Friday, March 15, 2013

A to Z Lists on Websites Really Work

A-to-Z lists help visitors and search engine bots find what they need in large, complex websites.


Recently I worked on a website development project in Bogotá, Colombia as part of an Americas multinational and multilingual team. We were tasked with training, building and launching multiple company country websites en Español. The Latin America websites project was a great success and worthy of a 'case study' review. I'll share this success in a future blog article, for another day.

But first, I have an important list I want to share with you.... an A-to-Z list.

In Bogotá during some intense training on CMS, content optimization, SEO, visitor usability, and navigation tactics, a eureka moment appeared when we could demonstrate for the new web content-masters the formidable benefits of relevant A-Z lists of linked services and products in a complex website.

It is worth praising, yet again, the virtues of including A-to-Z internal content link lists on your website. A-to-Z list advantages were first brought up in this blog back in 2009, with Back to the Future with Static A-Z Directories.

Like a city map, A-to-Z lists benefit
 visitors as effective road maps
  in large, complex websites.
A-to-Z listings are mini-directories, tables of contents, and indexes. They are also, in effect, mini-site-maps which make finding pages in large websites easier and more logical for humans (customers) and search-engine bots. They do not replace or challenge internal search engines, they complement them.

Make a logical A-to-Z list of webpages focused on similar or identical core markets, products, or service niches, list them A-to-Z (include A-Z subcategories if needed), then link each of them to their source webpage. Add a link to your new A-to-Z page in your appropriate higher-level indexes or navigation menus, as appropriate. Then wait... interesting things, wonderful things, will happen to your website over time.

Do A-Z lists work? From years of pouring over website analytics for multiple long-running websites, data clearly show the advantages of A-Z lists. Here is what I've seen, over and over again:

The main advantage of A-Z lists on Websites is high quality customer involvement. The large majority of visitors to A-Z lists are already in your website searching for answers, solutions, and products. A-Z lists are a popular search method for this activity. A-Z pages are for quality visitors, who are engaged enough to dive in and search for information and services in a logical and linear manner.

Below is top-level analytics data showing visitor activities for one service niche A-to-Z webpage, tracked for five months:
2,600 visits 
2,050 unique visits 
Landing page entrances: 1.0%
From previous pages in website:  99.0%
To next pages in website: 81.0%
Exits:  19.0%
The exit rate is significantly lower than the website average. Visitors find superior value and utility in the webpage. Landing page entrance rates for other A-Z pages can be higher, this particular example was at the lower range.           

When looking at navigation data in detail, visitors to these pages come from a diverse (but similar 'theme') list of internal webpages. The visitors research and review their options, and then fan out to new webpages in the website which spike their interest. Just like the intelligent behavior shown when people look at table of contents in books, indexes, and other alpha-beta listed data resources. A-Z lists have real, tangible utility.

However, depending upon depth and length, A-Z lists are not set-up for search engine optimization. As SEO landing pages, A-Z pages are usually poor performers, as the very essence of A-to-Z listing means displaying diffuse and dilute keyword phrases. Having dedicated niche webpages for SEO are absolutely required.

But for helping guide visitors and prospective clients to the B-to-B services they want and seek, A-Z list pages serve an important usability role, giving users an alternative way to find the data they want while complementing internal search engines.

The advantages of A-Z service niche directory lists are as manifestly beneficial today as when I first discussed them in 2009.