Without some kind of organised structure, websites would become a random assortment of web pages that would be impossible for both users to navigate. What ties these pages together is a URL hierarchy that is manifested through the websites navigation, usually in the form of nav bars, drop down menus and icons and links to click on.
But good website structure doesn’t just benefit users, it also benefits search engines. Intuitive URL hierarchies that are siloed by topic and theme are powerful SEO signals and can massively boost your site’s rankings.
Implementing a well-considered site structure from the very beginning will help you to create a website that will develop and grow in ways that are both intuitive for users and inherently comprehensible to the search engine bots that will be crawling it to index your content. This means that your approach to your site structure should be both search engine and user-led.
In this article, I want to explore good practice when it comes to website structure.
Usability and SEO: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Navigating your website should be a pleasant and intuitive experience. If your visitors find it difficult to locate the information they are looking for, they are unlikely to want to revisit your website and you will find it tricky to successfully convert traffic into customers. This will reduce dwell time and increase bounce rate, both of which are ranking factors to Google. In this sense good UX is intricately tied up with good SEO practice. Whilst the former won’t ensure rankings, it will imply your website has good content and that people who do discover it, stay there for a decent amount of time.
A well-considered site structure will provide your visitors with a positive experience and ensure that new visitors instantly gain an understanding as to who you are, what you do, and what you can offer them.
An organised site structure is also integral to SEO strategy because it allows search engine crawlers to better understand both the content and context of your website because it is structured in an intuitive manner. Search engine algorithms are then used to not only organise this content but also to assign relevancy to it in order to effectively deliver the most relevant results for any given search query. Structure therefore has a significant impact on your site’s ability to rank well as it helps to create this relevancy by dividing your site up into topical areas or ‘content silos’.
Setting Up your Site Structure
A well-organised website will look a little like a pyramid:
- Level 1: homepage
- Level 2: Sections or categories
- Level 3: Subcategories
- Level 4: Individual posts and pages
Your homepage will sit at the top and your category/section pages will sit beneath it. Importantly, all your content should be easily filed under one of these defined categories. Larger websites will typically find it beneficial to further divide these categories into subcategories.
The homepage should act as a kind of navigation hub for your site visitors. It should link directly to your most important pages; however, it is important not to confuse your visitors by incorporating too many links or presenting them with a cluttered homepage. In terms of content, it’s best to try and not optimise your homepage so much that it starts to compete with your service or category pages. Ideally your homepage should be about your brand values and USP.
Best Practices for Effective Site Structure Maintenance
Remember, your site architecture is there to enhance the usability, functionality and crawlability of your website. Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing the structure of your most valuable digital asset.
Implement a Solid Internal Link Structure
This guide from Moz on internal links deep dives into this topic in greater detail but in a nutshell, a considered internal linking structure will help you to tell search engines which pieces of content are intrinsically connected. In turn, this will enhance your ranking potential by spreading link equity around your site.
Links should be relevant but naturally link upward in your URL hierarchy. So a blog post that talks about one of your services or is about a subject connected to this, should naturally link up to that service page (the parent page within the URL hierarchy).
Utilising Categories and Taxonomies
A taxonomy is a term that describes a group of things that share a commonality. In this case, your site taxonomies will help you to organise your content on particular topics and ensure that your audience can find what they’re looking for easily and efficiently. Re-thinking your site’s taxonomy can help you to identify refinements that will enhance both functionality and performance. You might, for example, identify categories that are light on content, or find that one category has grown and would benefit from being split into different subcategories.
On WordPress sites, categories can be used to silo content and create a more structured URL structure. This can be done on other CMS’s although many platforms will not allow siloing (or make it very difficult to do).
So let’s say you run an online gadget shop and you have a product category called gadgets-for-men and you write a blog article about what to buy your husband or boyfriend this Christmas. Instead of that blog post having a URL ending /blog/top10-gifts-for-him-this christmas in a siloed site that URL would look something like gadgets-for-men/top10-gifts-for-him-this christmas .
Because the blog content is now sitting underneath the URL parent page associated with gadgets for me, it now associates it with all other content sitting under this as well. This becomes an incredibly powerful way to create relevancy and structure to your site and can massively help with rankings.
To Tag or not to Tag
In addition to taxonomies and categories, adding tags will help you to highlight content that a visitor might find interesting. Think of categories being akin to a table of contents, whereas tags act similarly to an index. It is best to avoid adding too many tags and ensure each tag connects pieces of content that authentically belong together.
Ultimately tags don’t help with SEO (categories do however) but they can help with navigation if you have a lot of blog content. Another thing to bear in mind is that tags can create additional ‘index’ pages which can be indexed by Google and can start to compete with individual blog posts and even service or product pages. If you’re using tags, it’s important to de-index these pages.
The Power of High-Quality Content
If structure is the skeleton of your highly optimised athletic site and internal links are the veins and arteries, then content is the muscle and skin. Without it the whole thing just falls down.
Conducting a comprehensive content audit will help you to understand how well your strategy is currently working for your business, the improvements you could make, and more easily identify the organisational enhancements that will make your content more visible.
Key pieces of non marketing content on your site is known as cornerstone content. These are often in depth guides that explain your industry and will act as standalone pieces of educational content that you want to rank.
Ideally, your site should contain at least two but no more than ten pieces of cornerstone content, and you should ensure that these are sit outside of your blog underneath the parent pages of the related service / product pages in the URL hierarchy.
Ideally, cornerstone content should be wide ranging evergreen content whereas the blog is more news and trends focused. Cornerstone content can even be incorporated into your site’s primary navigation menu.
Updating Outdated and/or Duplicate Content
Duplicate content can easily confuse search engines. If it is not immediately clear to Google which page should be displayed on a given search then your rankings will ultimately be negatively affected. Updating outdated content and trimming away duplicate or similar content will therefore enhance overall site relevancy, improving rankings and attracting valuable additional traffic.
It is unwise to simply delete content, as when Google cannot find a page it will deliver a 404 error page. With huge sites, these can be inevitable but you really want to avoid them if you can, as both your visitor and Google will see 404 pages (and neither will be impressed if they can’t find what they’re expecting). Instead, it is important to adopt a proactive approach when updating your content by identifying a relevant page to which to redirect the URL instead.
Part of a Varied Digital Marketing Approach
Websites can be found in a variety of ways and SEO isn’t the only promotional channel available with social media marketing and pay per click advertising both playing their part in promoting your website. Even old school methods like email marketing are still a hugely successful way of attracting new business (check out this guide from Shopify if you’re still struggling to write the perfect business email).
Ultimately though, good URL architecture means good site structure and this in turn means a good user experience. And if users ultimately find what they’re looking for and stay on your website, then this will improve your SEO, however you get that traffic.
Whatever your thoughts on SEO then and however crucial you see it to your current digital marketing strategy, building intuitive and well structured websites from the ground up should be a real no brainer.