How website structure should reflect customer thinking

How does structuring your site for SEO work, in practice? Rather than being some sort of awkward technique, it actually takes into account what your customers want and how they think.

Despite what many companies claim on their “About Us” page, they’re not really very customer focused. Normally the underlying ethos is all me, me, me. The website often demonstrates this.

Let’s say a company sells blue widgets and red widgets, both of which can be used in aircraft or on building sites. The company is organised internally into two application-based divisions. I’d bet that visitors arriving at the website would be greeted with those two options: visit our Aerospace Division or visit our Construction Division.

The page /aerospace would then talk about the company’s expertise in the aerospace sector, and offer options to find out more about its blue widgets and red widgets. The page /aerospace/blue-widgets would talk all about how great the blue widgets are in aerospace applications, and I’m sure there’d be much satisfaction about this arrangement.

However, what this tells Google is that the most important things to the company are ‘aerospace’ and ‘construction’, which get a mention on levels 1 and 2, with ‘red widgets’ and ‘blue widgets’ less important, only getting a mention on levels 2 and 3. I’m sure these priorities are not what’s intended, and I’m sure the sales manager of the Aerospace Division will be asking why the company is not on the first page of Google results for a search on ‘blue widgets’.

At which point, you may be saying: “It’s not all about Google though, is it?”, and indeed it isn’t. But it’s not about you either. It should be about the customer, and Google normally happens to represent how the customer is thinking.

We don’t need keyword data to know that most customers will be looking for ‘blue widgets’, hoping to find some that are applicable to the aerospace industry, rather than ‘aerospace industry’, hoping that some ‘blue widgets’ will turn up. If they’re in the aerospace industry and want some blue widgets, they’ll arrive on your site looking for blue widgets, not products for the aerospace industry.

It’s clear that the home page might be better off greeting visitors with options to find out more about red widgets or blue widgets. Then on the page /blue-widgets there’d be a link to /blue-widgets/aerospace, reflecting the customer’s priorities, rather than your divisional structure.

Things might not stop there, either. Do a bit of keyword research and you might find out that far more people are looking for ‘aircraft widgets’ than for ‘aerospace widgets’. So the third level should be /blue-widgets/aircraft, rather than reflecting the more formal but woolier name given to your division.

All Google and its keywords are telling you is how your customers are thinking. And shouldn’t it be all about them?