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BACK TO BASICS: Successful Site Architecture & Design: Part 2

by Danielle Sahiner, April 15, 2008

In part 1 of this article, we discussed the importance of planning your site's architecture, much like you would get together with an architect to plan out the building of your new house. In part 2 we will discuss what your content should contain, how you should plan out your linking structures, and how to keep customers happy by making your site trustworthy and solving any problems that might come up.

Shari Thurow, of Omni Marketing, says that the most important sections of each page should be above the fold and that you should ask several questions of yourself and your site.

Namely, how are you telling your visitors, both human and non-human, what your pages are about? Are you using the keywords and key phrases that searchers are likely to type into the search query box? Do you have enough information to give to your visitors once they land on your site? Is your writing addressing the needs or wants that the visitor was searching for?

You've got to make sure that you don't "bait and switch" your visitors. Make sure that your keywords and key phrases are actually in the content on the page. If they are not, your visitors are not going to stick around, and you run the risk of the search engines penalizing you. It may look to the robots like you are a spammer and are misrepresenting yourself. You don't want to run the risk of this and get banned from the indexes. So make sure that your content accurately and completely addresses the information that you are trying to get across and the information that your visitors came to your page looking for.

The next important item to consider is navigation. Once the visitor has landed on your site, how are they going to navigate it? Just like when you build a house and have to figure out where the doors, hallways and stairs are going to be so you can get from room to room, you need to remember to build into your site's architecture hallways, stairs and doors that will lead to the other pages on your site. You wouldn't want a houseguest to get stuck in a kitchen that doesn't have access to a bathroom, would you? Likewise, you don't want your site's visitors to get stuck on a page that doesn't easily and understandably lead to the rest of your site. You need to provide an easily navigable path, one that won't confuse or get your visitors lost and frustrated.

Always make sure you have a button or link on each page that will take your visitors back to your home page. Also, on each page be sure to have a link to a site map, a site element that the search engine robots look for. One other very important item to have is a button or link to a contact page. The contact page should have, at the very least, an email address so your visitors can get in touch with you quickly and easily. If you are large enough to have phone support, then include a telephone number as well. For visitors, there is nothing more frustrating than being on a site that has what you're looking for but has no easy way for you to ask a pressing question before you click that "Order Me" button. This type of poor set up is a sure-fire way to lose business and visitors.

You also have to make sure that your site is trustworthy. If you are selling products or services that require payment up front, then you need to make sure that you have a secure ordering page. With all the news out there today about identity theft, it is smart to keep your visitor's identity and their credit card information safe. As important as providing security for your customer's money is providing information about how complaints or problems can be resolved. As mentioned above, provide an email address and/or phone number so once the order has been received, the customer can easily get in touch with you if there turns out to be a problem with their order. Hopefully you are selling services or products that are reliable and worth your customer's money. But sometimes mistakes happen that you need to correct, and making them easy to correct will help both you and your customers. You want to keep that customer, don't you? If your product really is worthy, then make your service worthy too. Your ability to handle problems satisfactorily will keep your customers happy and keep them coming back.

Once you have your Web site up and running and things are humming along, can you just sit back and rest on your laurels and all your hard work? You can probably take a break, take a deep breath and maybe take a day or two off, but there is no way you can just sit back and let your site run itself. If you are more of an information site, you might not have to keep your pages updated as much as you might if you are selling products, but you still have to monitor what your site is doing and how well it is doing in the rankings.

You've got to keep your content fresh. This doesn't necessarily mean rewriting pages every month or every week, but you need to make sure that your copyright date is correct, that your phone number and email addresses haven't changed and that the products you are selling haven't gone out of style or passed their freshness date. Constantly monitoring your competitor's sites and your rankings will ensure that your site stays up to date and that you easily catch anything that might hurt you in the rankings or hurt your credibility with your visitors.

Before launching your site, make sure you go through it with a fine-tooth comb; look for misspellings, grammatical mistakes and missing or broken links. Get a group of people together who have never seen the site before and ask them to go through it and make notes about what they like and don't like about it - where they get stuck, what else they might like to see, or what they don't like seeing.

Also make sure to run the site through the W3C Markup Validation Service (for more information on why this is important, see About The W3C Markup Validation Service). This service checks the validity of Web pages against formal Web standards that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed for HTML and XML-derived documents. It helps ensure that your Web pages follow these standards and that your pages will appear the way they should in different browsers.

Barbara Coll, also known as WebMama, explained how site architecture is fundamental to your site's rankings and conversion. In an SES Chicago session, which Lisa Barone quoted way back in 2006, Coll said:

Your goal as a site owner is to achieve high rankings in organic search for the keywords that convert best for you. In order to do that, your pages need to show up in the search engines. That's where site architecture comes in. It's about constructing the building blocks of your site in a way that encourages indexing. It's about looking for optimization opportunities and seeking out Web developers and site designers who have SEO experience or partners [who have SEO experience].

Therefore, you need to get your Web design team all on the same page, make sure that they know SEO is a before, during, and after process. Not an, "Oh, the site is built, now let's get it ranked!" sort of thing. You need to make sure the Web site optimization is added to the foundation and built into the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Don't just slap it on and expect it to stick.

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