SEO Advice: Don’t hide part of your site behind your search bar!

If your website has a large number of pages which can only be accessed via a search function you could well be missing out on a chance to grab many potential customers. This may seem obvious for the catalogue of an online store, but what about for your store location page? In an online store, you should always be able to browse products by category, as well as searching them - the same goes for store locations. Even though your website’s users will normally float straight over to your search bar, a HTML link to a product on a page is much easier for search engines to crawl.

There are a few sections of a website which may suffer from this mistake. The most common one would be a store location page. If you have a website for a business which has multiple locations, it is essential that you create a page for each site, ideally with a search engine friendly URL such as www.mystore.com/north-east-london or www.mystore.com/locations/sheffield.htm. Search engines and Google Maps APIs make for an attractive way to browse store locations, but you must also include HTML links to each of these pages.

You don’t have to turn your location page into a long, unattractive list, but how about a link through to all locations? At the very least you must include links on your site map.

Each page should also function as a complete landing page for your site. If a user can find your site through by searching for your store name, that's great. But if they can tap in your store name and their nearest town or city, and find themselves immediately on a page of information about your business' nearest outlet, that will leave a lasting impression of a website which was professionally built and easy to navigate from the outset. Each store's page must be more than a simple javascript box. An address along with a local telephone number will definitely increase the number of people who turn their visit to your page into a phone enquiry.

Time to point a few fingers. It's no surprise that industry giants like Apple Inc. get this spot on, not that they're struggling for Search Engine recognition. Their store page has a select box with a list of their largest and most popular stores, and a html link takes you to a full list of stores. Each location in the list comes complete with address and number, and another link takes you through to an individual page. It's no surprise then that searching the term "apple belfast" will take you straight to that store page in any search engine.

So that's the good, but how about the bad? It may not be a complete failure, but let's take a quick look at supermarket chain ASDA. ASDA's store locator uses Bing maps. It's certainly a highly functional system, but the only way to reach any of their individual pages is through that input box. There is also no site map or store list to be found. This would explain why if I search for "ASDA Lincoln", various directories such as 192.com rank higher than ASDA's own page for the Lincoln store. In Google, Google Places even appear prominent above the ASDA homepage, meaning smaller sites like welton-by-lincoln-pc.gov.uk manage to find themselves higher up the page than ASDA.

For ASDA, this is hardly an issue. After all, their brand name will always grab them the top spot on its own anyway, even if its individual store pages are further down the page. But for smaller companies, this is a missed opportunity.

So remember this basic tip, include a list of html links to your stores, and anything else which is hidden behind a search function. Make sure search engines can easily crawl through your site, without having to navigate their way across treacherous things like javascript driven maps and POST functions.