Google Webmaster Central Blog posted its second in the series on links yesterday and the topic was link architecture. Before commenting, let’s define link architecture:
Link architecture—the method of internal linking on your site—is a crucial step in site design if you want your site indexed by search engines.
Simply put, link architecture is how you structure your internal links – your page to page links. Personally, I prefer two methods of link architecture and I recommend using them both.
- Crawlable navigation menu
- In-text links
Crawlable Navigation Menus
You are much better off with simple links as a navigation menu. It’s OK to have buttons and the buttons can serve as the hyperlinks. You can also hyperlink the text overlaying the button, but stay away from Flash menus, php menus that require mouseovers and mouse actions for activation. They are not crawlable.
While Google has said that it now has the capability to crawl text within Flash, that capability is still limited and none of the other search engines can do it. While the text may be crawlable, the anchor text likely will not register as heavily as anchor text within HTML code. Why take that risk?
In addition to the navigation menu, which should only have your most valuable page links on it, you should also have some in-text links sprinkled throughout your body content that encourages your visitors to visit other pages on your site. This is the best internal linking structure available. The search engines love to crawl in-text links and human visitors are more likely to click those links as well if they are used properly, intelligently, and sparingly. In other words, don’t litter your pages with links, but use the links strategically to drive traffic where you want it to go.
I think the best use of in-text links is within a tiered site structure. If you map out your website in a Tier 3 fashion where your home page is tier 1, pages in the navigation menu are tier 2, and emplacing in-text links from your tier 2 pages to your tier 3 pages, then you ‘ll have an intelligent site structure that search engines will find crawlable and your human visitors will find easy to use.
Bonus Link Architecture Method: Sitemaps
Sitemaps are not necessary for every site. I think small sites with 20 pages or less don’t need them if they are easily crawlable by the search engines. I believe sitemaps are only necessary for larger sites that require more work from the search engines, and your human visitors, to find what they are looking for. Even then, a sound link architecture is better than trying to put a band-aid on a sore site with a sitemap. The sitemap won’t fix architectural problems. It might even make them worse. You are much better off working on a good link architecture and getting it to work for you then augmenting it with a sitemap only when your site is large enough to require one.
Link Architecture Bottom Line
The bottom line on link architecture is to develop a site structure that is both search engine friendly and human visitor friendly. It’s the most important thing to learn about links and there is no substitute. A solid link architecture rich with relevant anchor text will do more to increase your search engine standing than anything else related to links. It’s the bottom line.