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By: Steve Penny
A website's main menu and navigation can change for many reasons with a site redesign that can have a major impact on short term and long term rankings if not managed properly. One of the ways it can impact SEO is by increasing or decreasing the number of links on the homepage - that usually occurs in the main menu. This is then replicated on every single page of the site and can either help or hurt a websites rankings sitewide, depending upon how well the underlying algorithms that give the site rankings are understood.

Google provides its guidelines to help webmasters build sites that work best on Google. Unfortunately, most web developers haven't read them. Fewer follow them and commonly make major SEO mistakes with website redesigns. SEO mistakes with the homepage links and main menu are particulary expensive because they can impact the entire site's rankings - and require major rebuilding and rethinking of the site to correct.

Google recommends having a site with a clear site hierarchy. Link pages of primary importance from the homepage - pages of secondary importance from secondary pages. Google's SEO Starter Guide says not to link every page of a site to every other page because that is the opposite of a clear site hierarchy.

A common SEO problem during website redesigns is homepage link inflation that results when the number of pages the homepage links to increases - often in the main menu humans never even see as a whole or notice. How many subpages of the site the homepage links to can impact rankings as a result of how Google PageRank - which primarily resides in the homepage as a result of it being the page most external links from other sites point to - is dispersed from the homepage to subpages of the site via these links.

Although Google for some time has been diminishing the importance of PageRank compared to the earlier days of the Internet - and good, well optimized content will usually trump PageRank - fact is developing additional content and new external links to many subpages is time consuming and expensive. You have to be conscious that the PageRank that resides in the homepage is finite - that GoogleBot is just a bean counter and has only counted a finite number of links pointing to the site. Managing the flow of that PageRank from other websites pointing to the homepage through links to subpages are where economies of scale occur because this crucial decision impacts the entire website.

Google's Matt Cutts says regarding how many links per page, "So how might Google treat pages with well over a hundred links? If you end up with hundreds of links on a page, Google might choose not to follow or to index all those links. At any rate, you're dividing the PageRank of that page between hundreds of links, so each link is only going to pass along a minuscule amount of PageRank anyway."

http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-many-links-per-page/

More recently, Cutts has clarified that Google will now crawl more than a hundred links, but that doesn't mean they will pass PageRank. Keep links from the homepage to a reasonable number. Increasing the number of links in the main menu decreases the amount of PageRank each link receives - which can inadvertently decrease rankings of your main entrance pages across the entire site.

For "SEO Siloing" - which is focusing your PageRank vertically from the home page instead of spreading it too thin horizontally - link pages of primary importance from the homepage. Link pages of secondary importance from secondary pages. Don't spread your PageRank too thin via links from the homepage to too many secondary pages that don't need it because they are not actively competing for rankings.

For example, many corporate sites have a "Careers" main menu selection. During websites redesigns, without appreciation that PageRank is finite this gets expanded to four links from the homepage with a "Career Opportunities" link, "Why Work At..." link, and an "Interns" link in the main menu - none of which are competing for rankings.

In most instances, you simply cannot afford a link from the homepage to an Interns page at the direct expense of your core business's rankings. Link the Interns page from a secondary Careers page to preserve the PageRank of important pages you need rankings for - not spread it too thin.

Without understanding that PageRank is finite, and that there is a rankings cost to each of these links, no one catches this SEO mistake because pull down menus are not usually seen by people as a whole like search engine spiders do. Here's Google's Matt Cutts video explaining how PageRank flows from the homepage and that this as a secondary level of optimization to pay attention to after first focusing on content:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4IE4WLPLZQ

All other ranking factors being equal, it is a mathematical certainty increasing the size of the main menu will reduce the rankings of subpages if there is not an equal and opposite compensating optimization of the content of those subpages. But why not make that optimization show ranking increases rather than just trying to make up for rankings lost spreading PageRank from the homepage too thin with too many links?

Increasing the main menu can also change the keyword densities of all pages the main menu appears on and can push keywords you want ranking for lower in the layout. Search engines give the most ranking weight to what comes at the top of the page. Expanding the main overhead menu has the effect of pushing further down in the layout the keyword targeted text you want ranking for that humans see - reducing the ranking strength of those keywords.

Because menus are usually one to three word items they are inherently difficult to optimize, so there's usually not much in the main menu at the top of the page for optimization. It can reduce your rankings if the main menu is expanded without thinking through the SEO impact carefully.

At the end of the day, most people judge whether a site redesign is a success or failure if traffic is up or down. So never forget Google usually has the last say here and avoid making SEO mistakes with website redesigns by having too many links on the homepage.

Paying close attention to the underlying fundamentals of Google's algorithms and following their guidelines build websites that work best on Google.


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Steve Penny SEO whose clients include some of the largest websites in North America has seen immediate sustained search engine traffic increases of over 10-15% reducing homepage links and increasing rankings. To find out the top 10 SEO Website Redesign Mistakes that can cost you rankings and traffic please visit http://stevepenny.com
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