Good site structure is essential for your overall website success, including its rankings in search. It’s about organizing the pages the way it’s easy for users to find what they need. Search engines’ requirements have lots to do with user’s interests, so when we say SEO-friendly website structure, we also mean user-friendly.
This post explains how to plan a website structure so it could enhance your site’s SEO. But first, let’s see what real benefits a well-planned website gets.
Magic effects of the good website structure
- A clear structure helps websites to get indexed faster, especially if the website is big with several levels of page hierarchy. For examples, e-commerce websites or business catalogs.
- Well-thought-out structure helps to avoid duplicated pages and, thus, duplicated content.
- SEO works better when the keywords are properly distributed throughout the website pages when different groups of keywords with different intents are put on relevant landing pages. This is what well-planned structure provides.
- If Google lands a user to a wrong page of a well-structured website, the user can easily find the needed page anyway.
- Thus, the structure serves great user experience, boosting a website’s behavioral signals.
- Finally, it enhances conversion. If users feel confident on a website, finding everything they need, they are happy. And happy users are the ones who become buyers.
To feel the advantages of all the mentioned effects, let’s figure out what a good site structure means and how to build it.
What website structure includes
Website structure is the way your website’s pages are organized. But what are the elements of this structure?
Home page — the main landing of your website gathering the key information about your business.
Main sections — landing pages that represent your services/instruments, product category, special content sections on the media websites (news, stories, interviews, etc.).
Subsections — transitory pages leading to a more specific description of the products. If your website is not that big, you’ll most likely skip this level at all. If it’s huge, there will be several levels of subsections.
Pages are the lowest level of the hierarchy that includes item descriptions, blog articles, “contact us” page, i.e. the most concrete kind of information describing a particular product or answering a specific question.
Subdomains. Sometimes when your website is big and it makes sense to separate part of its content (blog, help section, store), the site can include subdomains. Technically, subdomains are different websites but they are still a part of your website as your business project. So you should consider them as elements of your website structure and pay attention to how to treat subdomains to make sure it’s not damaging your SEO.
Your task is to organize all these elements in a hierarchical manner.
To prioritize and build up a logical hierarchy of these elements, you need to collect a semantic core. Based on your keyword research, you are outlining your future sections and their subordination. It is not necessary to create all the pages at once — you only need to understand the approximate number of pages and their order of priority.
Semantic Core: Collecting keywords as the first step for structuring a website
Keyword research includes three main stages: collecting queries, filtering out the list, grouping the keywords that left.
Collecting queries. Ask yourself questions: What is your business? What are you selling? Brainstorm main words that describe as concise as possible what you are doing or selling. For example, if you are marketing rugs and carpets your basic keywords will be “buy rug” and “buy carpet”. Then via keyword suggestion tools such as Google Keyword Planner or its alternatives, gather as many keywords as you can. These tools will give you a list of queries that people use to find a carpet store. For example: “best place to buy carpet”, “buy carpet online”, “carpet store near me”, “how to choose a rug” and many others. For more keywords browse Google Trends or Q&A services (e.g. Quora). While collecting keywords prioritize those that describe specifically your niche and your product.
Filtering irrelevant keywords. Having a massive list, cross out the following queries:
- that don’t correspond with your business. Let’s say, you are selling rugs but don’t provide cleaning services, so you need to cut off all the keywords mentioning this.
- that include wrong location markers. If you are having a local business — a store in a particular city — cross out the queries mentioning other cities.
- that include competitor’s brand names.
After you’ve collected and filtered your keyword list, you need to categorize them and split them into groups.
Keyword grouping. When distributing the keywords among the pages, keep in mind that the higher a page in this hierarchy — the more likely it will rank better for competitive keywords. But still, keywords should be placed where they really fit — don’t stuff your category page with popular keywords just because the page is high in the hierarchy. So you are grouping keywords depending on their meaning, search volume (how popular the word is) and intents (what users expect to find with these queries). You optimize the main page for high-volume keywords, category pages — for mid-volume keywords, and low-volume queries you place on the third level pages like articles or tags.
It’s important to rely not only on the semantic you’ve gathered while building up your site structure. First of all, you need to understand your business — what users are looking for in your niche. And second, look up your competitors. Check their websites and analyze the structure they use. Do you like it as a user? Can you find what you need within three clicks? Use your competitors’ solutions to check whether you are moving the right way.
Visualize. When you have your keywords grouped by pages, you need to organize and prioritize your pages according to the hierarchical model. It’s easier to do when you have a map of your site visualized. For this, you can use any instrument for building mind maps (Mindmaster, XMind, Mindmup, etc). Put your home page into the center and build up other pages and sections from it.
Your main task is to make the structure as clear as possible both for users and for search engines. Let’s discuss what exactly you can do to provide such clearness.
Navigation: URLs, internal linking, breadcrumbs, and other ways to simplify surfing your site
Plain structure of the website needs to be reflected in the URLs of your pages. The address should demonstrate the place of the page in the hierarchy of the site. For this, follow these tips:
Avoid an unreadable set of signs in your URLs. Instead, use keywords reflecting the content of the page.
To separate words in a collocation use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_).
Avoid super long URLs — reduce them to the essence.
Google prepared a set of tips for shaping URLs, you’ll find it here.
That’s how your URLs look in the SERP:
An essential part of building a good website structure is the system of links between your pages.
The main rule here is not to have dead-end pages. Every page should have a link from another page and to another page.
Why it’s important? First, Google bot scans your website page by page following the links. The better interlinking you have the sooner search engines find your new pages and index them. Besides, it helps spread a link juice around the web pages which helps grow the authority of not only one page but of the whole website.
How to provide it?
First, with navigation elements such as breadcrumbs and a menu. They will help a user to find their way back to the section or a home page from any page of the website. We’ll talk more about them in the next paragraphs.
Second, having a block of “related materials” or “you may also like” or “this item matches with” helps users to decide where to proceed and not just leave a website, because there is nothing else to see.
Third, by having a system of tags you create subcategories of your items or posts that also serves as another kind of filter and navigator, helping to group the website content.
Breadcrumbs and menu
After you provided well-thought-out interlinking on your website, you can enhance navigation by using breadcrumbs or a menu.
If your pages are logically connected to each other, it’s easy to show the path from any page of your website to the home page with breadcrumbs. Breadcrumb is a graphic element that shows a user where they are now within the website
It serves UX purposes and thus is highly valued by search engines. Google can even feature your snippet with breadcrumbs instead of an URL:
A menu works the same way but allows to track not only the way back to the home page but also to see the hierarchy of pages. Look how DHL uses both menu and breadcrumbs to make it apparent for the users where they are now and how to find related information:
A sitemap is an XML-file listing all the pages on a website just like a list of content in a book. It shows both users and search engines what pages a website has and how you prioritize them for scanning.
An XML sitemap is your chance to show search bots which pages you want to get indexed and what pages are more important than others. Also, it helps search engines to keep track of the new pages on your website. This means that search bots can index new pages faster and won’t miss out any of the new valuable content. Besides, for search machines, a sitemap serves as a reference for determining canonical URLs if you have several pages with the same content. Finally, when any legal issue occurs, a sitemap is a proof of your rights for your content.
For a new website having a sitemap is crucial because in a way it’s an invitation list for search engines to come and scan the site.
All the mentioned things — URLs, a sitemap, interlinking, navigation tools — aims to enhance the simplicity of your website structure. All of them serve the main goal — to make your site easily scannable for search engines and intuitive for users.
The first person to understand the logic of your website is you. Draw and redraw your website plan until it gets totally clear to you or to any other person looking at this plan.
Bits of advice to conclude:
- If you target a different audience at the same time, it makes sense to create different landing pages for each target group. Avoid publishing all the information on the same landing.
- Don’t create categories with a few elements, like an item category with 3-5 items.
- Look at your competitors’ websites structure.
- Three-to-four level of the hierarchy is the best choice. If a user has to do more than 3-4 clicks to find the needed information, maybe your site plan needs another revision.
- To reduce the number of categories on an e-commerce website, use tags, and filters.
- Leave a room for scaling, so you could add new categories or pages without rebuilding the whole structure of the site.