Click Distance: Site Structure And SEO

Quadzilla at SEO Black Hat ran an interesting seo experiment on click distance and how it affects ranking. In case you don’t know, click distance is the number of clicks it takes to get to a page on your site from the home page. While it certainly isn’t the most scientific experiment you’ll ever see I think the results make sense and I’ve noticed similar things on my own site.

The experiment was a simple one. All the categories were removed from the sidebar on the blog and replaced with a link to every single post instead. The change meant the click distance was one for every page on the site. The Google Sitemap was also removed. Since there were many other things going on with the site at the same time this can’t really be considered scientific, but like I said I do believe the findings.

While Yahoo, MSN, and Ask search traffic remained essentially unchanged referrals from Google were up over 70%. As Quadzilla mentions he did capitalize on a few highly searched phrases during the month and did launch what is undoubtedly an already popular forum I think the results do indicate a preference in shorter click paths to get to content from your home page.

When I first designed and developed this site I had a list of every link at that time in left side navigation. Other than all the blog posts here you can get to every page of the site from the home page. Something I’ll probably change in a future redesign, but as I write this it’s still true. While I can’t boast the traffic of SEO Black Hat, I did notice from the outset that PR propagated very quickly through this site. All pages outside of the blog have generally had the same page rank which doesn’t always happen with sites even extremely popular and trusted sites.

Lowering click distance is also one of the reasons for adding a sitemap that’s linked from your home page. I’m not referring to a Google Sitemap, but the kind you create on your own for your site. The reason has generally been for spidering and indexing issues, but it’s interesting to think it could help with rank as well. I also find it rather interesting that reducing click distance also seemed to reduce the pages in the supplemental index on the SEO Black Hat site.

Though I can’t find the reference to it at the moment I believe Yahoo has always recommended keeping sites structure less than three levels deep. It surprises me a little that Quadzilla didn’t see greater improvement in Yahoo traffic given the Yahoo recommendation. You would think click distance would be important to them. Of course it’s possible October will see that increase in traffic.

Another observation I’ve made about this site is that some of the posts here performed well for me in Google for a few months and recently seem to have dropped off the results pages. The traffic was nothing to brag about, but it was nice for me. The phrases that would lead to the search referrals were long tail and somewhat less than competitive. If anything over the months I’ve built a few links to them and would assume the rank of each post would increase, instead of falling off. Now it makes me wonder if the reason could be that as I’ve written more posts they’ve been pushed further away from the home page and consequently have a greater click distance. It might make an interesting experiment for me to provide a more direct link from the blog home page, or just add them to the sitemap and see if the traffic from those posts comes back.

Quadzilla’s experiment while far from definitive is interesting and given some observations from this site I do believe the results to be mostly true. I’ll have to try my own experiment with click distance and see if the results back up those of the seo experiment at SEO Black Hat.

Additional Resources

SEO and Click Distance
Ranking Search Results by File Type and Click Distance

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

6 comments

  1. The “Click distance”, as Quadzilla put it, does play a role and it is easily explained.

    The closer to the homepage, the more PR the page gets from the homepage. So unless there are a lot of links to a particular page (PR is assigned to a page, not a site), pages – or posts, for that matter – down the way will have less link weight (PR) on them.

    It is important to have as many pages as close to the homepage as possible not only for the search engines, like Quadzilla may surmise, but for the visitors. The faster and easier the potential customer gets what he or she wants, the better for both of you, right?

  2. The PR part of click distance is easy to see and understand and I agree with you about shortening the path being better for users. Once a search engine though had indexed a page you would think it might not matter so much though for where that page ranks. The links pointing to the page are still the same and the content on the page is still the same. If it ranked well for a query when it was one click from the home page shouldn’t it rank just as well when it’s three clicks away? Seems logical to me anyway, which is why I think this experiment is interesting.

    I started my own very unscientific ecperiment here. I added a Popular Posts section to the menu for the blog. The posts there all used to rank well for a variety of long tail phrases and were consistently bringing in traffic for a few months. Not a lot of traffic by any means, but very consistent from day to day and month to month. Then recently each stopped bringing any traffic at all. Not a big loss overalll for the site, but I thought it would be interesting to see if moving them a click or two closer to the home page of the site would make a difference. They should now have a click distance of two where I think they had falled to either three or four.

    Might make no difference whatsoever, but in a month or so I’ll see if those pages are back to bringing the same traffic they were a couple of months ago.

  3. Well, the thing is that links pointing to the page are not the same with time, when it comes to blogs.

    They are moved further back in to the categories and the search engines have to click and click the “Earlier entries” in each category to get to them.

    Now, of course, it wouldn’t matter if there were several incoming links to the posts themselves from relevant sites, but if not, I’d expect older pages to rank a bit less.

    On the other hand, we have the age factor here, so the experience will be different for two old pages, I guess.

    I’d wait three months, but if you can yield results in a month, that’d be great. Considering the PR update is about, it may be possible.

  4. Absooutely. When those posts were on the main page of the blog the naturally had a lot more links pointing at them, but they were still ranking after they’d been off the main page. There are some links pointing directly to the posts themselves. The keyphrases they were being found for are not competitive and while they do have a few links they were probably ranking more for on-page factors than anything else.

    And like I aid they did rank for a couple of months after not being on the main page for the blog. For awhile they were probably no more than one click from the main page, and I think now they are two clicks away. Now that I’ve placed direct links to them here it will be interesting to see if they do rank again.

    They might not. The recent loss in rank could be from so many things, but I figured it was worth experimenting with to see. I’ll have to wait for Google to come back and update things, but if and when something happens I’ll be sure to post about here.

  5. Logically you are linking to all the pages from all the pages. Hence making it easily accessible to search engine bots and passing good PR to the pages, instead of passing it to all the other irrelevant pages of the categories and all.

  6. There are times when it’s hard to link to all pages. Without the sitemap on this blog for instance many of the posts would begin to fall further and further away from the main page. The sitemap was such an easy add and making those pages more accessible from the top of the site structure is no doubt helping many to rank better than they otherwise might.

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