Guide to Site Navigation for SEO

When SEOs talk about navigation, we tend to stick to the technical side of things: “Make sure that you have internal links to every page on your site.” “Don’t put too many navigation options on a page because you’ll have too many internal links.” “Load your drop down link content before JavaScript so that search engines can read it.”

Website creators have to put navigation together on their own, gathering bits and pieces from different articles around the web. So, I’ve put all the tidbits together, creating a guide to building site navigation that’s optimal for search engines (and visitors, too, never forget your visitors!).

Universal Navigation

When visitors come to your site, you want them to figure out how to navigate quickly. Most websites have a navigation strip at the top of every page that stays the same, with links to the major sections of the site. (Some sites like Amazon and Smashing Magazine have this on the left.) Distilled’s looks like this:

distilled Universal Navigation

(Alternatively, you could just look at the top of this page.)

To search engines, this looks like every page on your site is linking to those top level pages. Internal linking shows the importance of different pages within your site, so pages in the universal navigation will rank better than pages further down in the navigational structure.

The mistake I see most often is sites building their universal navigation like a table of contents. If they have a site structure like this:

Example Site Hierarchy

They’ll create a universal navigation that looks like this:

Products | Locations | Contact

Remember, every link in the universal navigation will have a backlink from every page on your site. These links should point to your highest level, most important pages. For example, Amazon’s universal navigation links to their top departments:

Amazon's Universal Navigation

How to Build Your Universal Navigation

  1. Identify why visitors come to your site. You probably have a pretty good idea of what people want already, but check your web analytics:
    1. What search terms do visitors use before they get to your site? Keywords used by incoming visitors tell you what your visitors were looking for before they clicked through to your site. Follow up to see which pages they visited - did they find what they were looking for?
    2. If you’re tracking internal site search, what search terms do visitors use once they’re on your site? On average, only 10% of visitors use site search. So, it’s safe to assume that most people only use site search if they have a hard time finding what they want with your navigation. What terms are visitors searching for? Do you have that page? Is it hidden?
    3. What pages on your site get the most traffic? If those are the pages that you want to get the most traffic, keep those in mind as you build your navigational structure to make sure they’re easy for visitors to find. If they aren’t particularly high conversion pages, what’s a similar page that you can steer those visitors to?
    4. What are your top exit pages? If they’re locations or external contact information, that’s probably something a lot of your visitors are looking for. You should include that in your top navigation.
  2. Divide your products/key pages into categories.
    1. Usability experts recommend “card sorting”: put your products on cards, lay them out on a flat surface so you can see them all, and cluster similar items together. There are also a few websites out there that will let you sort cards without taking up so much floor space: and
    2. Keep in mind that a product can be in two categories at once.
  3. Come up with names for those categories.
    1. Use Google AdWords Keyword Tool or the keyword tool of your choice and see how popular those categories are
    2. Enable SEOmoz’s toolbar and search for those keywords. Look at your potential competition.
    3. Find the happy medium between keyword popularity and competition: there are your categories.
  4. Put those categories in the universal navigation. If it runs across the top, the rule of thumb is to keep it under seven links. If it’s on the left, you can probably have more, although I wouldn’t go over twenty (Amazon uses 16).

Drop Down Menus – Do or Don’t?

Drop down menus are fairly common around the web, but many websites build them so they’re difficult for search engines or certain visitors to use them. If you choose to use drop downs, keep in mind:
  1. Drop down menus must be in the HTML. Otherwise, search engines probably can’t read them. You can use CSS or JavaScript to hide the drop downs once the page is loaded.
  2. Allow visitors to navigate the site without drop downs. If you don’t, they won’t be accessible for tablet users or anyone trying to get by without their mouse on Windows 8. Or anyone who has a hard time keeping drop downs activated as they move their mouse around.
  3. Don’t list too many links. Remember, everything in the universal navigation is a link off every page on your site. SEOmoz recommends 100 links per page max.
Navigation Pages

Earlier, I told you to choose category pages based on keyword popularity and competition. Navigation pages are the best place to target those broader keywords that you can’t target on an individual product page. To best target a keyword on a navigation page:

  1. Use the keyword in the page title
  2. Use the keyword in the header
  3. Include a 150 – 200 word paragraph at the top, explaining what you’re offering on the page (after all, you’re trying to make this a landing page, right?). Use the keyword in that paragraph.
  4. Use the keyword in links to the actual products/converting pages. (But, only if that doesn’t look too ridiculous. If it does, don’t keyword stuff. Use your best judgment.)


If you have more than 20 products on a navigation page, it will be difficult for users to read through without a filter, which you should usually put at the top or on the left of the page. The tricky part is building the URLs. Often, developers will attach filter parameters to the URL as visitors use them. That creates duplicate content, as ?size=medium&price=sale will display the same selection of products as ?price=sale&size=medium. You really have two options for how to optimally build filters:
  1. Give filters an order. Say that you set the filter “size” to always display first, then “price.” If someone filters by products on sale first, the URL will change to ?price=sale. Then, if the visitor adds a filter for medium sized clothes, the filter will change to ?size=medium&price=sale.
    1. Pro: Filtered pages will be indexed, and you won’t create duplicate pages.
    2. Con: Depending on how many filters you have, you could be creating thousands of navigation pages, which may display different product selections, but they’ll all have that same intro paragraph.
  2. Don’t index filters. The best way to do that is to put a hashtag (#) before the parameters. Search engines only look at URL text before the hashtag, so any traffic to,6,8&price=13,523&sort=newest&page=1 will be seen as pointing to You can have the same result by disabling these filter parameters in Google and Bing Webmaster Tools.
    1. Pro: Links pointing to the filtered or unfiltered version of the navigation page will count towards the Page Authority of the unfiltered navigation page only, making it more likely to rank.
    2. Con: Your filtered pages won’t be indexed, so they can’t rank. Then again, if you want your filtered pages to rank, you probably should give them their own category page.

Product Pages

Navigation doesn’t stop at category pages. On a product/conversion page, you want your visitors to be able to go back to the navigation page they were on before they got to this product page (vertical linking) and hop around to similar product pages (horizontal linking).

Vertical and Horizontal Linking

Vertical Linking: Breadcrumbs

If the navigational structure on a site is good, breadcrumbs aren’t often used by visitors, since they tend to be tucked away in between the top navigation and the content on a product page. But breadcrumbs are the easiest way to show visitors and search engines where this product page fits into your site architecture as a whole. As a bonus, Google will sometimes display your breadcrumbs rather than your URL, which looks cleaner and gives visitors a peak at your site structure on the search engine results page. (You can learn more about how to mark up your breadcrumbs as breadcrumbs here).

When breadcrumbs are implemented, they’re usually between the top navigation and the product details:Lowes Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs don’t have to look like breadcrumbs, though. Product pages will often reiterate the categories they’re in on the product page: you can turn those in to links to navigation pages for more natural breadcrumbs. For example, Balsam Hill’s Christmas tree pages all list what collection they’re in at the top of the page. The collection is a link to the collection’s navigation page:

Balsam Hill Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs hidden as links like this won’t be seen by search engines as breadcrumbs, but they will increase the backlinks to navigation pages, which will support the site hierarchy.

Horizontal Linking: Links to Related Products

How often has YouTube tempted you to keep watching videos with their related videos sidebar? How many products have you bought because Amazon recommended them? Beyond your ability to upsell, horizontal links allow products to share their Page Authority with other products, rather than pointing all internal links towards your navigation pages.

Whatever You Do, TEST

After following these or other SEO recommendations about navigation, always make sure that you run usability tests to make sure that your visitors can find what they need, and check your site’s indexation in Google Webmaster Tools to make sure that Googlebot can crawl your navigation. We can spout off generalized advice for sites all day, but what really matters is what works for your site, so keep testing!

Any other tips you guys have about navigation? Experiences to share? Comment below!

Kristina Kledzik

Kristina Kledzik

Kristina joined Distilled as an SEO after working as an SEO/SEM/Web Analytics Specialist for the University of Washington. Kristinah264 // Kristina always knew she wanted to work with computers, but avoided computer science classes in college...   read more

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  1. Hi,
    very nice article, i have shared on Google+ :)
    One small thing: don't forget to include in every pages a link towards the homepage on the business logo!
    And: what do you think about footer menù and about html sitemap page?
    bye bye!

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      You're right, you always want a link back to the homepage in the universal navigation, usually through the business logo. (Some sites, like ours, also have a home link in their navigation.)

      The footer has been used for spam so often, it doesn't count for much when it comes to search engines, and it isn't particularly visible to visitors. I most often see it used for the left over sections of the site that you don't put in your universal top navigation. For example, most retail sites will include links to their job openings in the footer.

      I don't know a lot of people who want to use a sitemap to find what they want - if a visitor chooses to get to your sitemap, I would take that as a sign that your navigation and your internal site search failed. But it's certainly not going to hurt you to have one. :)

  2. Hi Kristina,

    Great post and navigation is often such an ignored part of SEO. If you have a well structured page it also helps link juice pass to the deeper/inner pages which can help them improve their authority.

    I however had a question to ask. You say that in filters you could have hash tags in URL which will point to the main URL. Please see this URL - (Btw I have nothing to do with this site)

    They have tabbed content there: description, warnings, ingredients, delivery, etc. So in the ideal scenario when someone clicks on ingredients there, the URL should be

    Also if someone is coming through organic search for the keyword "vocalzone ingredients", he/she must land on this tabbed page because that is the content relevant to them. But that never happens because they will be shown the default tab.

    Is there a way to get around the issue and let search engines know that this is the tab you should open your page to?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      The best way to get around that issue is not to use hashtags for those tabs.

      There are basically two options for tabs like these: either treat the versions of the page with different tabs open as separate pages (by using a parameter rather than a hashtag) or treat them as the same page (by using hashtags, which search engines ignore). Keeping them together will combine backlinks from all tabs for a stronger Page Authority, but then, like you said, search engines won't be able to access the specific tab you're looking for.

  3. Great advise here. Usually SEO's come into this after the site has been up for a while. rarely do we get in there at the start. So its great to see you giving people advise on this.

    This guide is very useful for people starting a new website.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Yes! Us SEOs always want SEO to be a part of website building from the start. :)

  4. You bring up some important facts and it is easy to get visitors confused and lost when building navs in a SEO friendly way. What I do when I've finished a website nav is that I let someone with minimum web experience cruz around my website usually my dad and if he finds it easy to navigate then Ive done a good job, though all this "webcruszing" has made him somewhat experienced so I probably going to need a new test subject soon =)

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Excellent! Everyone should conduct usability tests like you're doing. I'll bet he's brought up some good points that you wouldn't have come up with on your own, hasn't he?

    • Sometimes you dont see the most obvious things and to answer your question, yes he has helped me plenty. He has helped a lot over time and I recommend this to everyone.

  5. Merci Kristina pour cet article. Cela nous rappelle à quel point l'ergonomie et la structure d'un site est important pour la navigation de l'internaute. Il faut travailler son linking vertical sans oublier les liaisons horizontales (l'exemple de YouTube est parfait).
    Bien positionner son site dans les SERPs c'est bien, mais garder l'internaute c'est encore mieux !

    reply >
  6. ... as ?size=medium&price=sale will display the same selection of products as ?price=sale&size=medium.

    While filters are a common cause of content duplication, the quoted example is not the case, as search engine are pretty good normalizing URLs

    Btw, nice article

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      True, thanks for pointing that out! I didn't want to make the example too complicated, but search engines can usually figure out uncomplicated problems like that, can't they? :)

  7. Arturo

    Great article, thanks to Kristina I'm going to start card sorting as soon as possible.
    My client is a telecom company who sales data and minute plans online in Peru and we do horizontal linking at the "thank you page" right after the "first" purchase has been completed, has anyone tried that? It would be good to know if this works anywhere else. The customer does not have to refill any information because we already have it stored in the session (at the server level).

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      I personally don't know if that works, but I'd be interested to hear if it works for your site. Did you implement this recently, or do you have some data on whether or not you're able to upsell customers right after they made their first purchase?

  8. I have plenty of clients that need to read this!

    Espescially appreciate the "universal navigation is not a table of contents" bit!

    reply >
  9. Nice post Kristina,

    I think you should have elaborated more on sub navigation that appear only in inner pages of a category.

    You can decide which filters you want indexed and ones you don't by using a combination of rel prev next and canonical tags. It dose not need to be all or nothing. I have a presentation with explanation on the way to do it. Can be found at see slides 12 and 13

    reply >
  10. Dave

    Hi Kristina, your post says the rule of thumb is to have no more than 7 universal links in your top nav. Distilled has 10 it looks like. Is there a significant difference?

    I also notice you remove your login and register links on all pages but the homepage. Is that common practice?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      You're right, we have more than the rule of thumb 7 links, although I'd argue that we have 8, plus a link back home and to our logo. I think that going over by one isn't too bad, is it? :)

      We have login and register links on all pages, including the homepage. The login/register is just in a slightly different form, above the top universal navigation rather than right below it.

      Was your question if it's common to leave if off the homepage, or if it's common to have the links on all pages? I think it's pretty common to put a login on every page, since you don't know where returning visitors will land when they come back.

  11. James Porter

    Interesting that you refer to Amazon's navigation as an example here.

    I could be completely wrong, but if you disable javascript and/or search the cached version of the page, you will see that the left hand navigation menu disappears completely

    My understanding is that means the menu isn't parsable by google?

    Am I right in thinking that this is the case, and that Amazon are in fact using the 'Shop by Department' link to distribute link juice across their product categories?



    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      You're right to look for JavaScript blocking menus. A lot of websites' HTML just loads the page without drop down menus, and then brings in those links with JavaScript, which you're right, Google can't read (well).

      In Amazon's case, though, the HTML loads with that menu, but then the CSS hides it. JavaScript reloads it when the page is fully loaded. So, search engines can still read it.

  12. I really love your points regarding site navigation for SEO. I usually construct my site with a lot of dropdown as for me it is more pleasing and more organize to the eyes of the visitor. I am not sure about my point though but I stopped using dropdown after I've read some articles that I also have seen on the net regarding SEO and how hard it is for Search Engine crawlers to crawl dropdown nav.

    I have one site now that I am working and I don't know if what I am doing regarding its structure is good for SEO. Can I ask for some suggestions on how to make favorable to SEO?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Well, you don't use drop downs right now, so I can't comment on that!

      Like I said in my response to Jeremy, below, I didn't mean to imply that drop down menus are necessarily a bad thing for SEO. You just have to make sure you implement them correctly. I go over the points in the article, but the main two are:

      1) Make sure that the menu loads in HTML so search engines can read it

      2) Don't put too many links in the menu, since those links are going to be on every page of your site and will dilute the power of the on-page links.

  13. I don't think that dropdown menus are as bad as described here. Most of our sites have dropdown menus and all the pages are indexed and ranked pretty well.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Sorry if I gave off the impression that drop down menus are bad; I just meant that drop down menus are often improperly implemented and can't be indexed. Drop down menus can absolutely work as long as you load them in HTML. :)

  14. Hello Kristina - Thanks for the informative article and I have decided to experiment with the features. As this article deals with site navigation, it would have been great if you could add some information on what kind of links should be made "nofollow" so that the sanctity on the page for search spiders are maintained

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Do you mean, I should have included information about "nofollow"ing internal links? In general, you shouldn't. Occasionally, some SEOs will try to "sculpt" Page Authority by "nofollow"ing certain internal links, but that's not something that I've ever seen a need to do.

  15. I have a question when you create navigation on side bar and repeat keywords in navigation like shoes in CA, shoes in PA, Google counts these keywords stuffing? My site got penalize like for this functionality..

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Yes, Google would probably count that as keyword stuffing. A good way to check if you're keyword stuffing is to ask yourself if it would stand out as odd to a person. I think a visitor would expect a sidebar titled "Shoes" and then links that are just titles of states; "shoes in [state]" would look redundant.

  16. I always look at silo structuring my own websites so that all of the related content is linked together via contextual internal links. Of course, this doesn't really refer to navigational links. A lot of people are suggesting that it is a good idea to avoid too many anchor text rich internal links - anybody have any thoughts on this?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Any internal link is a form of navigation, so I think that your question about contextual internal links counts as being on topic. :)

      First: using too many links in the body of your page looks spammy to Google, and could set off a Penguin penalty. I recommend only using internal linking where it makes sense, like to recommended alternative products on a product page, or to a previous related article when you write a new blog post. The rest should be in a clear, consistent top or side navigation.

      Second: If you aren't internally linking excessively, I wouldn't worry too much about too many anchor text rich links. Google has no problem with you using the same anchor text in links in the navigation, and it understands that you'll probably always refer to your Chocolate page as "chocolate."

      Good luck!

  17. Thanks Kristina,

    that makes a lot of sense!

    reply >
  18. I'm really glad you mentioned Breadcrumbs. For one of my clients (who doesn't have them), I was able to point out why the competition was ranking better even though her site was more authoritative....breadcrumbs.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Wow, that's surprising, I've never heard of breadcrumbs overcoming higher authority. They're usually more of a back up for standard navigation. Did both sites have poor/overwhelming navigation?

  19. Thanks Kristina :-)

    reply >
  20. Very nice post... would have loved to see a little blurb about internal links :)

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      By "internal links," do you mean links within bodies of text? I didn't include them because I think that they make good references and are helpful for visitors, but they shouldn't be the foundation of your navigation.

      That said, it seems like they're sometimes used for navigation, so you're right, I should have included them! Next time, I suppose...

  21. Good guidance to create the best navigation, do not put more than 100 links per page.

    reply >
  22. Lee

    Thats amazing, I have spent the last 3 days googling around looking for info about internal link structure, checking under the hood of sites. I use auditmypc, to build a site map, itsgreat as it allows you to quickly see what pages are getting the internal juice.
    Thanks for the article.

    reply >
  23. Lee

    Is it possible to load on demand, dropdown menu so google dosent index the links but users benefit from them? Also as a tip, you can put the menu lower down the source order and force it to the top (if its horizontal) using absolute positioning. thats what I have done on my site, so I get the core content of the page right up the top and also I can link to other pages by droping longtail links in the text of the page that will overide more generic links in the menu, as they are higher up the page in the source code so google sees them first.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Yep: load the drop down menu with JavaScript, and Google probably won't read it. But that's not something I'd ever recommend. If you want to give a link to visitors, give it to search engines too, or else they might not index all of your pages.

  24. Hi Kristina - Really interesting and relevant discussion thread - thanks. Hope I'm not just showing my ignorance and you can shed some light on two areas I'm getting more concerned about on a daily basis. Developer recons there is no problem but many of the posts in this thread are relevant to us and I think I'd just like some peace of mind that I'm not creating a situation from nothing.

    1) I've recently taken over the running of an e-commerce site and via WMT I see the homepage and some product pages with up to 6,300 internal links reducing to around 4,500 on other categories and then further reducing to double figures on product pages . There are only 2,800 products currently listed in the CMS.

    Before I start interrogating more deeply, should I be overly concerned about this or not?

    2) I know that we are not alone - I've seen many sites with the same issue but I think it may be relative to the above situation in some way too. The architecture and nav of the site means that each category and sub category page showing product (and product names) is skewing keywords i.e. if the category page is promoting chandeliers but the product descriptions are focussed on the finish (chrome) rather than the product, a) is this diluting what I want the page theme to be about and b) will Google penalise the site for excessive use of keywords?

    Appreciate your thoughts and comments on this. Many thanks.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Hi Adrian,

      1) I can't say if having that many backlinks is necessarily a big issue until you really review it, sorry! If I were you, I'd start by making sure that Google isn't indexing your content twice, since that'd create extra links to the homepage. That would be a big deal. You also might have excessive footer links, which is less of a big deal, and easier to fix. Either way, good luck in figuring it out!

      2) Anchor text is getting less and less important, so link to internal pages how ever it makes the most sense. But, try not to link with the exact same anchor text each time, that looks like keyword stuffing. :)

      Best of luck!

  25. Kim

    Hi Kristina,

    I have learnt to always consider that if a page cannot be directly accessed from the website’s home page, that is the page where most spiders will start their crawling, it is less likely to be indexed by the search engines. A sitemap can be of tremendous help for this purpose.Always consider that if a page cannot be directly accessed from the website’s home page, that is the page where most spiders will start their crawling, it is less likely to be indexed by the search engines. A sitemap can be of tremendous help for this purpose.

    reply >
    • Kim

      Sorry, my comment was a bit confusing...long day :) Always consider that if a page cannot be directly accessed from the website’s home page, that is the page where most spiders will start their crawling, it is less likely to be indexed by the search engines. A sitemap can be of tremendous help for this purpose.

    • Kristina Kledzik

      Yes, definitely link important pages off the homepage. But, if you have 2,800 products like Adrian, who commented above, don't link all of them off your homepage! Search engines will still find pages that are a few clicks away from the homepage. Like you said, sitemaps are a good way to make sure everything's being indexed. You can submit them to Google Webmaster Tools, and it'll tell you how many of your pages have been indexed, so you can see if it's missing anything.

  26. Amberailene

    Kristina, thanks for the great post.

    We use a drop down top nav (HTML & JS) which exposes up to three levels of subcategories to users. The end result is a lot of links (well over 100) on every page, but we have managed to design/organize it well enough so users find it easier to navigate than our older solution with fewer links.

    I'm concerned that all of the links may dilute the page value of the more important pages. Would you ever recommend only exposing the most important links in HTML and using JS to show the supporting links to users (or using no follow tags)? I’m not concerned that the spiders won't find all of the pages since we have a sitemap, and because there are left side navigation links to the children pages on the parent pages.


    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Yeah, you don't want well over 100 links at the top of each page. It's probably best to load part of it with JavaScript.

      That question brings up some usability questions, though. Do your visitors want to navigate through so many levels of drop down menus? They can be pretty frustrating, unless they're well implemented.

    • Amberailene

      Thanks for your response.

      We expose up to three levels of pages, but within a single drop down for each top level category (we are not using drop downs with fly-outs). There was a lot of work that went into the redesign of the top nav to make sure we were improving the usability of the site. We use design elements & columns to organize the links within each drop down, so it doesn’t seem overwhelming.

      We are always trying to improve, so it’s possible we will trim down again. For now, I’ll talk to my developers about removing some of the links from the HTML.

  27. Thanks for your comments Kristina. Always great to have a second opinion.

    I know there are still a lot of areas that need attention on the site but this was something that was causing me some concern. Totally agree about the footer links and this is one of many areas that have been identified for fixing.

    The dup content issue is also being addressed so all in all, I'm happy that I can put this particular element over to the 'less urgent' list of things to do.

    All the best & keep up the good work


    reply >
  28. Hi,
    Nice post. we should make navigation bar for users. It should be easy for a user to navigate on a website. It should have all the products in products and all the cities in city menu.

    reply >
  29. Great article. I really like the idea of printing off cards and using them to sort hierarchy out based on physical appearance. This would definitely aid business owners that don't work on the web for a living.

    reply >
  30. Great source of information. Have played around with several different types of menus. Testing as mentioned here, is very important to learning. Of course when you find out what fails, you have to go back and fix it. Depending on the size and depth of the structuring; could take a while. So having a good starting point, like this article can go a long way.

    I found the hashtag portion to be the most interesting part of this article. Even if the search engines do not show results after the hashtag, I would add them as parameters anyway. But Bing does not allow you to add these into the parameters. So do not worry about it for Bing. Okay, try it; I know this because I have recently tried it in the new version. Google is good to go.

    Great post...

    reply >
  31. Loved the breadcrumb example. Very creative way to add value to both the spiders and visitors.

    reply >
  32. Hi,
    I have a question about site structure and top menu overlay navigation. Sites like have a main navigation top menu that is on every page. See the shop by department menu at the upper left corner. When on (great mouse by the way) I see only the top menu is cached:

    The su bmenu in the overlay like ''Prime instant video's" in the first top menu ''Instant vidoe's"" is not indexed by Google.

    I understand why Amazon don't want to index the subs (SEO site hierarchy) but what technique do they use? When on page I can see the subs in the source code...

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      The menu loads using JavaScript when your mouse hovers over it. Although Google claims to be able to execute JavaScript, it often can't.

      This is a weird case, because those links are in the HTML code, but they're set to "style=display: none;" If Google finds text in the code that you've set to be invisible to viewers, it ignores it. Which makes sense, if someone tries to add content for Google but hide it for visitors, but seems a little silly when it's how the drop down menus work. :)

      TL;DR, even though the links are in the HTML code, they're being ignored by Google because their CSS is hiding them, and Google isn't executing the JavaScript code to see that they reappear for visitors.

      (Let's pretend that I mentioned that in my initial Amazon example in this article.)

  33. Trung Ngo

    Quick question: when making horizontal linking decisions, do you recommend linking to pages that are not in the main navigation to effectively pass link value? (Because of the "first link counts" rule.) Of course there are user benefits to consider, but what would you recommend from a strictly SEO point-of-view?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Sorry, are you asking if you should horizontally link rather than using a main nav to pass more link value, or are you asking how?

  34. Lester

    Hi Kristina, congratulations for the article !

    I´ve read some opinions on some ones but didnt get to a conclusion.
    I´m designing a new e-shop, and I wonder which way is best to SEO and either generate sales more effectively:

    1) Old Left side menu, with main categories* and submenus (html search engines friendly) with some products groups.

    2) Top horizontal menu, that leaves more space to content on all website body, with the same items*/subitems, but now disposed at the top of the page. Normally, top menus are quite preferable for SEO.

    we´re gonna have at max 5 or 6 main categories shown on the main menu.

    Both styles will have products on the main body area , with a site map at the end of the page, in order to turn some keywords density higher,without stuffing the page with lots of keywords.

    The main issue is: which way is better effective both for SEO and for usability-effectiveness on selling?



    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Hi Lester,

      As long as search engines can read the links, it doesn't matter whether they're at the top of your page or in a side navigation menu. I don't think that top menus are necessarily preferable for SEO - in fact, I think they're more often generated with JavaScript, which can be difficult for search engines to read.

      Choose your navigation based on what you think is best for user experience. You can always use both as well, using the top navigation for main sections of the site and the side nav for deeper category pages.

      Good luck!

  35. Jeremy

    Great post! I'm currently trying to convince our marketing director to get rid of about 75% of the dropdown menu items on our new site navigation menu.

    I've analyzed the top pages of the site via Analytics and I feel THOSE pages should be included in the sitewide navigation. The others, I feel would best be linked from a single top-level page rather than on the nav menu via dropdown.

    The biggest challenge I'm facing is convincing that it's OK to use dropdowns on 2 out of 7 menu categories. I feel like the SEO value of tightening up the navigation outweighs "uniformity" of having dropdowns on all categories.

    Any thoughts or examples I can use in my case?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Hm, that's an interesting issue. I ran into it as well when I was working at UW and we were redesigning.

      I think it's a user experience issue if hovering over some top navigation items gets a drop down and others don't. It might look like the site isn't working. A good example of a site that handled the issue well is All top navigation items have dropdowns with more links other than Vintage and Style Gallery. To fix the UX issue, they included a dropdown, but the dropdown just further explains the option.

      Hope this helps!

  36. Not only is inner linking your pages a must, but I have also found linking out to authority sites like Google Facebook and other high authority sites very useful, but only do it when it fits into the content you are writing about.

    Also backlinking all of your images to the homepage of your blog or site is another biggy for me.

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      True! As important as SEO is, it's even more important to think about the visitor's journey through your site, and to give them exit links to places that will be valuable to them (and, in the case of Facebook, you!).

  37. I totally agree only 10% of visitors use site search. Most of them will leave if they find it hard to find something.

    reply >
  38. Hi Kristina,

    Thanks for the informative article.

    I have recently moved some items from the top level of my menu to a CSS drop down menu.

    The URLs have remained the same the only change is the placement of the link. Since making the changes I have dropped several places on Google.

    Do you think the changes are to blame?


    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      Hmmm, could be. When those links were at the top level, they were clearly important; moving them to a CSS drop down may have degraded their importance in Google's mind and subsequently weakened their rankings.

      That said, there are a lot of other things that could have happened. Identify when rankings dropped (it's best to look for a point when organic traffic dropped to those pages, if you aren't closely tracking rankings for certain keywords), list everything you did around that time, and research any algorithm changes during that month.

      Good luck!

  39. Great article with a nice balance between navigation for search engine optimisation and human usability. It seems like these two factors are constantly opposing each other and the trick is to find the balance.

    reply >
  40. Great article, thanks to Kristina I'm going to start card sorting as soon as possible.

    reply >
  41. Jim

    My client wants a drop down menu with 3 links that go to different DIVs within a content page. What domyou think of that?

    reply >
  42. So I can only assume the best to avoid site navigation from being ignored (display:none) is by implementing the following workflow.

    1. Menu coded in HTML in its entirety.
    2. Page is loaded
    3. CSS is then applied
    4. JS hides relevant items using the onload event.

    I'm sure Google must have leniency on Site Navigations particularly.

    Another interesting point.... I worked on a website too that had a large navigation and to prevent the server rendering and serving a luscious array of LI elements, I wrote a recursive algorithm to only return elements that should be shown dependent on the page level. This has many benefits but on the same token could I be crippling my SEO by not showing all links in HTML on all pages...?

    reply >
    • Kristina Kledzik

      You might be?

      As long as the homepage has immediately HTML links to top level pages, those top level pages have links to mid level pages, and those mid level pages have links to low level pages, I think you should be fine. That's actually better than having every page link to every other page on your site. Just make sure that search engines can crawl to each page on the site regardless of the page they start on. :)

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