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.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.