Navigation for SEO

I’m working on a website for a public speaker, so I went around looking at the usual navigation for such sites. Someone who’s looking to hire a public speaker is likely to look at a number of these sites, so I needed to know where things usually turned up at those sites. I want to make sure that visitors find what they’re looking for, so I’m making sure it’s in the spot where they’re looking.

Your navigation bar isn’t the place for creativity and a unique outlook. It has two functions:

  • Help people find their way through your site quickly and easily.
  • Help search engines understand what your site is about.

The buttons going to the pages of your site from your navigation bar are, from the point of view of the search engine, links. They look different to us because the designer has used CSS and images to make them look different — very important for usability. To the search engines, though, those buttons are links to other pages on your site. Links at the beginning of your page, which encapsulate the point of each page.

This means that the navigation buttons should say things about your website that make sense to people and to the search engines. Chances are, people who hire speakers will have looked at a number of speakers’ websites and will have some expectations about where to find things in the navigation. You want to put things where they expect to see them.

Therefore, as I say, I was looking around at public speakers’ navigation bars to see where their customers would expect to find stuff. I saw some bad examples.

Here’s one that hardly looks like a navigation bar at all. And what is a search engine to make of headings like “Photos 2” and “A Good Word”?

Human visitors can’t quickly decide what to click on, either. Navigation in two lines is immediately harder to grasp, and some of the choices are too long to read at a glance. A human visitor will have to read everything, ponder possible meanings, and decide which button to push, after having spent a couple of seconds recognizing that this actually is the navigation. Chances are, a lot of visitors arriving through search for a public speaker will leave and look for something easier.

This one looks more like a navigation bar, though it would be improved by some divisions between buttons, but it again has too many choices. What’s more, they’re arranged confusingly. “After You’ve Decided” (presumably after we’ve decided to hire the site owner) is halfway through, before Testimonials (which we won’t need if we’ve already decided) and right before “Procrastination Station,” which I guess is an invitation to delay a while before getting to the Contact page.

The search engines will not look at “Main” and “Who is Brad?” and conclude that this website should be shown to people who are looking for a keynote speaker.

Navigation should be very straightforward, providing a path for your visitors that leads them to their destination.  Your visitors are expecting to read left to right and to find a clear path to learn about your goods and services and to acquire them. Don’t sidetrack them with other stuff. If you’re determined to have other stuff at your website, put it on the far right.

The next example, on the right, includes so many choices that the navigation isn’t even visible without scrolling down. Unless they’re determined to find things and willing to spend extra time searching the page, visitors won’t even see the entire navigation bar.

This points out an assumption that all these sites share. They’re assuming that their visitors are already familiar with them, interested in them, wanting to hire them, and prepared to set aside some time to work on getting their information.

If you have a business, including a business as a performer, you would like to be hired by strangers sometimes. Make sure that your navigation bar doesn’t get in the way of the search engines’ offering your site to strangers. And then make sure that it doesn’t get in the way of those strangers hiring you.

There’s one more example below. This is a good, straightforward example of a navigation bar. It doesn’t specify to the search engines that the site owner is a public speaker, but it does consider usability for the visitors:

  • Home, while it may not be necessary for all sites now, can help people who explore find their way back.
  • Contact lets people hire this speaker
  • Demo Video and Testimonials are important sales tools for a speaker.
  • Further on the right are some additional pages which people who have decided to hire this speaker may need, and which can both help people to decide and support their promotional efforts after they hire.

I’d have put Contact after Bio and moved Resources to the end of the line, myself, but overall this navigation will help visitors make their decisions and complete their transactions. It’ll also show the search engines that this site is a business, while the rest of the content shows what kind of business they are. The labels could also be changed to include the site’s keywords — for example, “Demo Video” could be called, “Keynote Video” or “Sample Speeches.”

What do your visitors expect to see at your site? Where will their eyes tend to look for it? Is your navigation putting the right things in the right places?



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2 responses to “Navigation for SEO”

  1. Ken Jansen Avatar

    Hi Rebecca,

    Another wonderful article. I find the navigation is such a hard one to decide on. I don’t want to hide items too deep so it takes forever for people to find them or too low in the hierarchy that the search engines don’t think I think they are important. I also don’t want to be the guy with the 3 foot long navigation bar. Thanks for covering the subject so well.


  2. Rebecca Haden Avatar

    Thanks so much for the kind words! Navigation can be challenging at a large site. Sometimes secondary navigation of some kind makes sense. But I think it always helps to keep people on a clear and logical path — and search engines probably like it, too.

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