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It’s Thursday, and this is number two on our Top Five Most Common SEO Issues as Seen by Receptional in 2011 list.

Previous issues making the countdown were Titles & Meta Elements, Content and XML Sitemaps, which are all worth checking out, if I do say so myself.

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So number two, rarely considered by webmasters is…

Poor site structure

All of the major search engines use links as a factor within their algorithms – including internal links. The structure of a website and how its hierarchy is reflected by internal links (and to a lesser extent URLs) is a crucial factor in the site’s performance, particularly if competition for more competitive keywords and phrases is high on the agenda.

The temptation is always to link to everything, everywhere. Websites tend to do this through huge navigation menus, footer links and blocks of text featured on every page. Where too many links exist on a page, the value passed to each link is significantly reduced. For example, in its most basic form if a page has a single external link pointing at it and there are 10 links on the page, each of your 10 links will receive 1/10th of the value of the backlink.

This results in a very ‘flat’ hierarchy, making it difficult for search spiders to determine the most important content and diluting external link value to key pages. Ultimately, this will contribute to poor search engine interpretation of the website and subsequent poor rankings.

When establishing a site structure, it is important to understand your website visitor’s needs. Evaluate the top search queries for your site traffic, consider your own areas of expertise and create top level pages that reflect this. Ensure the more important pages form the top of a pyramid structure and that there are no pages of similar or identical content reachable via different URLs.

So, for a site that sells cars, a logical structure might be:

Home page >> Manufacturer name >> Model name >> Model number

e.g.

Home >> Nissan >> Micra >> K10 GSX

The overall structure then resembles a pyramid, where every page links to the home page, the majority of pages link to all the manufacturer names, each manufacture links to their own model names, and each set of model pages links to the different model numbers:

Website structure

This type of structure also ensures that more weight is given to the most competitive keywords. Wherever possible, links should reflect the keywords used on target pages, as this contributes to the theme of a site, and of individual pages.

Example URLs of the site above might be:

www.example.com

www.example.com/nissan/

www.example.com/nissan/micra/

www.example.com/nissan/micra/1.1/

One way to avoid the problem of over-linking on your website is to use a contextual menu, which presents links depending on and relevant to the current page. An alternative menu would allow for more weight to be passed to competitive keywords, and less weight to be passed long tail/niche keywords. This assists search engines with establishing the overall hierarchy of the website whilst also complementing good usability.

If you have any comments on site structure, or our Top SEO Issues of 2011 list in general, please leave them below. Our number one SEO problem will be unveiled tomorrow, please do try and contain yourselves until then!