SEO: Is Structure King?
The first thing you were probably told about building a website and marketing that site was "content is king." When you started fumbling around with SEO, you read or heard this slogan again: "content is king."
In fact, this slogan has been repeated so often that it might almost seem like common sense. While content is certainly important, Derrick Wheeler, Microsoft's senior SEO architect, argues that there is much more to SEO than just good content. Wheeler argues that structure is king, not content.
In the debate over the most important aspect of SEO, many Internet marketers argue over the importance of links vs content. Some say that the number or quality of inbound links is what drives your search engine rankings, while others say that links are important but great content trumps links, since your content will naturally attract the best links and therefore you should just focus on writing and distributing great content.
For a small to medium-sized website, structure may not matter as much as great content and links. However, at a certain size, site structure becomes an issue. Wheeler argues that, with mega-websites like Microsoft.com, how the content is structured or arranged on the site is far more important than the content. If you have 14,000 pages of content, and an almost endless number of links to manage, the structure of your site becomes very important.
If users can't find your content, then it will never get read. If you have bad site structure, Google, and other search engines, may not be able to crawl your site efficiently or effectively. Some content may be buried and not linked to very well. Other content may be old or junk content that was managed by someone who is no longer working at the company.
Sometimes, the issue is navigation. For Microsoft.com, Wheeler explains:
"...we’ll have one million pages of navigation to get to fourteen thousand pages of content, and the way that you get to that content determines the URL of the final landing page, so every final landing page of content will have however many different ways there are of getting to it duplicated, so you know, you’ve got like twenty million URLs just for fourteen thousand pages,"
Sometimes, when old content gets removed, there's nothing to take its place. So, the result is an ugly 404 page. Does a mega-site like Microsoft do a redirect? Sometimes, but sometimes not. Does this affect their rankings. Wheeler doesn't think so. He argues that when Microsoft releases a new product or service, they get tons of inbound links just because they're Microsoft. In other words, they've successfully branded themselves and people will link to them even if they've missed some basic SEO stuff.
This doesn't mean that you should ignore content or backlinks to your site. However, it does mean that you shouldn't ignore structure. Have you done everything you possibly could to improve your rankings and you're still lagging behind your competitors? Take a look at your site's architecture. Maybe there are some crawler inefficiencies that you have to sort out. If you have thousands of pages of content, and links coming at you left and right from having a good PR strategy, then you're really at a point when you should consider site structure as "king" of your SEO strategy.