You’ve probably heard that better user experience on a website is good for SEO, but what does that actually mean? There are a few specific ways information architecture and taxonomy improve SEO.
Structured according to user expectations
User experience emphasizes content and design your users need. When we apply best practice information architecture principles, we structure a website according to user expectations. Here’s a quote from Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide:
The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.
A good site structure allows the Google to understand the structure of your site. A good site structure will start out with high level concepts and get continually narrower. When you make a website structure that’s hierarchical, search engines can tell which pages are related. If you have a site about pets, grouping all the different breeds of dogs under the Dog parent page tells the search engines that those individual breed pages are all types of dogs.
This might be an easy example. But if you had a website with different types of car parts or with very specific, unique names, search engines don’t necessarily know what all these things are. Grouping them all under a parent category tells search engines a lot about those individual parts.
SEO is always searching for terms people are searching for! We do keyword research, comb through Google Analytics, and scan through Adwords always looking for that perfect keyword. The field of user experience emphasizes user-centred language.
Take, for example, internal company jargon that may make its way onto a website. A company may have a product that’s called “WhizBangThingy” but the real world calls it “Thingamajigger”. If the page on the site is called “Repairing the WhizBangThingy” and everyone is searching for “Thingamajigger”, search engines aren’t going to return your page as the definitive source for repairing this product.
When we do user research, we ask people what they call these products. We watch them interact with the website and we see them struggle with jargon. Information architecture and taxonomy can ensure:
- The page titles are jargon free
- The page is stored in the right spot, according to where the user expects to find it
- The taxonomy terms are user-centred
- The taxonomy keeps track of synonyms just in case someone does search for jargon
- Keywords and learning from users are shared with the SEO expert
- SEO keywords are incorporated into the information architecture and taxonomy
If I may make an observation about my projects: Many companies want to put content on their website because someone in the company wants it on the site. I was once working for a bank and said that personal banking should be the main emphasis of the site. Content on the home page should focus around personal banking. When I presented this to the stakeholders, one person asked me, “Our website is about us. Why can’t we have the About Us content as the focus of the home page?”
I’m sure my jaw must have dropped. Luckily, this website was user-centred and I was able to pick it up off the floor and say, “Based on our research, we know that the majority of the people coming to your site are looking for personal banking. We also know that their first and foremost information need is around products and services, not the content in the About Us section.”
The point being: websites need to provide content users are looking for. A website may have 100 pages about the company but only 5 pages are centred around what the user wants to know. In this case, those extra 95 pages aren’t contributing to the website’s SEO. Users aren’t searching for keywords used on those pages and search engines simply won’t serve up those pages in the organic search results.
If you don’t believe me, check your website’s analytics! I recently worked on a project where information deemed “important” saw only 0.00001% of the traffic on the site. That was about 20 views per year! On a site that received millions of visits a year, 20 unique views is incredibly low.
Doing research on the content users need and structuring the information architecture of the website accordingly ensures that your site isn’t bogged down by irrelevant content, you’re using terms that people are looking for, and search engines can easily figure out the structure and aboutness of the pages.
IA Collaborating with SEO
On one of my projects, I worked with the SEO team to ensure an easy transition between the IA and SEO. SEO was extremely important to my client and it needed to be considered in both the site structure and titles as well as in the taxonomy. We were able to really target the page titles to SEO needs. For example, if you know that people are searching for “repair thingamajigger”, then you can title the page, “How to Repair a Thingamajigger”.
As this project was a site redesign, we needed to deal with page redirects. Luckily we had content migration documentation that mapped the old page titles and URLs to the new page titles. This documentation was created to help the writer during the rewrite process, but the SEO experts looked at the documentation and nearly fell out of their seats! They were so happy to see this mapping and didn’t have to figure it out themselves for content they weren’t very familiar with!
I have to say, that was the biggest SEO win that one of my site maps had ever had… It was pretty cool.
The dance between IA, taxonomy, and SEO can be contentious, but the two disciplines really enable and support each other. By incorporating user research and user-centred design into information architecture and taxonomy, SEO is enhanced. We create content that users are actually looking for with terms they’re actually using! Receiving input from SEO before the structure is created can tailor the IA and taxonomy to support search. Additionally, the transition is easier between the site map to the content rewrite to optimizing the site for search.
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