Drop Downs vs. HTML Navigation for Search Engine Optimization

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When you consider search engine crawlers only rarely visit your site to index pages, then you need to be ready with optimal search engine optimization (SEO) when they do arrive. One area deserving consideration is whether you use drop down or HTML navigation menus. In other words, will your site navigation be driven by menus that drop down from main topics or will your menu be a text tree listing main topics and subtopics (HTML)?

There are two issues when designing your navigation. First and foremost, it must be user friendly. Second, think about the search engine impact for each type of design (drop down vs. HTML).

As for drop downs, they can be designed as CSS, JavaScript, Flash. If you don’t know what these are, your web designer will, but it is your duty to direct the design to have the best impact on SEO.

Here are a few pros and cons to consider before investing in a new web design or rehabbing an existing site.

Drop down pros:
·    Clean design
·    Organized navigation that can layer content
·    CSS-based download links are search engine friendly

Drop down cons:
·    Limits accessibility for some people
·    JavaScript drop downs can be problematic, leading to poor search engine crawling. Search engines are beginning to process JavaScript drop downs, but not nearly as much as CSS-based drop downs.

If you are set on having drop menus on your website, then at least consider CSS-based menus.

HTML navigation link pros:
·    Search engine friendly
·    Sub-page links can be revealed on all pages or once visitors go to a main topic page

HTML cons:
·    Too many links can become unwieldy and confusing for the site visitor

The primary purpose for a navigation menu, of course, is to guide web visitors unambiguously through your site. Ultimately, navigation must be intuitive and easy to use.

Whether you choose drop downs or HTML menus, here are few rules for good navigation:
·    Navigation must be as accessible as possible. No matter what page the visitor is on, they must be able to quickly and easily see the navigation menu.
·    Use short, yet descriptive titles.
·    Keep primary navigation to six or seven topics.
·    Navigation should be consistent from page to page.
·    Visitors should be able to tell where they are relative to the rest of the site.

One solution is to include drop downs as well as HTML navigation in the left panel. Visitors can choose and you cover both sides of the debate regarding whether crawlers can crawl drop down menus.

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