Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Joe in Croatia. This one deals with an issue I’m sure every SEO professional has either seen — or will see at some point in their career.
“I have a question regarding drop down menu/hidden link impact on authority of the pages.
So, our webpage is about sports data and statistic, where on our homepage we show various sport matches played in various countries. For user experience and for the technical part of the page, those matches will be put in a drop down menu of each country. If the country menu isn’t clicked on, those matches are both invisible to users and Google. Will that have a negative impact on match pages regarding authority and will it impact crawling?”
Navigation and menus are a big area where SEO pros can either improve their site or do more harm than good.
Why Navigational Menus Matter in SEO
A lot of thought goes into menus, not just from an SEO perspective but from UX, creative, accessibility, and development lenses, too.
In technical SEO terms, navigation is your best chance to influence the PageRank of your internal pages.
It’s where you can control the links and how any authority (can we all quit saying “link juice”?) flows throughout your site.
Navigational menus also help search engines understand how your site is laid out.
I’m often asked, “If the link is in the sitemap, do we need it in the main navigational menu, too?”
The answer is yes, you do!
If the link isn’t important enough for you to put in your navigation and show to users, why would the search engines think it’s important for them to show to users?
So let’s get back to Joe’s question: Is there a negative impact on authority for pages in your dropdown menu?
Depending on how your menu is coded, those secondary and tertiary links may not be visible to search engines. That won’t have a negative impact on those pages, but it’s also not ideal in terms of their overall optimization.
It may also have an impact on crawling.
Many SEO professionals believe that Google crawls pages based on their PageRank so more internal links to the page increase the chance that it will be discovered and crawled, and also the PageRank!
Side note: A few years ago at a conference, Dixon Jones did a great talk about how CNN changing their navigation around affected the PageRank of sites several links away from them because it changed their internal link graph so much. I can’t find that presentation online, but here’s a blog post talking about the theory.
Important Considerations for Navigational Hierarchy
When designing a nagivational hierarchy, it’s important to keep in mind user flow and what pages are important.
Not every page has to be in the menu. However, there should be a clear crawl path from the homepage to all of the other pages on the site – one that doesn’t involve the sitemap.
You’ll notice many top retail sites have one high-level menu on their homepage, but then add in a secondary menu with more links relevant to that category on the category pages or subpages.
They’ve chosen to flow their “authority” to that sub-set of pages, and then let those pages all link to everything else. This isn’t a bad strategy and it’s one I’ve used in the past.
Always create a graph of internal links to make sure you’re really sending the signals you want to send.
You can do this easily using tools like Screaming Frog, Sitebulb, Majestic, PowerMapper, or even on your own using Gephi and a list of internal links.
Also, make sure that your navigation doesn’t end up being the majority of the content on the page.
Search engines have gotten really good at determining what content is in what parts of the page, but I still see tons of sites with navigation so big that it accounts for about 90% of the content of the page.
That’s not ideal and can be confusing to search engines (and people).
To learn more about best practices for navigation, see How to Improve Your Website Navigation: 7 Essential Best Practices.
In closing, the answer to Joe’s question is that it’s different for every site. I hope my response gives you some things to think about and resources to help determine the best way forward in your unique situation.
- 10 Ways Website Structure Can Affect SEO
- How Search Engines Crawl & Index: Everything You Need to Know
- Advanced Technical SEO: A Complete Guide
Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!