SES Toronto 2009 Live Blogging: Information Architecture, Site Performance Tuning, & SEO

Anne Kennedy, Managing Partner & Founder, Beyond Ink
Jill Sampey, Director of Search, Blast Radius
Naoise Osborne, SEO Team Lead, NVI
Shari Thurow, Founder & SEO Director, Omni Marketing Interactive
Jodi Showers, CTO, HomeStars

Taxonomy Concerns

Shari’s up first.

A definition of Site Architecture:
Citing Peter Morville, basically the structural design of shared information, the combination of organizing, labeling, search, and navigation systems. Not crawlability, indexation, and other SEO terms.

Information Architecture is the organization site content into groups, placed in categories, making it easier for people and engines to understand.

Information architecture, navigation, and content all support each other.

Taxonomy, arranging in a proper hierarchical structure, is important to make the experience make sense. The backbone!

Taxonomists are neutral (as far as internal company goals), and perform usability tests, usually reigning in SEOs flagrant interlinking.

Page Interlinking Tips

  • Getting people around in a user-friendly way.
  • URL structure is part of the interface. It doesn’t have a huge effect on SEO anymore (although it can be definitely messed up and cause problems).
  • One sub-directory, or two? Same. Sub-domain or sub-directory? Same. Hmm.

Main Considerations
1. Taxonomy
2. Formal navigation
3. Page interlinking
4. URL structure
5. Code/program the pages
6. Verify crawlability

Consider taxonomy BEFORE the site is built, include keywords as part of your plan, and test.

Jill Sampey, Director of Search, Blast Radius

The online world is evolving, and your site needs to respond in kind. How to know?

  • On-site Analytics
  • Search Trends

She’s using EA Sports as her example, where their offline market targets have brought people online. The audience used to be primarily gamers, so they had to find a navigation/usability compromise. Having clear categorical architecture was her answer.

How to know if a site needs to be changed?

  • Steady or low traffic levels
  • New competitors
  • Search query changes

When building a new site, they try to consider three aspects:

  • User needs
  • How your users are searching
  • What spiders need (URLs to index, links to follow, text to identify content/intent)

For a site all in flash, she uses these tools:

  • SWF Object
  • SWF address with re-write potential
  • sIFR
  • Hijax

One point to consider, to stay out of trouble, is making sure that the text behind the flash matches the rich media.

Search Engine Optimization: Indexation and Link Juice

Now for Naoise. (Woo!)

How to deal with a case when the taxonomy wasn’t worked out before? How does the information remain consistent as you do the SEO?

The Holistic SEO Recipe:
One part marketing (new keywords)
One part editorial (write about the keywords)
One part webmaster (implementation, link tech, sitemaps, publishing)
One part SEO education

Don’t expect to find it all in one person!
Everybody needs to know the SEO basics and be able to see the big picture.

The Important SEO Things Everyone Needs to Get:
Search engines crawl sites through links. Link popularity is important, because link juice largely defines rank ability. There is an important difference between indexation and link juice spread.

Robots.txt – Does NOT control the flow of link juice. Pages disallowed in the robots file can accumulate and pass on juice.

On-Page Meta No-Index, useful to remove pages from the index that you can’t take care of with the robots file. Sometimes in conjunction with on-page meta no-follow, so that it doesn’t pass on link juice.

Pagerank sculpting is becoming less important, and the information architecture should take care of what’s important.

301 redirection. The only way to send someone to another URL and pass on link juice too, directory by directory or page by page.

Canonicalization tag. An elegant fix for sites with duplicate content issues, some junk. Supported by most major engines. Works like 301s, but you can’t go across domains.

Javascript links. Crawlable, so be careful if you think you can sculpt your architecture that way.

Encouraging use of Google Webmaster Central, or Xenu Link Sleuth (especially if you don’t own the site)

Website Performance and Search Index Presence

Jodi’s up now.

What is the pagerank of an un-indexed page?
What % of your pages are indexed?
How fast is your site? (can check with Alexa)

  • Search engine companies have limited computing power.
  • Slower websites get indexed less.
  • If it isn’t indexed, it ain’t ranked.

Use GWT to see indexation and download time, track progress. Solving page load times can go a long way for indexation. They are very, very connected.

How to Fix:

Technical solutions (hardware)
Identify bottlenecks
If can’t be solved by technical means, have to meet with the team and find another way, maybe even removing features.

Other strategies, specifically applying to Homestars (basically search-based):
Take data on most popular searches in a time-shifted way, from 12-24 hours before, at night, and just relay those results to users when they search instead of performing the calculation each time.

Final tips:

  • Establish performance metrics (pages indexed, time to create a page, etc.)
  • Monitor your metrics regularly, and share your information with relevant parties (accountability)
  • Set goals to add to the accountability
  • If you don’t measure, you can’t improve

Q & A

What can you tell me about content management systems?
Naoise: If a CMS is making you change your URLs, just make sure you 301 your URLs properly. Your SEO is pretty independent of your CMS (even ubiquitous ones like WordPress can be used for enterprise level sites). Jill: make sure your meta tags are easily changeable/addable.

How to measure pagerank?
Naoise: Don’t worry about measuring it. Wrong way to think. You’ll never be able to see real PR, and toolbar PR is lies – Build more links to the pages that need to rank better. You don’t need to know how much PR you have, you always need more.

What do I do if I can’t change URLs? (specific example where URLs could not be changed, and duplicate content was on all of them)
Everyone: If your system renders new, different URLs for the same content, and you can’t change them in the CMS, maybe mess with the canonicalization tool, but in all likelihood, you’re screwed (Naoise and Shari may disagree on that point – Naoise leaning towards the canonical tag being appropriate, Shari not)

A debate was starting between Jodi and Shari, about how much of a difference in ranking that performance can make, since Shari was basically undermining Jodi’s whole point. But they ran out of time!

Final comments:

One of the more directly informative panels with some good technical back-and-forth.

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