When building a website, it’s important to consider how easy it is for visitors to navigate to subpages from the homepage. The homepage, of course, will likely generate the most traffic. If visitors can’t easily navigate to lower-level pages from there, your website’s performance will suffer. You can help visitors access relevant subpages by improving your website’s click depth.
Also known as page depth, click depth refers to the total number of internal links, starting from the homepage, visitors must click through to access a given page on the same website. Each click adds another level of click depth to the respective page. The more links a visitor must click through to access a page, the higher the page’s click depth will be.
Your website’s homepage has a click depth level of zero. Any subpages linked directly from the homepage have a click depth level of one, meaning visitors must click a single internal link to access them from the homepage.
Click depth is a metric that affects user experience and, therefore, search rankings. Visitors typically want to access subpages easily, with as few links as possible. If a subpage requires a half-dozen or more clicks to access from the homepage, visitors may abandon your website in favor of a competitor’s site.
Google has confirmed that it uses click depth as a ranking signal. John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, talked about the impact of click depth during a Q&A session. According to Mueller, subpages with a low click depth are considered more important by Google than those with a high click depth. When visitors can access a subpage in just a few clicks from the homepage, it tells Google that the subpage is highly relevant. As a result, Google will give the subpage greater weight in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
An easy way to determine if a site suffers from high click depth is to run a crawl with Dr. Link Check. Even though Dr. Link Check’s primary function is to find broken links, the service can also be used for filtering links based on their depth:
Now you have a list of all internal page links with a click depth higher than five.
If the crawl revealed pages with a high click depth, it’s time to decide what to do about it. Here are five tips that will help you create a strategy for improving your site’s link structure.
The hierarchy of your website’s navigation menu will affect your site’s average click depth. If you use a broad hierarchy with just a few top-level categories and many lower-level categories, you can expect a higher average click depth. With this type of navigation, visitors must click through multiple category levels to access lower-level subpages, resulting in a higher average click depth.
Using a narrow hierarchy for your website’s navigation menu, on the other hand, promotes a lower average click depth. With a narrow hierarchy, your website’s navigation menu will have more top-level categories and fewer lower-level categories, which should allow visitors to access subpages in fewer clicks.
When creating articles, guides, blog posts or other content for your website, include internal links to relevant subpages. Without internal links embedded in content, visitors will have to rely on your website’s navigation menu to locate subpages. Internal links in content offer a faster way for visitors to find and access subpages, which helps keep your website from suffering with a high average click depth.
Keep in mind that internal links are most effective at improving click depth when published on subpages with a low click depth. You can add internal links to all your website’s subpages, but those published on subpages with a click depth level of one to three are most beneficial because they are close to the homepage.
Another way to improve your website’s click depth is to use breadcrumbs for supplemental navigation. What are breadcrumbs? In the context of web development, the term “breadcrumbs” refers to links in a user-friendly navigation system that shows visitors the depth of a subpage’s location in relation to the homepage. An e-commerce website, for instance, may use the following breadcrumbs on the product page for a pair of men’s jeans: Homepage > Men’s Apparel > Jeans > Product Page. Visitors to the product page can click the breadcrumb links to go up one or more levels.
Breadcrumbs shouldn’t be as a substitute for your website’s navigation menu. Rather, you should use them as a supplemental form of navigation. Add breadcrumbs to each subpage to show visitors where they are currently located on your website in relation to the homepage. You can add breadcrumbs manually, or if your website is built on WordPress, you can use a plugin to add them automatically. Yoast SEO and Breadcrumb NavXT are two popular plugins that feature breadcrumbs. Once they are activated, you can configure either of these plugins to automatically integrate breadcrumbs into your website’s pages and posts.
You can also use a visitor sitemap to lower your website’s average click depth. Not to be confused with search engine sitemaps, visitor sitemaps live up to their name by targeting visitors. Like search engine sitemaps, they contain links to all of a website’s pages, including the homepage and all subpages. The difference is that visitor sitemaps feature a user-friendly HTML format, whereas search engine sitemaps feature a user-unfriendly XML format.
After creating a visitor sitemap, create a site-wide link to somewhere in your website’s template, such as the footer. Once published, the visitor sitemap will instantly lower the click depth of most or all of your website’s subpages.
While optimizing your website for a lower average click depth can improve its performance, you shouldn’t overdo it. Linking to all your website’s subpages directly from the homepage won’t work. Depending on the type of website you operate, as well as its age, your site may have hundreds or even thousands of subpages. Linking to each one creates a messy and cluttered homepage without any sense of structure.
A high average click depth sends the message that your website’s subpages aren’t important. At the same time, it fosters a negative user experience by forcing visitors to click through an excessive number of internal links. The good news is you can lower your website’s average click depth by using a narrow hierarchy for the navigation menu, including internal links in content, using breadcrumbs and creating a visitor sitemap. These strategies will help you improve your site rankings as well as improve your visitors’ experience.