With competition for high organic search engine rankings more intense than ever, companies need to evaluate dozens of aspects of their website to maximize performance. One of the most overlooked characteristics of a well ranked website is the site structure or architecture. The website structure or architecture refers to how the website is organized hierarchically and how individual pages link to each other. While from a user experience perspective it seems obvious that your site should be easily navigable, a good website structure also helps support SEO best practices, and here is why.
Optimizing for searchers
There are two types of searchers to keep in mind when re-structuring a site for maximum SEO value. The first is users/potential customers, who you want to easily find what it is they are looking for on the site. The second includes the search engines themselves, who need to be able to crawl your site to understand where it has value. You might be scratching your head wondering how search engines determine if your site is useful. As search engine algorithms become more advanced, they can build semantic relationships between topics. Therefore, logically, your content should make sense to what the visitor is searching for. This is aided by individual page meta tags and internal linking of pages within your site.
Five tips for perfecting your site structure
- Use a flat website structure. When it comes to a deep website versus a flat site, search engines have an easier time crawling and indexing a flat site. It is still a best practice to separate product categories and individual products into their own sections. But, search engines prefer a simple hierarchy of products and will penalize websites with pages that could be mistaken as duplicates. A flat site limits the number of pages a user clicks through to get the information they need. This is measured as Click Through Rate (CTR). A good rule of thumb for a site with fewer than 10,000 pages is that all content should be accessible through a maximum of four clicks from the home page or the sitemap page.
Break down your navigation hierarchy logically: To achieve a flat website structure, you should build a visual hierarchy of your content and products. Your main navigation should be the broadest of categories of your business offerings. From there, ensure that each parent page and child page follow a logical order. It is important that there are no duplicate pages in this process. When it comes time to create title tags and meta tags, no two should be the same and they each should distinctly describe what content is on that page.
Create a URL structure that follows your navigation hierarchy: The URL structure for your site should follow the hierarchy that you just developed and also include target keywords you are trying to rank on. Search engines penalize excessively long URLs but a logical structure infused with keywords can be a great help. For example, a site selling leather barstools might have a category structure like: furniture/bar-stools/leather-bar-stools
Use internal linking: Internal links are hyperlinks that navigate visitors to other pages within your site. Internal linking is especially helpful for larger sites because they increase the ability of pages to be more easily crawled and decrease page depth. They can also make it possible for larger sites to sort pages into a limited number of categories. Internal linking provides both a useful way to reduce CTR and gives an opportunity to target keywords as anchor text as well. Hyperlinks also connect different pages of your website in a more user friendly and insightful way then standard site navigation. If you have products or services that have connections with each other, an internal link is an effective way to relay that information, showing the user and the search engine that this page is important and also how to get there.
Avoid duplicate content/pages: Duplicate content can cause a search engine to flag this content as spam. By paying close attention to the structure of a website, you can focus on high-quality and unique content that clearly defines the product or service that you are describing on each page. If you have pages that have nearly identical content but need to exist for another marketing reason, use canonical tags to tell search engines which to crawl, and which to not crawl.
SEO success can be supported with a well-integrated and logical website structure. While site structure is not a top factor in ranking algorithms, search engines use the structure to understand content as well as the relationship between the user and your site, and following site structure best practices can create a better website for users, which search engines will then reward.
If you are looking to redesign your site, let our talented team help reorganize your website architecture, rework the design, and implement content strategy to improve your structural SEO. Contact us to learn more.
*Sources: Eric Enge, Stephen Spencer and Jessie Stricchiola, The Art of SEO, MOZ, Kissmetrics