser. So for instance, let's say you have a navigation structure that is created using JavaScript. JavaScript is mainly employed browser side. A browser requests a web page, and included in the web page is a piece of JavaScript. After receiving the page, the browser reads the JavaScript and follows its instructions.

So if the JavaScript is used to create a nav bar, for instance, then the nav bar isn't created until the browser reads the JavaScript. That means that when a search engine requests a web page from the server, that navigation bar probably isn't going to get created, because the search engine spider, the search bot that reads the page, isn't going to bother running the JavaScript. This is worth understanding in a general sense. The idea that items created within your pages using JavaScript probably won't get read by search engines is important.

Right now, of course we concerned with site navigation. So the takeaway from this is that there's a good chance that JavaScript navigation structures aren't getting read by search engines. These days the most common forms of navigation technology in web pages are just plain old HTML. That's fine. It'll be read by the search engines. CSS. That might be okay if the CSS is stored in the web page itself, but if it's called from an external file, it may not be read. Then there is JavaScript, which, as I've mentioned, has a very good chance of not being read.

There is also Adobe Flash. Such navigation systems probably do get read. Very occasionally one sees Java navigation, which won't get read. Now, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't use any of these navigation systems, but you should be aware of the weaknesses of some, that the search engines may not find their way through the site to all pages. So if you do use a navigation system, such as JavaScript, that is likely to be invisible to the search engines, you still need to provide other ways for search engines to find their way through your site.

One way to do this is by adding link blocks at the bottom of your pages. You don't want thousands of links at the bottom of every page, but a dozen or two plain text links is certainly no problem. You might also want to use a plain HTML site map, as we'll discuss in a later video, which can be linked to using a text link at the bottom of each page. On a large site, you may need a series of site map pages, a collection of index pages in effect. In fact, text links within your site are very important, and that's the subject of the next video.

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Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

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