Organic Search SEO

Think SEO. Think hierarchy. Think Microsoft Word.

Thursday, November 8th, 2012 by Steve Masters tagged ,

Hierarchical structureBefore we get into this let me say, do not use Microsoft Word (or PowerPoint, or Publisher) to build a web page. These programs have an “export to HTML” function, but that does not make them web design tools – no Siree. They produce so much bloated HTML code that you will tear your eyeballs out when you see it.

This article is about using the hierarchical mentality of Microsoft Word to plan the structure of your content in a way that is optimised for search engines. Let me explain.

Good SEO relies on a good hierarchical structure

Google is like a librarian. It basically operates a fast and powerful retrieval system for information. The stuff it retrieves first will be the stuff that best matches what you are looking for and that is most likely to be the popular first choice for that search. One thing that helps Google categorise information is hierarchy.

When you write a long document in Microsoft Word (or whichever word processor you use), you probably break the content into sections, using different levels of headline. The main headline will be the biggest, then your sections will have smaller headings and you perhaps have a third or even a fourth tier of headline for sub-sections and sub-sub-sections.

Structuring your document in this way makes it easy for the reader to understand the hierarchy of the content. It also allows the word processor’s indexing tool to create a menu of the sections, based on heading strength.

Think about a website like writing a book

If you write a whole book, you would break that into chapters, with one main heading, chapter headings, sub-headings etc. Looking at it simplistically, a website should be exactly the same. You should be able to look at your website in a hierarchical way – not only at page level but site level too.

Thinking about how you might organise one document to give the content structure and make it readable will help you look at the hierarchy of the content on your website. When it comes to SEO, do your headlines reflect the keywords for which you are trying to be found in search results? If you write a proposal for a client on a Word document, you will use descriptive and relevant headings and structure the data in a meanginful way to make it easy to digest. The same goes for Google. Think of search engines as readers. Give them as much hierarchical information about your content as possible – whether it’s single page content or whole site structure.

Quick tips for hierarchical content structure

  • Use H1 tags for main headings on each page. These should closely match the meta title of the page.
  • Use H2, H3, H4 etc for second, third and fourth tier headlines.
  • Structure your site navigation in such a way that you have a clear tiered structure – eg, home page, top level sections, second level pages within sections, articles within sections etc.
  • Make sure your sitemap and navigation reflect your hierarchical structure and that they don’t send confusing or conflicting messages about page importance.


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About the author

Steve Masters

Steve Masters

Steve is Services Director for Vertical Leap. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their digital marketing. Follow on Google Plus and Twitter