Search Engine Friendly, or Easy Navigation?
Dave, I'm enjoying your new book Growing Your Business with Google. However, I have a question relating to your advice to post navigation links on the right rather than the left side: I understand that doing so could improve results placement, but this improvement might be less important than ease of use of the site.
Other authorities point out that left-side navigation links are more-or-less standard, and that users are more likely to stay with a site if site elements appear where expected. Could you comment?
This is a fascinating question because it highlights that design decisions can adversely affect your findability in the search engines. What to do? Be more attractive and perhaps more user-friendly, or more findable?
This is closely related to something else I've been evangelizing in the Web community too: your home page is dead.
Analyze the traffic to your Web site to ascertain which pages get the most visits and you'll see what I mean. On this site, sorting simply by the most frequently requested non-graphic files, I see the following:
Can you see the trend here? The RSS feeds for this site are requested far more frequently than the home page, not too surprising given the polling mechanism that RSS uses, but the answer to the question How to create new screen names on AOL (America Online) has also been requested more frequently than the home page of the site (the "/" entry is the home page in this list).
The point I'm trying to make here is that while I believe that the design and layout of a site is important, I believe that making it maximally findable is even more important to your achieving your goal of increasing the visibility of your online business.
Now, the good news: with some sophisticated use of Cascading Style Sheets you can have your digital cake and eat it too, because you can theoretically have the code for your navigation appear later in the actual HTML source file, but position it to the left of the main content on the actual layout.
The catch? It works for modern browsers that fully understand CSS, but will look quite different for older browsers, less capable browsers and mini-browsers like PDAs, cellphones and even the new Sony PSP browser.
If you can live with this limitation (which should be determined by the needs and tech savvy of your readership, I think) then that might be a perfect solution.
Otherwise, I do believe that it's quite possible to develop a user friendly, visually interesting Web site that has the navigation to the right of the main content, not the left. After all, as you go from site to site, it's not like they're all simplistic clones of the same design anyway. Further, so many commercial sites are so dreadfully clogged with adverts and hundreds of navigational choices that I believe users are having to learn how to intelligently wade through design anyway.
Are we really talking about function dictating form when I say that your design should start out being search engine friendly and then work within those basic constraints? Probably. But I don't think it's that onerous a burden at the end of the day, and any smart Web site designer should be able to create something attractive and quite functional for your Web site.
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