Optimizing your law firm’s website for search engines is increasingly about hosting the kinds of content and information on it that potential clients are looking for. However, not all of SEO is about your content: You can appease or insult the Google gods with the technical performance of your website, as well.
We’ve covered technical SEO, before, and mentioned the value of having a shallow site architecture. Now, though, Google is sending signals that its approach requires a more refined approach.
Technical SEO and Site Architecture
Google’s new guidelines deal with technical SEO and your site’s architecture.
Technical SEO techniques are the ways that you can increase the visibility of your law firm’s website by tweaking how your site is built and the files it hosts. Some aspects of technical SEO include:
- Improving the upload speed of your website
- Optimizing the size of the images on your site
- Cleaning up your permalink structure
- Using a shallow site architecture
This last aspect of technical SEO deals with the hierarchy of the pages on your site. Where each page sits in this pyramid of importance will determine how much impact it will have on search engines.
For example, content on our home page, myersfreelance.com, carries more weight than content on our blog’s directory, myersfreelance.com/blog. Meanwhile, content on that blog directory would carry more weight than a hypothetical page, further down the chain of command (like myersfreelance.com/blog/why-we-dont-have-pages-this-deep-in-the-site-architecture).
It’s like your law school outlines:
- Myers Freelance
- Why We Don’t Have Pages this Deep in the Site Architecture
…but with every backslash in the URL acting as another subtopic’s indentation in the list.
Search engines recognize that the broadest and therefore most important content about your law firm’s site comes with the fewest indents in the overall structure. Therefore, to make sure all of your content has as much SEO pop as possible, the rule of thumb has been to keep as many pages as hierarchically close to your home page as possible—preferably in the second tier—just like the blog post you’re reading, right now (check out that URL, above).
Google: Stop Linking to Every Page from the Home Page
Now, though, Google has issued a statement that seems to contradict this basic principle of technical SEO.
John Mueller, a high-ranking search analyst at Google, was asked in an online office hour chat whether linking to every page on a site from the home page would dilute the focus of search engine crawlers.
Mueller responded yes, it would, because it would prevent Google from understanding the natural hierarchy of the site, and so would prevent the search engine from seeing what’s important and what isn’t.
But that’s kind of the whole point of having a shallow site architecture: It’s to signal to Google’s algorithm that all of your content is important.
Are We Seeing a Legitimate SEO Technique Turn Black Hat?
Keeping a shallow site architecture used to be a basic technical SEO maneuver. Hearing from Google that links to all pages from the home page can confuse its crawlers and hurt your site in the rankings makes it sounds a lot like avoiding depth in your architecture has become a tactic Google wants to quash—something typically reserved for black hat SEO moves.
The Distinction Between Architecture and Internal Linking
At Myers Freelance, we’re hesitant to ditch shallow sites, just yet. There’s room for both optimized site architecture and Google’s insistence that not all pages should be linked to from the home page.
The distinction is rather simple: Shallow architecture and internal linking are far from the same. You can have all of the pages in your law firm’s website housed at the second tier (much like our site) without linking to everything from your home page.
A great example of this in action is a sitemap. Sitemaps are ugly pages that link to all of a website’s articles, and are typically found in the home page’s footer (just look on our home page).
While the sitemap does link to all of a website’s content, those links are not found directly on the home page, itself—they are on a page once removed from it (myersfreelance.com/sitemap). Google doesn’t seem to have a problem with that.
In conclusion, we think there are two takeaways from this situation:
- Keep your site architecture as shallow as possible
- Don’t link to all of your pages from your home
There’s no reason to presume that these two holdings can’t square with one another.