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Google Recommends Pyramid Navigation Structures For Larger Sites

A couple of months ago John Mueller of Google was asked a question about a site with a mega menu of about 1,000 links in it but those links would dynamically change based on user action. John responded that it might be an issue for Google to understand a menu that has that many links and changes that often.

Instead, John recommended this site change from a fake flat structure for navigation to a pyramid or deeper site navigation structure. The site was trying to get Google to see as many of its pages from its main pages as possible, like we recently said page level shows importance to Google. But that doesn’t mean you should put 1,000 or more links in your main navigation.

Instead, show Google the structure of the site through a pyramid like navigation structure. He said going to a deeper site navigation structure can make sense in this situation. “And that’s something where sometimes, that can definitely make sense. So it’s something– we sometimes see folks kind of obsessing about limiting the crawl depth, for example, and trying to make it so that Googlebot can crawl to all pages in a very quick time. And to some extent, I think that makes sense,” he said. He added, “On the other hand, kind of more the top down approach or pyramid structure helps us a lot more to understand the context of individual pages within the site.”

Here is the video embed which starts at 56:25 minutes in:

Here is the transcript:

RAYMOND BORHAN: We have a site with a mega menu that has over 1,000 links. It used to be that this mega menu, back in 2018, would only load upon user action. So when a user hovered above the navbar, AJAX probably load those links. At some point in 2018, we added those static links in. And I know correlation isn’t causation, but around that same time, we saw a big drop in our search traffic. And now we are now contemplating removing these links from our navbar static links and going back to links that only load upon user action with the AJAX call. We are, nevertheless, maintaining a clear path to all of these links on relevant pages. So we’ll still have a clear crawl path to those links, but only on the relevant pages, rather than having these links on every page. You know, these [INAUDIBLE] mega menu for everything. So we’re wondering, what could possibly be the impact or ramifications of removing these 1,000 mega menu links or static links, even though we are still retaining a crawl path to all of these links on relevant pages?

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. I think on the one hand, it’s kind of hard to say, because I don’t know how the rest of your site is structured. So if, for example, these 1,000 pages are all of your pages, then it would be very different compared to, say, these 1,000 pages are your categories, and you have a million kind of subcategories or something like that.

But in general, what you’re looking at from a change point of view is going from a more of a flat site structure to more, I don’t know, deeper site structure. I don’t know what the official name is.

And that’s something where sometimes, that can definitely make sense. So it’s something– we sometimes see folks kind of obsessing about limiting the crawl depth, for example, and trying to make it so that Googlebot can crawl to all pages in a very quick time. And to some extent, I think that makes sense.

On the other hand, kind of more the top down approach or pyramid structure helps us a lot more to understand the context of individual pages within the site. So in particular, if we know this category is associated with these other subcategories, then that’s a clear connection that we have between those parts. And that definitely helps us to understand how these things are connected, how they work together, a little bit better. Whereas if it’s very flat, then we think, oh, all of these are equally important, and we don’t really know which of these are connected to each other. So from my point of view, I think for a lot of sites, it makes sense to have more of a pyramid structure. But at the same time, you don’t want it to be such that it’s like you have to click through a million times to actually get to the actual content. You need to have, I don’t know, some reasonable number of clicks, essentially, to get to the content.

RAYMOND BORHAN: I see. And we are trying to– we are an e-commerce site, so there is a case to be made for us having mega menus. However, we just want to– that not to show up as static links that would get crawled, but still make it available to the user as to a user action, for a user-induced action, rather than just having them there as static links. But we still are all looking to have a siloed site with a more [? parameteral ?] structure, rather than something that has– where we indiscriminately have 1,000 links on every page. So yeah, we’ve been– we’ve talked to a number of SEO firms and they told us, well, if you do this, then it can create– negatively impact your site that all of a sudden, these 1,000 links that you had up to all these pages are gone. And it’s not really true, because we are trying to retain those links, but only on relevant pages. But [INAUDIBLE] they told don’t do it, because if you lose all these 1,000 links to all the other things, that’s bound to have a negative effect. And I’m wondering if an empirical statement like that could be made.

JOHN MUELLER: I don’t think it would always have a negative effect. I do think if you make it too deep, then that makes it harder for us to crawl and harder for us to pass the signals around. But it’s not the case that a superflat structure is going to be better than a kind of reasonable pyramid structure. So personally, I would try to aim for more of a pyramid structure just to make it so that it’s easier for us to understand the context of the individual pages and to forward the signals into kind of related areas easier. But it’s also something which is– it’s a very significant change on a site like that. So it’s something where I understand that it makes sense to kind of get more input on the options, maybe even to test things out, like you take one category and say, I’ll try it here and see what happens with regards to crawling, with regards to indexing, with regard to ranking– all of these things. Because it is quite a big step when you change your site from kind of a superflat layout to more of a pyramid layout.

Forum discussion at YouTube Community.

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