Utilize Directories for Increased Hits

It’s not enough to have a great site with spectacular content and the right keyword density. For good or ill, optimization is the name of the game. Although you’re probably doing many things right (at least if you’ve been following our advice), there are always areas which can use improvement. One often overlooked improvement (especially for dynamically driven sites) is in the URL. Are the spiders seeing “page.php?value=…”, or are they seeing a keyword rich page structure? Author Ian Felton describes how to use and optimize directories within your URL for your advantage.

Most webmasters know that the key to repeat traffic is great content. Tailoring content to appeal to a specific audience makes or breaks most websites. Having great content is only part of the battle. Without careful consideration about how all the mind-blowing content of a site is categorized and the naming conventions used to label those categorizations, the development of spectacular content will produce a significantly decreased return-on-investment (ROI). Organizing the content of a website in an intelligent way can dramatically increase visitor traffic. By using systems of categorization that implement a combination of generic and specific keywords tailored with an exact market in mind, web sites indexed in major search engines can quickly see a jump in web site traffic.

Most websites are works in progress and because of this, many times sites come to life like a jigsaw puzzle until something takes shape over months of brainstorming and experimentation. While this organic approach works fine in the beginning, at some point in the life cycle of site development it’s vital for content to be placed within directories appropriately named for search engines to parse.

I’ll use an example from my site, UnitedBands.com to illustrate the process I’m referring to. Unitedbands.com is a dynamic site that uses PHP scripts to pull data about different bands from a database. There was one PHP page that was responsible for 80% of the web site’s content. At first I wasn’t concerned about what this page was called. I just wanted it to do what I needed it do to and that was to bring up information about particular bands. Originally, the name of that page was called ‘viewProfile.php’ and it was placed in the root directory of the site. The bands were referenced by a number, so the actual link to bring up a particular band may have looked like the following:

http://unitedbands.com/viewProfile.php?ID=345

For the human eye, this link wasn’t too obfuscated. From the name of the site it could be deduced that the site relates to bands and the ‘viewProfile’ script would allow a visitor to view the profile of a particular band. The number was probably a unique identification number associated with an individual band (add ‘individual band’ to your list of oxymorons). However, to a search engine, the URL was next to meaningless. There existed two variables in particular that required search engine modification to really bring out the potential for major search engine click-throughs.

I needed to make a directory structure that would be descriptive to the search engines. For my site this was a no-brainer. The data consisted of band profiles, so I wanted the directory to be called ‘bands’. Since I have a dynamic web site, I used URL re-writing to create a pseudo-directory called ‘bands’. (Check out the this article on Dev Shed to see how that’s done: http://www.devshed.com/c/a/Apache/Search-Engine-Friendly-URLs-with-mod_rewrite.)

If your site consists of static pages, you don’t need to worry about URL re-writing. URL re-writing is only for sites that are using dynamic content but want a way to be able to have descriptive URLs instead of obfuscated ones.

After setting up a top-level directory called ‘bands’ I was really getting somewhere. Instead of:

http://unitedbands.com/viewProfile.php?ID=345

the link was:

http://unitedbands.com/bands/345

This was a step in the right direction, but there remained room to include more search engine keywords into the link. The ’345′ at the end would probably imply that it was referencing an actual band’s name, but it meant nothing to a search engine spider.

The next step was to make the URL include the name of the band instead of a reference ID number. I made an adjustment to the script so that the final URL looked like this:

http://unitedbands.com/bands/bandnamehere

Now most of the content of the site was arranged in a hierarchy that made sense to people and search engines. From looking at the URL or parsing the URL, a person or a search engine could tell that the site is about bands. The top-level directory ‘bands’ added more emphasis. Under the directory ‘bands’ there now existed hundreds of subdirectories that used the actual name of each band as its label.

The URL in that form was a beautiful sight. In the mind of a Web surfer using a search engine to find pages about their favorite band, a typical query would be “name of band” + “band”. A search like that would see the new URL in a much more favorable light than the original. First, the word ‘band’ would be discovered twice within the URL. The new URL would get major points for having the word ‘band’ within the actual domain name and extra points for having the word ‘band’ as a top-level directory. Even though the user searched with the keyword ‘band’ as opposed to the keyword, ‘bands’, most search engines equate the plural and the singular. (Google will pick up a match on a directory named ‘bands’ or ‘band’ using the keyword ‘band’.)

The coup d’etat is having sub-directories that are the names of the bands that are being searched. Combine this heavy-hitting URL with appropriate keywords in the page titles, meta-tag description and meta-tag keywords, and search engines sucked up this new design like a Hoover on steroids.

Unitedbands.com was about four months old when I redesigned the URLs. It had next to no click-throughs from search engines at that point. When the spiders crawled the site after revamping the directory structure, the next month saw 500 referrals from search engines. The second month that number doubled to 1000 referrals, having made no new SEO adjustments, just allowing for higher indexing in the search engines. The spiders were now crawling the site almost daily because of the amount of click-throughs that were happening.

This approach worked because several key concepts were followed while designing the URL directory structure.

  • First, the actual URL, Unitedbands.com, is descriptive and contains a common keyword.

  • Next, the directory structure was designed to use keywords that would be commonly used by users within the target market. For example, I could have just as easily called the directory, ‘artists’ or ‘entertainers’ or ‘groups’. While this would have made sense from an organizational standpoint, it would have been a stupid mistake from an SEO standpoint. Most people searching for groups on the Internet don’t search for a specific act using a query like, ‘The Beatles, entertainers’. They would search for ‘The Beatles, band’ a lot more often than any other keyword.

  • Finally, the URL was kept as short as possible to not water down the weight of keywords within the URL.

In some cases, content doesn’t happily fit into one broad category. That’s fine and it can actually work to your advantage. By creating sub-directories, even more keywords can be included in your URLs. Follow the same approach with sub-directory naming as with directory naming and even more hits will come rolling in from the search engines.

Here are some general tips for organizing as you name your directories:

  • Use simple, broad words in combination with specific words.

  • If your site relies on being hip and using current slang, try including buzzwords in the directory naming structure. If you are on top of your game, you may get a lot of hits by using a common slang term as a directory name. You may want to make a duplicate directory with a generic label as well so that you can keep a long-term crawl on that specific content while updating the slang directory name with the popular word of the month. That way your content can be picked up even if the buzzword dies quickly.

  • Even if it’s harder on you and your team to organize your content by using keywords as directory names, it’s worth the payoff long-term.

  • Follow through with directory and sub-directory naming conventions with appropriate page titles, descriptions and keywords.

Conclusion

Organizing a web site’s content can be an arduous process, depending upon the amount of content within the site and how much politics are involved with determining the naming conventions to use. If you have already organized your site one way but have neglected to follow a process that involves careful consideration of search engines, it can be even more difficult to take the steps necessary. Even if you restructured your site last week, and you didn’t structure it based on keywords, you should start over. Keyword-rich content will always be placed lower in the search engine rankings than pages that have keyword-rich content and keyword-rich URLs using a search engine optimized directory structure.

With that in mind, take one week to analyze your site. Think about how it can be structured based upon popular keywords in your market. Make the appropriate changes and after your next crawl, you should start seeing the extra work pay off.

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