The key goals most companies have for their websites are capturing new customers, engaging customers, retaining visitors and driving loyalty. Proper use of website and data structure is crucial to meeting these goals, as explained by Webnodes CTO Ole Gulbrandsen at this week’s Gilbane 2012 Conference in Boston.

During the conference-closing session “Structuring Content on the Web,” Gulbrandsen explained how using leading-edge structure can help site designers overcome inherent limitations of computers. “Computers don’t understand language,” said Gulbrandsen. “The introduction of structure arranges data in columns by category and assigns pieces of data individual numbers and other identifiers.” 

Shaking the Navigation Tree

This leads to the traditional “tree-based” navigation used by most websites, which arranges data categories by a hierarchy that causes one set of data to lead to another set of data. However, the explosion of “Big Data” as well as the advent of multichannel publishing is making tree-based navigation difficult for the modern consumer, who may be searching for a highly specialized piece of information and entering a site from many different points.

“Navigation must be rearranged by user need,” said Gulbrandsen. “You need relational-based navigation that identifies related content. In multichannel publishing, the traditional answer has been to produce html pages. But now you need to be able to restructure pages for different device formats and application frameworks.”

In addition, Gulbrandsen said social collaboration, which relies on social data as a network of relations, further complicates site design and navigation.

It’s All Semantic

According to Gulbrandsen, semantic tagging provides relational-based navigation that meets the needs of today’s multichannel web user. “Semantic tags place extra text embedded within html,” he said. “They identify data in greater detail. Thus search engine indexes give more accurate search results.”

Recognizing the importance of semantic tagging, Gulbrandsen said the major search engines have already accepted a common semantic tagging standard. As a result, companies can “capture clients in the search engine and engage them at the page.”

This ability is especially critical in the current web navigation environment where consumers are as likely to land directly on a product page as on a site’s main page and much more likely to use internal search features and menus,” said Gulbrandsen. “It’s more important to have well-structured html,” he commented.

Gulbrandsen advised organizations creating websites to seek a CMS that supports structured data. The proliferation of web apps that bring more business processes to the web and create richer site functionality also make structured data a necessity, he said.