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Is Page Depth a Ranking Factor?

12th September 2019Kyle BlanchetteKyle Blanchette

We can’t link to everything from our home pages (imagine what that would look like on a site with millions of URLs!), but there are steps we can take to avoid burying pages too deep on our websites.

But why should we care?

Because the depth of your page can impact how it performs in search. Let’s dive in.

What is page depth?

Page depth (also known as “click depth”) is the number of clicks it takes to get to a page from the home page.

We’ve labeled the picture below to show you how that would play out on this example e-commerce website.

The home page, as the starting point, has a depth of 0. It links directly to the pages Clothing, Shoes, Accessories, and Sale, so those pages all have a depth of 1. The pages that those pages link to will have a depth of 2, and so on.

page click depth

How does page depth impact SEO performance?

Page depth is the number of clicks it takes to reach a page from the home page, but how does that affect SEO performance?

According to John Mueller of Google, when it comes to search rankings, the number of clicks it takes to get to a page from the home page carries more weight than the page’s URL structure. If this is true, then the reverse is also true: Google will see pages as less important if it takes several clicks to reach it from the home page.

Par for the course for Botify, we want the data to support a claim like this. Using the various page depth reports in our platform, we’re able to see how a factor like page depth influences SEO KPIs like crawling, ranking, and traffic.

1. Page depth impacts Google’s crawl

Time and again, we’ve found that *the deeper the page, the less likely Google will crawl it, especially on larger websites. *

URLs crawled by google by depth

Why? Because Google has limited time and resources. There are trillions of pages on the web that Googlebot has to crawl, so there’s a cap on how much time it can spend on your site before moving on. While Googlebot typically has little trouble crawling all the pages on smaller websites, this becomes exponentially harder the larger the site is.

With limited time to crawl your site, Google tends to prioritize crawling URLs with a lower page depth, and dropping off before it gets a chance to make it to your deeper pages.

2. The impact of page depth on ranking

Google may not crawl pages with a high page depth, and when that happens, the uncrawled page won’t be added to the index, and consequently won’t be able to rank or earn traffic from organic search.

But there’s another way page depth impacts ranking, and that is its effect on PageRank.

PageRank is a component of Google’s algorithm that helps it evaluate each page’s importance, and it does so by counting the number and quality of links to a page.

You can direct the flow of PageRank throughout your site through links. For example, if your home page has many links from other websites (“backlinks”), and you link to “Clothing” from your home page, Clothing will get passed some of that PageRank.

While Google doesn’t make the PageRank of each page public anymore, we can still use internal links to evaluate how PageRank flows throughout your website, regardless of how much PageRank your website receives from other websites. In Botify, this is called “Internal Pagerank.”

Deep pages on your site, even if they’re crawled by Google, typically rank poorly because they have little (or no) PageRank.

internal pagerank by depth

Pages deeper on the site have less internal pagerank because they’re linked to less often. Sometimes though, deep pages will have high internal pagerank because they’re linked to internally a lot, even if they’re not close to the home page in terms of clicks.

The most important thing to note here is that page depth tends to correlate with lower rankings.

impact of page depth on ranking

3. The impact of page depth on traffic

Less frequent (or no) crawls and low (or no) PageRank mean that deep pages on your site tend to get little-to-no organic traffic from search engines.

active URLs on Google by depth

While page depth is somewhat subjective depending on your unique site, we tend to see that the best performing pages have a depth of 5 or less. So if there are strategic pages on your site sitting at a depth of 1,500 (which we’ve actually seen before!), it’s a good idea to take action and lessen that page depth.

*Need help navigating your page depth issues? We recommend checking out The Top 5 Depth Issues & Solutions. *

How to identify the depth of your pages

You can identify the depth of your pages a few different ways.

One way is to view the average depth of your pages in the Distribution section of Botify Analytics.

average page depth

Clicking on “view details” will take you to a page that lists of all your URLs sorted by their depth.

Although we recommend keeping strategic pages at a depth no greater than 5, it’s a good idea to see what depth correlates with low crawls or PageRank on your unique site.

For example, you could navigate to the “URLs crawled by Google by depth” report. If you see that crawled pages are the lowest when they’re at a depth of 10+, you may want to start there.

URLs cralwed by google depth 10

This is where page segmentation is important too. The not-crawled pages sitting at a depth of 10+ may not represent your most strategic pages. When you segment your pages into meaningful groups though (e.g. segments for blog pages, product pages, UGC pages, category pages, etc.) you can start to evaluate where depth is becoming an issue on the pages that are most important to you only.

In the example below, we’re viewing URLs crawled by Google by depth, but only for blog pages.

blog segment page depth

If you work on an e-commerce site, you could use segmentation to view page depth issues only on in-stock product pages. If you work on a publisher site, you could add a filter that allows you to see the depth of all articles published within the past month - since your most recent articles will likely be your most important strategic pages, you’ll want to make sure they’re not buried on your site like, say, your archived articles from many years ago.

So, is page depth a ranking factor?

Yes! Page depth can influence ranking. The reason underlying why page depth impacts rankings is a bit more nuanced than that though. Remember:

  • Pages deeper on your site may not be crawled as often
  • Pages deeper on your site tend to have less internal pagerank
  • Pages that aren’t crawled often and/or have little internal pagerank tend to rank worse and therefore receive lower volumes of organic search traffic

As always, we encourage you to test and see what the data is telling you on your website.

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