How Website Structure & Information Architecture Should Mirror Your Business Goals

Thomas is the CEO of a major corporation. He had supervised a recent website redesign project, loved the snazzy new look with bells and whistles created by a talented graphics designer – but was calling me to help with a problem.

His beautiful new website wasn’t getting many visitors!

“Why don’t people want to visit our lovely website?” Thomas wailed, genuinely puzzled that the results of his intensive efforts weren’t as rosy as he had expected. As a strategic SEO consultant, the reasons were glaringly obvious to me… but I had to soften the impact, and gently explain what went wrong.

Together, we quickly checked the site’s ranking on Google for his top 50 keywords. They weren’t anywhere in the top 10 results. Or even 20.

You see, the not-so-apparent reason for the ‘failed’ website was the lack of something essential for both higher search engine rankings, and to enhance the visitor experience which can convert a prospect into a customer.

What’s that, you ask?

Thomas’s new website, though visually appealing and technology-rich, was sorely lacking in a well planned information architecture and website structure.

But what is “information architecture”? And how does “website structure” differ from design?

A formal definition of “information architecture” would likely put you to sleep! So let’s simply call it the art of organizing and labeling website content, and bringing design and architecture principles to bear on it.

To understand this better, we’ll look at the skeleton of a website, shorn of flesh and skin, stripped down to the basic fundamentals of what shapes and strengthens it – from within.

Basic Concepts Of Information Architecture
In medical school, trainees begin by learning about human anatomy. Knowing what makes up the body helps understand (and later treat) diseases that affect it.

At the heart of understanding website structure, and planning your strategy for information architecture, lies a need to know about terms like semantic search, latent semantic indexing, knowledge graph, and SEO automation.

Semantic search is an attempt to improve search accuracy by predicting the intent of a searcher. The shift from blindly matching keywords typed into a search box against a massive database, to a more “intelligent” form of search that attempts to understand what those words actually mean to the user, has serious implications on strategic SEO for many business owners.

Latent Semantic Indexing is an indexing and retrieval method that was designed to identify patterns in the relationship between terms and concepts within any text.

By providing unique context for each search term or phrase, it ensures that a search for ‘Apple’ computers will retrieve pages with iMac or iPad on it, while a search for ‘Apple’ fruit will pull a different set of results on gardening and growing apples.

The “knowledge graph” is made up of collated information that will help search services like Google deliver more than just a list of 10 websites, and provide contextual information that solves users’ problems better (even when those problems are not explicitly voiced by the user)!

The implications are clear. Keywords are open to being manipulated. User intent cannot be gamed so easily.

To survive a search engine war fought on the battlefield of semantic search, your business must deeply understand the psychology of your collective market, and then provide specific and meaningful answers to their problems, doubts and insecurities in the form of optimized Web pages that are simultaneously designed to rank well… and also fit into the bigger context of your overall business goals.

At first glance, this seems a daunting challenge. But it’s really straightforward if you proceed with a rational plan rooted in strategy, founded on information architecture principles and framed upon a solid website structure.

Before we explore these elements in greater depth, I’d like to make something clear.

This Is Not A Fight Between Designers & SEO Experts!
Traditionally, these two camps have been at loggerheads. Designers feel SEO ruins their carefully planned look and feel. SEO hotshots complain that higher ranking is sacrificed on the altar of a prettier website.

Yes, it is possible for a design-obsessed structure to wreak havoc with a site’s SEO. It’s also possible for a website driven entirely by SEO to destroy a brand or ruin sales potential. With planning and high quality implementation, the strengths of both specialties can be harnessed to offer a business incredible synergy.

Exploring how this happy union can be achieved is the goal of this report.

Today, any successful website needs:

•SEO (to drive relevant, quality traffic that is looking to buy),
•usability (to manage and convert these visitors into paying customers), and
•the ability synergize both to work in concert, building your brand and growing your business.
Information Architecture & Getting Inside Your Prospect’s Mind
Too often, businesses structure their corporate website based upon the business’ organization. This is often out of sync with a client’s needs, causing the business to lose money.

Your ideal prospect visits your website to see if you’ll help find solutions to her problems – not to read a self-serving brochure about your business.

Keeping this in mind, your information architecture must be based on the best ways to serve your visitor, based on an intimate understanding of ‘user logic’.

Let’s take a hypothetical case of a young couple planning a holiday to Norway. She looks at him and says, “Let’s stay at this hotel in Oslo, honey!”

And with that initial spark of desire, the journey of online exploration begins. They type the name of a hotel (or maybe just “Oslo hotel”) into Google and click the Search button.

Will they find your hotel’s website ranked on the front page?

Findability is only the first step. The title and description of your listing must address their specific problem – Where to stay on our trip to Oslo? If you win the ‘click’, that delivers a prospective guest to your hotel’s website.

Now on your landing page, the couple wants more information. About their stay. About your facilities. Your pricing. Room availability. Tourism assistance. And more.

If your landing page copy and content matches their desire for knowledge and satisfies their needs, you’ll create trust and boost your chance of getting a sale.

This logical sequence – desire, findability, information, trust – is more or less constant across industries and niches. In one form or another, it exists in your field too. And your business website must match the flow, tap into the conversation that’s going on inside your prospect’s head, and join it to engage, inform, entertain and convince.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of content hierarchy and website structure that will help create this trusting relationship with prospects, I’ll take a step back to address another overlooked facet of the strategic SEO process.

Internal Link Structure & Information Architecture
Think about information architecture in the same light as planning and building a house. You would draw up a blueprint, then lay a firm foundation, construct a framework, and only then add on the layers that turn the scaffolding into a full fledged building.

Constructing an SEO optimized website that is strategically designed to fulfill the business goals of your enterprise follows essentially the same process.

When done correctly, a website’s information architecture can offer context for your content, present it in a manner that is friendly to search engine spiders and yet easy for human visitors to navigate, and ideally set up in a way that gives access to any section with just 3 clicks – or less.

The Myth Of “Home Page Focus”
Very simple, logical website structure (like I’ve explained before) that is based upon a user’s intent behind search keyword phrases will turn every category, sub-category and topic page into a “home page”. This is awesome, because:

•Your visitor will click fewer links (remember the 3 click rule?) to reach other sections of your website – something every usability expert and designer intuitively values, and website owners must consider seriously since it impacts the way Web search works.
•You have less need for ongoing SEO to improve and/or defend rankings, and can focus it instead on growing your business with scalable solutions that last longer.
•You’ll become more authoritative on each level of your URL structure, as new topic pages added into your silo will bring additional value to the pages higher up in the hierarchy because of your strategic internal linking.
•You’ll have the freedom to sculpt PR and pass link value to handpicked relevant pages or topics outside the silo. For example, if you sell red shoes, you could link to related items like red belts (which may reside in another silo) and achieve higher sales conversions.
•You can control and direct the way search engine spiders and Web crawlers find, interpret and understand your URLs before indexing them.
•The strategic use of navigational breadcrumb links lets users zoom in to get a close up, or zoom out for a broader context.
•Such logical structuring is not vulnerable to algorithm changes and shifts in the future.
•Each level in the URL structure hierarchy becomes “almost a business or niche” in itself. Visitors get a great first impression about your business when they land on such a page, and will view your site as a place to go when they need help, knowing they’ll be able to easily find other related choices to select from. This boosts your image and builds your brand.
•It is easier to get links from other niche blogs, forums and social networks. External links pointing to a sub-category page bring link value, leading crawlers to your site from relevant ‘authority’ sites that might have already established trust. If you woke up one morning and search engines no longer existed, these sources of traffic would still be valuable.
Achieving the technical elements of SEO is easy even using free tools like Magento and WordPress. Combining elements of SEO and design into the best possible strategy will increase sales. A silo structure for Web content is not just about keyword stuffing. This has nothing to do with spamming, and your intention behind siloing your content shouldn’t just be to get more traffic. Your SEO goal is ultimately to maximize your business and profits.

Layer On Design – But Only At The End!
With the framework of your content website solidly in place, and a silo layout combined with good URL structure defined in consultation with an SEO specialist, you can now team up with a usability expert and a good designer to build a user-friendly, information-rich, self-sustaining website.

•Your site will now become the best salesperson in your organization, working day and night to generate leads and close sales, while serving as a brand manager too.
•The silo structure upon which it is based will order your content in a way that is easy for users to find what they are looking for, just like it is to locate books in a library. This brings order out of chaos.
•Each time you add fresh content or include a new product to your catalog or store, the carefully planned URL structure will build an internal link site-wide to other pages in the category, and up one level in the silo.
•Your information architecture will ensure that link value is passed along effectively and ensures maximum crawlability by search engine spiders.
•You won’t be stuck with time-consuming SEO efforts on an ongoing basis. All new content added to the site automatically fits into its optimized structure, resulting in “auto-pilot SEO” as you enjoy content growth.
•Your website structure and layout will help search engines define context and theme on a very granular level.
But this happy result requires a preparatory SEO strategy because, if not done correctly, it can land you in trouble with a nightmare of duplicate content issues. It is not something you can plan to splash on top, like chocolate syrup on an ice-cream sundae! You must take these steps well ahead of the site building effort, in order to have everything working together in synergy to explode the impact on your business.

5 Reasons to Diversify Your Search Strategy with PPC Advertising

By Elisa Gabbert
July 18, 2012

Yesterday we published the results of a study showing how sponsored advertisements on Google (PPC ads) are taking over territory previously reserved for organic listings, AKA “free clicks.” This is both good news and bad news for marketers. On the plus side, Google continues to roll out more and better types of search advertising to help marketers target their customers. On the negative side, you (obviously) have to pay for those clicks.

But the fact is, organic clicks aren’t really “free” either – gone are the days when it was relatively easy to rank on the first page in Google for your target keywords. Given the increasing costs and complications involved with SEO, it’s important to diversify your marketing channels. You can’t rely on organic search alone for traffic and leads – you never know when the next big algorithm update is going to murder your rankings.

Here are five reasons to shift some of the time and budget you spend on SEO to PPC.

#1: For Commercial Queries, Paid Clicks Outnumber Organic Clicks By Nearly 2 to 1

Organic clicks still account for more clicks overall in the search results – but different types of keywords have different value to businesses. For search queries that show high commercial intent – i.e., they indicate that the person searching wants to purchase something – more and more of the page (85% of above-the-fold pixels!) is devoted to sponsored listings. The organic results for transactional keywords like “best email software” or “waterproof digital camera” are mostly pushed below the fold. The top 3 ad spots for a commercial query take 41% of the clicks, and the Product Ad Listings take another 20%. Overall, sponsored results account for 65% of clicks on these keywords, compared to 35% for organic results.

#2: Google’s Sponsored Ad Formats Keep Getting Better

You have minimal control over how your organic search listings appear in Google. (For example, they’ve recently started applying new titles, when they think they can serve up a better one than the title you put on the page.) But you have lots of attractive choices when it comes to ad types. Here are just a few of the ad options that Google now offers:

Mega Site Links: This huge ad format offers up to 10 additional places to click, greatly increasing your chances of presenting a relevant link.Remarketing: Remarketing or retargeting allows you to track site visitors with a cookie and chase them around the Web, displaying relevant banner ads until they click and convert.Social Ad Extensions: With social extensions you can display who has +1’d your site, lending credibility and potential name recognition – it also makes your ad look less like an ad (see below).

#3: About Half Your Audience Can’t Tell the Difference Between Paid and Organic Search

A lot of people think that “nobody clicks on Google ads.” And it’s true that eye tracking studies suggest most people ignore the sponsored ads in the right column. However, one study showed that about half of people don’t recognize the ads above the search results as ads – in other words, they couldn’t tell the difference between the organic and paid results.

Top ads get clicked first whether paid or organic

Top ads get clicked first whether paid or organic

If users don’t know your ad is an ad, they can’t be suspicious of its intent – and why should they be, if it gives them what they want? Secure one of those coveted positions above the organic results for a commercial query, you’ll take the lion’s share of clicks without sacrificing trust with users.

#4: SEO Is a Full-Time Job – Or Several Full-Time Jobs

As the number of sites competing for rankings has sky-rocketed, Google’s algorithms have gotten more and more complex, and it’s become much harder to achieve – and maintain – high rankings in the organic results. Where in the past businesses could get away with hiring a single SEO point person (usually a pretty junior position), now it often requires a full team to develop and execute on an SEO strategy (a content writer, a link builder, etc.). We believe that PPC – once your campaigns are set up and running – requires significantly less time to manage. According to Perry Marshall, author of The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, “if you focus on the areas that bring the most traffic, I find that once you find a rhythm, you can really do this with a few minutes a day, at most a few hours a week, and that’s with a large campaign with a $10,000+ spend per month.”

#5: Algorithm Updates Don’t Affect Your PPC

Google’s rolling algorithm updates ensure that SEO gets harder and more confusing over time. The Panda and Penguin updates in particular have addressed the kind of “optimizations” that have tended to work for site owners and marketers in the past. The only way to find out if Google thinks your SEO techniques are over the line (AKA “over-optimization”) is to take a hit on rankings, and then scramble to figure out – and fix – what you’ve been doing wrong. Google does suspend AdWords accounts on occasion, sometimes without clear reason, but in PPC you’re much less likely to experience major flux or drop-offs in rankings and traffics due to changes on Google’s end.

These are all good reasons to re-allocate some of your marketing budget to PPC, if you’ve been depending on SEO for traffic and lead generation. We would never advocate giving up on SEO – you won’t hear us saying “SEO is dead” anytime soon. But strive for a balance between your search marketing channels, and you can minimize the damage incurred as SEO gets incrementally harder.

Another step to reward high-quality sites

Local Leads Online Marketing algo experts

Local leads Online Marketing Algorithm Experts

(Cross-posted on the Webmaster Central Blog)

Google has said before that search engine optimization, or SEO, can be positive and constructive—and we’re not the only ones. Effective search engine optimization can make a site more crawlable and make individual pages more accessible and easier to find. Search engine optimization includes things as simple as keyword research to ensure that the right words are on the page, not just industry jargon that normal people will never type.

“White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media. The net result of making a great site is often greater awareness of that site on the web, which can translate into more people linking to or visiting a site.

The opposite of “white hat” SEO is something called “black hat webspam” (we say “webspam” to distinguish it from email spam). In the pursuit of higher rankings or traffic, a few sites use techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be ranked. We see all sorts of webspam techniques every day, from keyword stuffing to link schemes that attempt to propel sites higher in rankings.

The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded. To that end we’ve launched Panda changes that successfully returned higher-quality sites in search results. And earlier this year we launched a page layout algorithm that reduces rankings for sites that don’t make much content available “above the fold.”

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

Of course, most sites affected by this change aren’t so blatant. Here’s an example of a site with unusual linking patterns that is also affected by this change. Notice that if you try to read the text aloud you’ll discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact the page text has been “spun” beyond recognition:

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.

The change will go live for all languages at the same time. For context, the initial Panda change affected about 12% of queries to a significant degree; this algorithm affects about 3.1% of queries in English to a degree that a regular user might notice. The change affects roughly 3% of queries in languages such as German, Chinese, and Arabic, but the impact is higher in more heavily-spammed languages. For example, 5% of Polish queries change to a degree that a regular user might notice.

We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites. As always, we’ll keep our ears open for feedback on ways to iterate and improve our ranking algorithms toward that goal.

Posted by Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer

Smart Phones Outsell PC’s in 2011

smartphone-v-pc-sales-2011-analysis

Smart Phones out Sell PC as the preferred Browser in 2011

It’s finally happened, what we’ve suspected intuitively. Now we have the data. The year 2011 marked the first time more smartphones than PCs were sold.

That’s the word from market research firm Canalys, which just released figures that show that total annual global shipments of smartphones exceeded those of client PCs (including pads) for the first time.

Vendors shipped close to 489 million smartphones in 2011, compared to 415 million PCs. Smartphone shipments increased by 63% over the previous year, compared to 15% growth in PC shipments.

Canalys includes pad or tablet computers in its PC category calculation, and this was the growth area in PCs. Pad shipments grew by 274% over the past year. Pads accounted for 15% of all client PC shipments. Desktops grew by only two percent over the past year, and notebooks by seven percent.