When we talk about ranking sites in the search engines, most of the discussion is in the context of garnering links. After all, links have been the currency of SEO for as long as anyone can remember. They formed the cornerstone of Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s PageRank system for ranking pages. But a lot has changed since Brin and Page turned their PageRank model into Google, and simultaneously changed the way the world searched for information.
Today, links continue to be a key factor in gaining high positions in the organic results for your target keyword phrases. This is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. But as Google has made abundantly clear, its algorithm takes over 200 factors into account when deciding where to rank your site in its index for any given query. As we’ll explain below, a few of those factors involve your site’s architecture and usability.
Making It Easy For The Search Engines’ Spiders
To understand how your site’s architecture plays a role in your pages’ rankings, it’s important to be familiar with how Google and the other search engines compile their indexes. They send spiders to crawl through your site. The spiders follow links to find your pages, record various details about them, and carry those details back to their respective organic indexes. This means that in order for a page to be included in the index and displayed for a given query, the spiders must be able to find it.
This is one of the reasons webmasters create sitemaps for their sites. The maps host links to every page on their sites, giving the spiders an easy path to crawl. By linking to a sitemap, a webmaster doesn’t need to be concerned that a particular page has been “orphaned” (left without a link to it). The spiders will eventually find it.
A Faster Page Load Time Is Better Than Slower
Slow-loading pages are frustrating to users. Google realizes this, and thus takes into account the speed at which your pages load. If your site loads quickly, you’ll receive a ranking bump over sites that load slowly (other variables remaining equal). In Google’s own words from its Webmaster Central blog, “You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed… As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed.”
This signal is nothing new. As early as 2009, Google engineer Matt Cutts had publicly announced that the search engine was going to move in this direction. If your site is bogged down with apps, widgets, and code that are causing page loads to slow to a crawl, take steps to lighten the load.
The User’s Experience Influences Your Search Positions
There are also signs that user experience is becoming an increasingly important ranking signal in Google’s algorithm. It can be a reasonably accurate barometer of a site’s quality. Users tend to gravitate toward sites they enjoy. Their overall enjoyment can be influenced by design, navigation, and general intuitiveness.
The challenge for Google and its competitors is to track the experience each user has while visiting your site. It’s not a perfect science. The search engines monitor bounce rates – i.e. the percentage of people who return to the search engine after visiting the indexed page – to identify low-quality sites. The idea is that if a large percentage of people immediately “bounce back” to the search engine, they are not finding the information they want.
Links and their sources are also used to identify site quality and a positive user experience. To that end, CNN.com and NYTimes.com are unlikely to link to a shoddy-looking, low-quality site.
To summarize, architecture and usability will affect your site’s organic rankings. This is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future as the search engines strive to boost their own performance in the eyes of their users. Make your pages easy to read and your site easy to navigate. Also, make sure your visitors can find information quickly through intuitive linking and structure.