How to Increase Search Engine Traffic with Search Engine Friendly Website Navigation

Learn how one publisher redesigned his website navigation to make his site ultra-search-engine-friendly and dramatically increase search engine traffic.

Executive Summary

  • Simple link-based website navigation will increase search engine traffic
  • Complex drop-down website navigation will reduce search engine traffic
  • Acting on this simple premise allowed one publisher to increase search engine traffic from 500 to 19,000 search engine referrals per week in 18 months

If a search engine spider (the little programs from Google, Yahoo!, MSN and others that crawl websites day and night looking for content) can’t find what it seeks through links on your homepage, your opportunity to increase search engine traffic diminishes greatly.

Opportunity: One financial services publisher we know who wanted to increase search engine traffic had just such a site full of buried treasure—more than 900 pages of targeted content was buried two levels below the homepage with no spider-friendly route available. In a previous effort to increase search engine traffic, the content had been neatly categorized into 18 topics that were available from the top website navigation bar, under a drop-down menu that was labeled “Topic Pages.” Clicking on “Topic Pages” revealed the 14 topics in the drop-down menu. Unfortunately, spiders don’t know how to click.

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The topic pages themselves each contained 35 to 55 blue, underlined headlines in the main content window arranged like chapters in a book. The Topic Page on “Mutual Fund Investing” included keyword rich reports like “Mutual Fund Investing Basics” and “Top 10 Blue Chip Mutual Funds,” hence the second level of website navigation and the article pages were both well designed to increase search engine traffic.

There was some search engine traffic that was most likely found by the spiders traveling along external deep links (links from some other website that directly referenced one of his 900 pages). His site was receiving less than 500 organic search engine referrals in any given week with very slow growth. He knew he could increase search engine traffic based on results reported by other financial services publishers.

To increase search engine traffic, two fixes applied: first, all 14 topics were added to the bottom of the homepage (and all other site pages), just above the footer as underlined blue links that served as temporary website navigation for the search engine spiders. Next, as part of a major redesign, the 14 topics were added to the top of the right hand website navigation and to the main homepage content window, along with some short descriptive text. The second addition was targeted at the human users, but spiders do love repetition of the words they seek.

Results: Targeted search engine traffic for about 70 terms began to accelerate within six weeks for all three major search engines, with Yahoo! taking the early lead on search engine traffic to his 900 report pages.

With three months, his weekly search engine traffic doubled to more than 1,000 referrals per week. After 12 months, his search engine traffic passed 8,000 per week and last I heard he was flirting with 19,000 targeted search engine referrals per week, and 20,000 in his sights. He has gone from no top-30 search engine rankings on any search engine, to more than 280 and has 39 page-one search engine rankings all leading directly to one of his 940 (he’s added a few) report pages. And he knows he’s not done.

It should be noted that he had also started an aggressive link-building campaign about six months after the new website navigation was deployed, and has boosted his external links from under 100 to more than 4,400.

During this time, his conversion rate for free email newsletter subscriptions has gone from seven to nine percent, and then back down to eight percent. Hence, free newsletter weekly newsletter sign-ups have slowly climbed from 35 per week to almost 1,600 per week. During the same time frame, his revenue per free email subscriber has increased by about 64 percent, from $4.80 per year to $7.88 per year.

Lesson: As my partner Roxanne O’Connell likes to say, “If they can’t find it, you don’t have it.” It’s as true for spiders as it is for humans. And we want them all to find it.

Note: As always, the details of the case have been modified to protect the identity of the publisher and the program.

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