Do Deep Folders Stop Search Engines?
Folder depth comes up every now and again as a ranking factor (albeit a small one). The most recent mention is in a list of 22 considerations for improving natural search performance from Search Insider (written by Rob Garner of iCrossing). Some of the items he listed are accepted by the majority, but one in particular mentions folder depth as being an obstacle to search engines without additional support or detail. And so I'm taking it upon myself to see just how search engines handle folder depth.
Ideally I'd like to set up an experiment to measure the ranking benefits of a root-level page vs. one buried within sub-folders, but with so many variables to hold constant that wouldn't be easy. So to start, I thought I'd just focus on finding out if search engines will give up on files buried too deeply. My current take is that folder depth, within reason, won't stop a search engine from indexing content and that folder depth, again within reason, won't impact rankings all that much. I do believe that I once read that Yahoo cared about folder depth, but more current commentary suggests that major search engines are more concerned about click-depth i.e. the number of clicks away from the home page or some other authoritative page.
Some notes about the setup of this SEO experiment:
- I've created several pages that I've linked to from here. Having the links all on one page should eliminate some confounding variables.
- The folders are of varying levels with the deepest being 10. By the way, if you've got a site architecture that needs this many levels, you should really rethink things.
- The deepest folder structure is listed first. I did this because I know that a 3-level deep folder structure will get indexed so if this one does, but the others above it don't I'll be able to say that the search engines didn't index just the first couple of links in the list.
- I've removed the usual related links that appear at the bottom of my posts.
And here are the test links. There's really no point in you clicking on these, but I know some of you won't be able to resist.
I'll post updates about the indexing of the above URLs in Google, Yahoo, and MSN in a week or two, but I'll let things sit for longer than that before making any conclusions.
Eleven days after this post went live, Google and Yahoo had indexed and cached my test pages including the one 10 folders deep. Live hasn't cached any of them, but who cares about Live, right?