There are 200 ranking factors that Google takes into consideration when placing your website in the SERPs. They all have different weights or values, and some factors are more in your control than others. Domain age is a great example: if you just launched your company last year, then you have no control over the fact that your domain is younger than your competitors.
However, there are so many aspects of SEO that are in your control that you can overcome the elements that aren’t. In fact, taking steps to improve your overall user experience can help your search rankings in a big way. A good place to start is your top navigation.
Learn more about what navigation has to do with your place in the SERPs and follow these top navigation SEO best practices to rank higher.
Why is Navigation Important for SEO?
Just because Google doesn’t have a prominent ranking signal for “ease of navigation,” doesn’t mean its crawlers can’t figure out whether your site is easy or difficult to navigate. The behavior of your customers on your website will tell search engines – and should tell you – everything you need to know.
Think about navigation from your own personal experiences. If you can’t easily navigate a website, then you’re going to bounce and find the information elsewhere. You are also going to give up sooner because finding the information seems impossible. Finally, you will spend less time on the site as a whole, and on individual pages because they don’t have what you want.
When you look within your site analytics, your high bounce rates and low time on site prove that your customers aren’t happy. They aren’t finding what they want and Google will prioritize other pages in the SERPs instead.
How to Create an SEO-Friendly Top Navigation
Much of your top navigation SEO improvements will be intuitive: think about what your customers want and develop it. As long as you take a person-focused approach, you should be able to apply an optimal design to your website that improves your rankings.
Align Your Categories with Your Keywords
This is kind of a chicken-and-egg situation. If you have an established top navigation menu, make sure that your SEO efforts align with the most prominent categories on your website. Optimize for those keywords – and make sure those are the keywords your customers use to search for your products.
On the flip side, if you already have high levels of SEO traffic and want to improve your navigation, consider building your categories off of how people find your website. You can already see what your customers want and which products they prioritize.
A great example of this would be the navigation of a nearby state park. The most important information will likely cover maps of the area, operating hours, canoe or campground rentals, and wildlife information. The park can base their navigation off of the top user queries – ensuring the information is relevant and strategically prioritized.
Build Your Website for Mobile
Your top navigation probably looks amazing when it is displayed on a giant iMac or presented to the team on a large screen, but what about on a small screen? It’s not uncommon for horizontal top navigation systems to become cluttered on mobile devices, creating a frustrating experience for both customers and developers – who then have to scramble to improve the mobile experience.
You don’t have to take a mobile-first approach with your website, but it might help you develop a navigation layout that helps the majority of your customers.
Don’t Get Carried Away with Page Levels
When companies want their website to have a simple layout, they often develop various page levels filled with categories and subcategories. The main homepage is simple, but the internal layout becomes much more complex.
What you might think offers a cohesive structure and organization to your pages is actually more confusing. Consider this category path for a home-focused eCommerce brand:
- Products – Kitchen – Small Appliances – Blenders – Ninja Blenders
This product hierarchy might make perfect sense to your operations team but can easily confuse your customers. Every subcategory is a left or right turn that your customers have to take to reach the products they want – the more directions that are required, the greater the chance that someone will make a wrong turn.
It’s worth stating again: simpler is better, especially when it comes to your navigation. You can solve this by limiting the number of landing pages, combing pages so there are more results available, and adding filters to allow people to narrow their criteria without loading different pages on various category paths.
Show Your Customers Their Navigation Path
One of the best ways to improve the top navigation customer experience is to show the path that your customers take throughout your site. This is often done on eCommerce sites when users apply filters, but you can use it for your general navigation as well.
This add-on also makes it easy for customers to backtrack when they get lost. They can click back to a parent category and retry another page, without as much frustration as they otherwise would have.
Watch How Your Customers Navigate Your Website.
There are multiple ways to research how your customers interact with your brand. You can beta test your pages with the help of friends or family members or invest in A/B testing and heat map tools to follow their navigation. Many of these basic tools offer packages for less than $20/month and will allow you to track dozens of pages and record user video.
Actually watching how your customers view your site can provide insight into what needs to change and how you can improve your top navigation SEO.
Improve Your Top Navigation With Customer-Focused SEO
SEO is (and always will be) a customer-centric process. You can try to game the system or grumble about making SEO updates for Google, but the core of your efforts should be focused on making it easier for people to find you and then get the information they need.
At Trinity Insight, we build our SEO services around improving the customer experience and growing your exposure. Take a few minutes and look at your website through our eyes. Get a free SEO diagnostic crawl report and see how your website’s search optimization could be improved to help your visitor experience and overall branding.