Have you recently been reading about how holistic digital marketing is the best approach? One of the most overlooked ways to focus your digital strategy without creating additional content is to review your site structure with the critical eye of how you are trying to go to market. This seems like a no-brainer, but did you know that there are even more confusion points that could be detrimental to how Search Engines regard your site?

In this blog, I will spend some time reviewing a few of the more basic issues I have run into while reviewing prospects’ and clients’ sites during planning for redesigns and re-platforming. I will address mostly domestic challenges, but keep your eyes open for the follow up to this post that will address the host of new challenges that arise when you have regional or international concerns. It is my opinion that when Marketing and IT are not joined at the hip in any redesign – the opportunity for error or omission are greatly increased.

Top Navigation

Have you have spent lots of time and resources conducting in-depth persona research? Or are you planning to launch and adjust based on performance data? No matter where you are starting from, your top navigation needs to reflect the sales process and buyer’s journey. This will determine the elements of the navigation.

If a potential visitor needs to do research on your product onsite, or needs to justify a purchase – it will make sense to list a ‘resources’ option in the top navigation. Now if it is not a major decision factor for purchase, or if the purchase is more of an impulse buy – it may not make sense to include these elements in the top navigation. Remember, the top navigation will likely be at the top of the majority of your pages, but consider whether the top navigation will be an asset or distraction at the point of check-out. Would including a simple “Continue Shopping” button to allow access when backing out of a check-out sequence make better sense than instituting a universal top navigation on all pages?

These questions should be answered with data to attempt to remove as much internal bias as possible. Important data to consider includes:

  • Cart Abandonment Rate
  • Top Exit Pages from Google Analytics
  • Site Search Data

Careful review of the above data should take the guesswork out of navigation recommendations. Without a published justification, you’d be surprised at how often ‘best practices’ match what the developer is comfortable building.

Subdirectories vs. Subdomains

This is an age-old debate in the SEO world. But one has practicality in marketing as opposed to the ranking factor evaluation of the structure. In many posts from leaders in this arena, you will hear that Google (according to Matt Cutts) is indifferent to the value of placing content on a subdirectory or a subdomain.

Alternatively, Moz’s founder, Rand Fishkin, stated in a tweet from January 10th of this year

“Of the folks who have written me about it:
Switch from blog.subdomain.tld to subdomain.tld/blog immediately improved rankings: 7
The reverse: 0”

Regardless of whom you choose to believe, I want to offer that there are fundamental structural advantages in choosing one over the other depending on how you are intending to use the content to support your overall marketing strategy. In the instance that you have a core user experience that needs to differ from the main site or root domain, I believe a subdirectory makes perfect sense.  If you have a family of brands and you want each of them to assume their own user experience, I would recommend a subdomain. However, if your family of brands will maintain a similar user experience and are more important to aggregate up to build the parent brand, you may benefit more from using subdirectories to organize your site. I believe the reason behind this is due to the relationship of the structures.

Subdirectories are all contained within a single taxonomy tree under the root domain. But subdomains exist as an extension of the root domain and give a different relationship. I would compare this relationship like the difference between a parent/child relationship (subdirectories) vs a sibling relationship (subdomains). While in some families, there is equal relationship strength between the two, it has clear implications about ownership/belonging in parent/child structure as opposed to the association implications that are more overarching in the sibling structure of a subdomain.

There are more factors to consider than just those listed above, but here is an initial list of  suggested structures that will support your digital marketing strategy, here are a few:

Subdomains:
  1. Franchises – where local control is important for the optimization to serve and connect with the community they are servicing. ( g., boston.cbslocal.com)
  2. Regional Focus for a Business – Use Craigslist as a perfect example where each subdirectory is specifically focused on the community they serve. (g., boston.craigslist.org)
  3. Distinct Offerings – when you need to establish a separate experience for an under-recognized product line or a unique identity for a product line – subdomains allow you to establish the URL structure as an emphasis on the distinction. (g., commercial.JPMorganchase.com)
Subdirectories:
  1. Supporting Content – Subdirectories are important to allow aggregation of value to flow into the root domain and establish the parent/child relationship in a direct structural design. (g., www.wakefly.com/blog)
  2. Language and Culture Variants – It is more effective to use subdirectories if you are not regionally targeting an area, but rather offering a language to target an audience within a single region. (g., www.toyota.com/espanol)
  3. Branding – If you have content that needs to drive a brand, the subdirectory allows all value developed in the ‘folder’ to roll up to the root domain. Therefore the unified user experience also reinforces a brand and provides a congruent experience. (g., www.lonelyplanet.com/usa/boston)

Conclusion

I am confident that these marketing tactics can heavily impact the disconnect that exists between sites and digital marketing strategy. However, this is not an exhaustive list by any means. In future follow-up posts, I will expand on these to give a more robust list of considerations. Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns to effectively evaluate what makes sense for your organization. If you would like to learn how the team at Wakefly can help your business, let us know. We are here to help you.