Over the past year and a half, I worked with a number of -950 problems. In doing that, I noticed that many of these sites (though not all) had a characteristic that I started to call the Mega Menu. It comes in two forms, but both of them place a lot of anchor text on every page.
Type #1 just has a long laundry list of links down the left hand side (and often across the footer) and Type #2 uses a CSS hover menu so the page LOOKS neater, but the code still holds many, many links - especially if the menu goes into a second or third level.
Why could this create a problem? I have two ideas. First, we know that anchor text is a heavily weighted element in the algorithm. All that opportunity to go over the top with keywords in anchor text cannot be a good thing. And second, Google reps keep repeating the advice not to go beyond 100 links on a page. Even if more links are now spidered, just think of the pile of semantic confusion that this can throw at the relevance calculations.
So I started looking at the client sites that are really cooking - and guess what, they often are between 30 to 40 links on the home page, no more.
On one well ranked site I was called to help with, we improved even further by dropping from about 60 links in the template to only 22.
Using their analytics program we discovered that one of the home page links got over 60% of the clicks, and 10 of them got 99%! The other were there for "SEO" purposes, but the customers apparently could care less. So we dropped a ton of that anchor text from the site template, and saw rankings get even better on the best terms.
On another site, there was a 3-level hover menu that, even before any content area links, offered 130 anchor tags. We re-thought the Information Architecture and moved the site into a classic "inverted L" format, dropping down to about 45 links per page. Again, everything about the site started to perform better, rankings, stickiness, conversions, you name the metric.
VISITORS LIKE IT TOO
Even without SEO concerns, hover menus can be a problem for visitors. For one thing, they cannot see all their options at any one time. For another, it's easy to end up with several links that have the same anchor text but point to different pages. Now that's confusing both for people and for algorithms!
It can be mind-bending work to to generate a good Information Architecture -- and even harder work to choose optimal menu labels. It's much easier to grow a site by just slapping more links onto the menu. However, from what I've seen, slim and trim is the way to go with menus. Google seems to like it a lot, and a visitor's first impression of such a site is "I can deal with this", not "sheesh, where do I start?"
I'm not saying you can't succeed with a Mega Menu, only that it can be more problematic. Especially when you've been programmed with the SEO mantra of "links, keywords, anchor text, links, keywords, anchor text" for many years, it's easy to go wrong without even noticing.
Anyone else have experiences with different sizes of menu? Maybe you have results that run counter to mine, or may they support mine. I know that we each see our own particular slices of the total web and not others.
Whatever the case, I'm interested in how my Mega Menu idea looks across many markets.
[edited by: tedster at 3:18 am (utc) on July 2, 2008]