Tips for making your blog easier to navigate

No matter whether it’s a human or a robot visiting your site, nothing will turn traffic away quite like a poorly designed site. This isn’t necessarily in reference to visual design — robots won’t care much about that, though humans will. It refers to ease of navigation. Part of a webmaster’s job is to ensure that any visitor can work its way around the site without even the least bit of difficulty. That means creating a robust internal link structure. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too much effort to implement this. Follow these few tips and you’ll turn away fewer people, which can potentially expand your audience — and maybe help you in the search rankings.

Blog Modifications

Links in the post header

There are a few things you should make sure get listed at the top of every post. These will make it easy for any human to click through for more information, and it will make for a smoother robot crawl. This is pretty basic, but too often I see bloggers neglecting one or more of these items.

  • Title. OK, so I’ve never seen a blog that doesn’t have the title as a hyperlink on the main page. But I do see many blogs that have the title hyperlinked on the single post page. There is no reason for this; it’s a useless self-referencing link. Make sure to remove this link from your single post file in WordPress (varies depending on your theme, but usually single.php).
  • Categories. WordPress treats categories and tags quite differently. Categories actually go into a database. These should always be linked from the top of the post, so users and robots can follow into a list of posts for that category. Also, limit all posts to just a single category. Otherwise, a robot could see duplicate content.
  • Tags. These you can nofollow if you wish, because we’ll go over another internal link bit, the tag cloud, in just a bit. Tags are useful because they’re not in a database and have no real limits. You can tag a post like crazy, though it’s not recommended. A few choice tags will make it easy for a human to crawl and will increase the chance that a robot crawls all tags (but again, not from the post header).
  • Author name. If people like what you write, they’ll want to read more of it. Make it easy by making the author name clickable. If you make this a do-follow link, make sure to fill out your author profile. It will be useful in the search results.
  • Comments. Absolutely no-follow these links, if it’s not done automatically for you.

Links in the post body

Here’s where you can gain an enormous advantage. Surely everyone has noticed how highly Wikipedia ranks on common searches for, well, basically everything. There are some specific practices it uses to get there, such as nofollowing external links. But that’s not a very friendly thing to do. One lesson you can take from Wikipedia, though, is to create a robust internal link structure centered on a few keywords.

Which keywords you target is up to you, but they should be completely relevant to your topic at hand. That is, don’t go out of your way to target certain terms. Even if they’re overcrowded, your vigilant internal link structure will aid your ranking. Common internal links include tags and categories, since there’s an easy landing page for them. But if you write the definitive post on a certain topic, you might want to set up an internal link to that every time you use a certain keyword. Thankfully, WordPress makes this easy.

There is a plugin called Internal Link Building that can take care of the task for you. You can enter in any keyword you want, the URL to go with it, and the number of times you want it linked in each post. Not only will the plugin automatically create that link when the keyword appears, but it will go back through your old posts and add the link. It’s quite brilliant, and it makes for an easy internal structure. While it’s recommended that you go back and link old posts manually, this tool will make it easy for you to constantly link your best content as well as your tags and categories.

Sidebar links

In your sidebar you also need to maintain a consistent link structure. There are a few places you can do this, and all of it will affect your search rankings.

  • Categories. It’s probably best to follow this list and not follow the categories on individual posts. Again, this is a place where you can list all of your categories, so robots and humans will have an easier time finding their category of choice.
  • Tags. Tag clouds come in handy. Depending on how many tags you employ you might not get them all in here, but you will get the most popular ones. You’ll want to follow these, since more of them will be visible.
  • Blogroll. An age-old blog custom is to link out to your favorite sites on a blogroll. You might get dozens of requests add sites to your blogroll. Resist this temptation. If you’re a nice person and want to link to everyone, put your blogroll on a separate page. On the main page you probably shouldn’t have more than 10 to 12 blogs linked out.
  • Archives. This is another thing you probably want to move off the main page. Archives can get enormous, and there’s little value in time-stamping them. Besides, your category and tag lists act as archive links. If you want dated archives move them to a separate page. But they have little place on the main page.
  • Ads. Finally we get to text link ads. Google doesn’t like these, and they’ve made that well-known. I hate bowing to them as much as the next guy, but it’s their search engine so their rules. If you want to add text links, make sure you let the advertiser know that they are no-followed. Otherwise you might see a big fat zero as your PageRank. (This doesn’t even get into how poor a return most bloggers get on text link ads.)

By creating a robust internal link structure, you can make your site into something of a smart grid for users and robots. That is, you direct them to the information they need, when they need it, just as a smart grid directs energy to places that need it most. This will not only help you with human visitors, who will appreciate the easy with which they navigate your site, but robots, too. This might not make you rank for your most targeted keywords, but it’s certainly a good start.

Joe Pawlikowski is the editor of Prepaid Reviews, a site that provides news, commentary, and reviews of prepaid wireless services.