This guide on how to create a website structure for SEO will show you why and how to structure your website in the right way to improve those all important clicks.
Website structure is important for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly, user experience. Your users, who want to navigate your content logically, in pursuit of your goal, which could be completing a transaction, filling in a form or any conversion you choose to track.
Secondly, it's essential for visibility. A clear structure defined by a sitemap means Google (and other search engines) can correctly crawl and index your content and know where to serve it in the search results. So let's look at how to go about improving your site structure
Web design isn't only about the way it looks. It's to ease the user journey through your site. From landing on your site through a search or a direct link, a user should be able to find what they came for. If they don't, it is unlikely they will stay on your website or return.
A high bounce rate can be an indication of bad site architecture amongst other things. If you are spending any money on digital marketing and haven't taken this into account, you could lose a lot of visitors.
Make the navigation structure simple. If you have to use a dropdown menu, one tier is enough. No one has time to span multiple layers of dropdowns.
Categorise your content and products. Visitors should be able to browse content by category, not just chronologically. If you have products, then search and filtering options make it much easier for customers to find what they are looking for.
This can improve your ranking vastly. How does this work? There are several ways.
If you have multiple pages on a similar topic, for example, this website has numerous articles on PPC & SEO, then proper internal linking and taxonomies can show a search engine which pages are the most important and stop them competing with each other. Google Search Console can help you identify which pages show up for specific searches.
You may have one page that is 'cornerstone content' for a specific topic, but many other pages mention that topic too. By linking those pages back to that main cornerstone page, you show that the original page is the most important for that topic, & Google will pass it the most link juice. Conversely not doing this can lead to keyword cannibalisation and dilution of your Search Engine Optimisation, meaning none of your pages on that topic rank.
A properly structured site will help Google know where to find the most valuable content on your website and to be able to index it properly. This will inevitably lead to better and higher rank on Google.
I like to think of all of my pieces of content like my web children. This may make me strange, but they are all important, loved and unique. Each one needs care and attention and updates. And sometimes they leave. Keeping google informed about your site content and changes in structure will encourage reindexing and can help you stay up the SERPS. If you make any changes to your pages - just go to Google Search Console & resubmit your url for indexing.
So I've explained why you need a good site structure, now let's look at how to put one together.
If this is a brand new website, how would you like to organise the content? Typically a website's structure looks like a pyramid, with several levels of content.
The site starts with the homepage. This is where most people will land. Then you will have categories underneath, such as blog posts, products or services. If it is a large site, you could subdivide these into further categories. Inside these categories will be your individual posts and pages.
The homepage is also the primary place for navigation and how users will get to the other areas of your site. Because of this, it's a great idea always to link your cornerstone content from your homepage, if possible.
Doing this means your visitors are more likely to find those most important pieces of content. If this isn't always ideal, such as linking a series of blog articles, always link your most important blog posts from the main blog page.
Don't: We have had many a request from clients to cram as much on their homepage as is humanly possible. Products, whom they sponsor, charity info, videos, when the site is there to sell. Not only does this dilute the page message to a search engine - it's confusing to the user. Remember you really don't want your homepage to be full of clutter.
Your site should have a sitewide menu that is clearly accessible at all times, and easy to use on a mobile device. Users are used to mobile 'burger style' site navigation (three horizontal lines).
Don't try and do anything off the wall. I Like to think of it as a book. When you pick up a book, if you read English, you expect the book to have a cover, a table of contents and you expect to read from left to right, top to bottom. While there are a lot of impressive agency websites out there with quirky navigation and surprise elements, a website created to convert should follow well-worn conventions.
Keep your menu simple. We know that some websites, particularly large e-commerce stores have a lot to pack into their menus, so in this instance, you may want to use something called a 'mega-menu' or have a contextual menu on a relevant page, but the rule is, make it as simple as it can possibly be.
The url structure is also something that needs thinking about. good site architecture groups urls into folder like groups. for example, www.myshop.com/accessories/hats/yellow-sunhat is more SEO friendly to google than www.myshop.com/daisy-yellow-hat. Because it has better context.
Don't: cram your entire sitemap into your menu, unless it's a tiny site. Too much information confuses the message to search engines and users alike.
Don't: have three-tier and beyond. People will lose interest.
Do: use breadcrumbs if you can. Breadcrumbs allow users to easily navigate back and forth over the categories and pages of your site. A breadcrumb would typically be at the top of a page and looks something like this: Home >> Products >> Haircare >> Aussie Miracle Shampoo.
Do use taxonomies. A taxonomy is simply a group of content. If you are a WordPress user, you will know these as categories and tags, some posts may have custom taxonomies, such as product categories, or service categories. Taxonomies help your user to navigate content that's grouped together for ease of reading. If you sell garden equipment, a user may want to browse all lawnmowers from one particular brand.
Categories and tags are not seen any differently by a search engine, but a good rule of thumb, is categories are top-level and broad. They can also have subcategories. For example, if you are a clothing store, your categories could be Men's Women's and Children's. Subcategories could be Clothing, Accessories, Shoes. Further subcategories could be Tops, coats, bottoms, dresses.
Tags can add further refinement to your site. Continuing on the clothing theme a tag may be colour, size or brand which would span across all categories.
Don't: come up with random hashtags for individual posts, pages, products. We see this a lot on websites. Every time you create a tag, it is archived as a web page. So be sparing and be organised. Use each tag several times.
Internal linking is a definite ranking factor, and we see sites soar up the serps when internal link structure has been taken care of. Creating contextual links between pages on your website is one of the best things you can do. It's easy too. Don't spam this and make sure the pages you link to are relevant. Also, make sure you don't use the text you are trying to rank the page for as link text. For example, if your page is about 'how to create structure' don't link that phrase to another page.
If Google sees many of your pages linking to a specific page, it will look at the context and rank that page as being relevant to that topic and assign it the proper value. You can think of it like A roads leading to the motorway, or even a support act for the main band! Choose your most weighty page on any topic and create contextual links back to that page.
This tends to work for blog articles but be careful with products because your aim here is to get people to stay on a page, not navigate away. Contextual links here could include related products, upsells, cross-sells or bundled products and special offers.
Landing pages are used a lot in PPC Campaigns and generally optimised to match the specific keywords the Ad is bidding on. But landing pages can also just be cornerstone content when considering a website structure for SEO. An informative article designed to educate. Both require a different approach.
The cornerstone content is to provide information where said content is thorough and fairly all-encompassing. A product landing page, on the other hand, should be specific only to that product and contain necessary information about it.
A cornerstone page might be lengthy and a few thousand words long. A product page may only be a few hundred words long but still needs enough information for that page to rank on Google.
For these kinds of pages, think about search intent. Are you answering a specific question? What do your users expect to find?
Have a website that's been live for a while, and you have some great content, but it really needs organising better? Make this part of your ongoing SEO strategy. Here's how to clean up the site structure of an existing website:
Don't be afraid to delete things if they are downright obsolete. If they contain information that's out of date, can you rewrite or update it? Google loves fresh content. If its a blog post you update, republish it with a later date on and bring it to the top of your blog feed. Ensure if deleting content you use a proper redirect like a 410 or 301. Beware of too many redirects and be careful you don't link to pages that are redirected, as this can dilute your crawl budget.
Does the menu match your business goals? Are the most important pages, leading to your desired actions accessible in a clear journey from the home page? If you are an online store, having a static home page and the shop buried away on a sub-page is going to cost you visitors and money. It can help to make a flowchart of what you think belongs where. A good conversion rate optimisation strategy can help you with this too.
Do the categories, subcategories and tags on your website make sense? We evaluate ours regularly and delete and redirect tags that don't seem relevant any more. If you are a WordPress user, you can see how many posts or pages are assigned to a specific category. If you find a lot only contain 1 or 2 you may want to rethink.
Try and keep taxonomies balanced too. If one becomes larger than others, it can throw the site off balance. Split and merge where necessary. It's a bit like gardening.
Don't be fooled into thinking if you have lots of pages ranking for similar competitive keywords that you will do better. It can have the opposite effect, diluting the PageRank between multiple pages and push you down the serps. Best practice is to create a series of cornerstone articles, each one addressing a specific topic. Optimise each cornerstone piece for its own key phrase, and link back to that content with supporting articles. Ahrefs explains here how to deal with keyword cannibalisation.
In conclusion There are lots of reasons the structure of your site is important both for your users and for search engines. This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but hopefully, it will provide a few pointers to nailing your website structure for SEO.