When approaching navigation it’s important to remember that search engine spiders are a key audience. Google, Bing and other search engines analyze site navigation structures as they crawl your site to understand what’s important. For example, if a product page is only two clicks away from the home page it will be considered more important than one that is four or five clicks away. Not only should the pages be able to be crawled, but in many cases they should also be indexed. So be sure to follow SEO best practices when designing navigation pages so they rank well in natural search results.

Below are some tips to help you in this regard. You can find the complete set of SEO tips by downloading the complete “Big Book of Navigation Tips,” available from our website. Next week we’ll provide some tips related to online merchandising in navigation so be sure to check back.

1. Ensure your navigation pages can be crawled by Internet search engines. To ensure your navigation pages can be crawled by Internet search engines, use short URLs that include useful keywords to your navigation pages (e.g., category or subcategories) with very little parameters. Avoid using javascript-produced links because the spiders may have trouble interpreting these. Also ensure that navigation pages are not excluded in your robots.txt file.

2. Include title and <h1> tags on your navigation pages. Customize your title and <h1> tags to include the category title of each category page. These are both located at the top of category pages and are factors that search engines consider when ranking a page. The text in the title tag appears in the search engine results – so it should be accurate, unique and compelling. You may also want to include subcategories within the title tag to help rank for those more specific keywords.

3. When making any changes to your navigation, consider what to do with your old navigation links. The main issue is the old navigation links may have generated great SEO results. You will likely want your new navigation pages to benefit from your old navigation pages’ popularity. The recommended way of handling this is to use a 301 redirect. This will redirect the old navigation links to any equivalent new navigation link. By doing this, the value of the old page will be linked to the new page, minimizing the negative impact on your SEO.