Ecommerce Know-How: Information Architecture to Improve SEO and Usability

Taking lessons from two marketing disciplines, online retailers and their web designers can build a well structured Internet store organized into themes or categories that will make it easy for shoppers and search engines alike to find important information and product pages.

In this “eCommerce Know-How,” I will briefly define search engine optimization (SEO) and information architecture (IA), describe one of the many places where these marketing specialties intersect, and explain how easy and natural thematic structure and linking really is. I’ve also included a video. I should point out that this technique is very intuitive, and many site owners or designers are probably using it to some extent naturally. We are simply putting a name to these natural tendencies.

Video: Where Search Engine Optimization and Information Architecture Meet

Search Engine Optimization and Information Architecture Defined

Search engine optimization is the process of improving where and how often a particular URL shows up in the “natural” listings on relevant search engine results pages in order to increase the Internet traffic flowing to that particular URL.

Information architecture is the process of organizing, structuring and labeling information so that it is both easy to find and use.

When IA and SEO Intersect

Based on these definitions, it should be pretty easy to understand how SEO and IA can overlap. SEO experts are trying to boost traffic and IA specialists are interested in making content easy to find and usable. In practice, these are very similar goals. So combining tactics produces organized and structured web content—often arranged thematically—that is properly linked and user (or shopper) friendly.

“Every Web site is created for a reason, whether it is to educate, sell, aggregate and so on,” said Virginia Nussey, Associate Media Writer and Blogger for Bruce Clay Inc., an Internet business consultancy. “More specifically, every website aims to cover a topic or series of related topics—i.e. a site’s theme. For instance, an online retailer will organize [its] site into themes or categories based on the items being sold. If your site sells jewelry, you might organize your site into categories like fine jewelry, watches, engagement rings and so on. At Bruce Clay we use the term ‘silos’ to describe the categories in which pages sharing the same theme are linked together.”

Bruce Clay Inc.’s silos are really a form of IA. They organize data based on what it means (semantics) so that it is easy to use and, therefore, more relevant to both consumers and search engines. What’s more, Bruce Clay Inc. and other web luminaries stress careful and selective internal linking—an SEO technique—to shape and form these IA structures or themes, producing an intersection between SEO and IA.

Theme Structure For a Sample Online Retailer

Imagine for a moment that we are building a new online retailer that sells sporting goods. Very naturally, we would start to organize our products or categories based on what sport uses them or around brand. Without knowing it, we are creating a thematic structure. We would probably put pages associated with our theme in the same web directory, developing a hierarchy of pages and links that would make sense to our customers and highlight page relationships to search engines.

For example, we would want to create a theme around wrestling gear. There would be a wrestling landing page with introductory content, and we might even include product content and some supporting page links and descriptions like wrestling singlets, wrestling headgear and wrestling shoes. And finally, we have dozens or even hundreds of product pages organized as singlet product pages, headgear product pages, and shoe product pages. We could also build themes around brands and other sports.

“On a farm the theme of that big silo standing there might be wheat or corn or rice. The structure, however, is the material that holds the silo together,” explained Nussey. “On the web a silo’s structure is made up of linking. There are two methods one could follow to go about siloing a site, but both require theme-based linking.”

The idea is to link related theme pages and sub-theme (supporting) pages together, adding the linking structure of the theme or silo. Remember that links help shoppers move up and down within a silo, and links help search engines rank how important a given web page is.

“When a person is traveling through your site looking for information on a specific topic they expect a good resource to provide them with several pages on the topic,” said Nussey. “There may be a subject overview page, known as a landing page. There are probably a number of pages that each cover a sub-category of the subject. These are known as support pages.”

Using our sporting goods store as an example, we begin to create two kinds of links. First, we develop links to build the structure, connecting landing pages and supporting pages. Next, we create links of convenience for our users using the rel=”nofollow” attribute.

Summing Up

By developing your site around themes and carefully linking between themes, you can make your store easy for shoppers to use and easy for search engines to find.


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Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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