Website owners often overlook website structure when they think about SEO. It's not as intuitive as keywords, content, and loading speed.
But having a solid URL structure and well-thought-out content categories is very important for helping search engines and humans understand your site architecture.
Consider google's problem when crawling. The crawler is a simple program that follows links and understands them as trees. Building a website with solid categories, subcategories, H1, H2, H3, will be very easy to crawl.
Simply throwing all of your content into a pile, on the other hand, is going to be a mess for the crawler to figure out, and Google will give up and throw you down at the bottom of the rankings.
When Google gives up, you are missing out on many visitors that google would have sent your way.
On the other hand, when visitors do visit your site, you want to convert them somehow. You want to inform them, sell them something, or get them to join your cause.
You have less than 5 seconds to convince a new site visitor to engage with your content before they leave. A standard elevator speech is 20 or 30 seconds, so you can see the problem. Web engagement and conversion must happen fast.
Google's web crawler isn't clever and won't spend a long time figuring out your website. It needs to crawl the entire web and do it fast. Google can miss parts of your page if it can't figure out where to go next.
Sitemaps help a lot, but good site structure is also critical. If Google doesn't index your page, your chances of SEO will go to zero.
Good structure can also get you sitelinks. Sitelinks are google's equivalent of a full-page ad or a magazine cover. You gain massively increased space and links on the top of the search rankings and a massive boost to brand visibility.
Think about Amazon's sitelinks. They drop you right into the Amazon Prime funnel, AmazonSmile funnel, the Black Friday funnel, or the Your account Funnel. Since Amazon doesn't have to start by figuring out what you want, they can get right to work selling things to you.
These sitelinks give you targeted traffic into specific areas where customers want to go. Sitelinks shorten your conversion funnel and solve some of the initial hurdles in making a sale.
You can't request sitelinks from Google. Instead, you receive sitelinks when your website structure is straightforward for the Google algorithm to understand.
Different types of website structure
Flat Vs. Deep structure: Flat website structure means that as much content as possible is available to users without the need for menus. Older websites were often flat because of the limited available content and difficulty navigating during the early days of the internet.
A website with some structural depth is ultimately more scalable than a completely flat site because everything isn't in the same basket. You don't want to go too deep, in any case. Limit depth to as few levels as few layers as possible.
Models of website architecture
Hierarchical Model: This architecture has a tree-like structure, with the main menu, categories, and subcategories. A hierarchical structure can be beneficial to people who know the content they want and can drill down quickly.
Sequential Model: Think about a series of lessons in a school textbook. Website visitors consume this content from the beginning to the end. A sequential structure is ideal when subsequent information will rely on prior knowledge.
Matrix Model: Wikipedia has a matrix model. It relies on a search bar and internal links to get you where you want to go. There aren't menus with categories and subcategories or a sequence between pages. Instead, a matrix structure relies on the user's prior knowledge to search and allows expansion of their understanding with internal links.
Amazon uses a Matrix Model for a lot of its content. Amazon has top and side menus that are hierarchical, but browsing through the store is primarily accomplished using search and clickable pictures.
Database Model: It's also possible to build a website structure using strong metadata tags to put suggestions in a feed for site visitors. Medium and Facebook are good examples.
SEO Optimized Website Structure
Before anyone clicks on your website, you need to think through your structure. What topics will you cover and what kind of user experience do you want to deliver? Who are your competitors and what's your strategy for defeating them?
You need to develop a business plan, but you also need to think about your internal linking structure and keyword research strategy. Here are some SEO best practices to get you started.
Have a plan before you start building your website
If you're building a brand new website or making significant upgrades to your site structure, grab a pen and paper, draw a hierarchical tree, and then turn that into a wireframe. Having a solid plan is going to save a lot of time and money later.
By having a good plan, you'll end up with a good URL structure and a site that people and crawlers navigate easily.
If you've already been posting content for a while, you need to go back regularly and rethink everything. What's working and what's not working? Do you need to redesign the website completely, or will a small patch be OK for a while?
If you're just getting started with the design process, you need to think about your long-term plans and how much your website might need to scale. Make sure that it can go as far as you're willing to take it.
Make sure that your categories are complete and your subcategories are logical. It's going to be messy and expensive if you have to keep moving things around because you forgot something.
Don't have too many categories. Shoot for fewer than 7. Remember that you only have 5 seconds to convince a website visitor to stick around before they bounce.
Don't forget that individual pages have a hierarchy too.
Use H1, H2, and H3 to organize content and build an on-page tree for Googles crawlers and site visitors. Put your content into logical categories and respect the intent of headers.
H1 and H2 are not font sizes or super-bold fonts. They're used to create an easily understood hierarchical structure. H1 is only for the main title, H2 is for categories, and H3 is for subcategories.
Don't build your structure too deep.
More than three levels of organization end up being messy and counterproductive. The general rule is don't go more than three levels deep when you build your organizational hierarchy. Subcategories and H3 are as deep as you should go in organizing your information.
Make sure your most important pages are at the top of the site hierarchy where they will see the most use. The top navigation menu is an excellent place to put your blog, pricing, and the product or service categories you want to convert. Less is more. Keep it simple.
Your internal linking should make sense to a casual observer. People will leave if it's too difficult to find your content.
Keep the header simple.
You have 5 seconds to get your foot in the door.
The header should be used for your main navigation and contain your main categories. There's not much else that you want up there.
When people visit your site, you have to engage your customers and get them into your sales funnel within 5 seconds. Whatever you want people to do, they need to figure it out right away.
If you load fancy graphics, you've probably already wasted 3 seconds, so you have 2 seconds remaining.
From an SEO perspective, if people leave right away, you get penalized. Google wants to send people where they want to go. If people decide that your site isn't it, Google will find another website that visitors will like better.
Breadcrumbs are awesome.
Breadcrumbs maybe haven't been getting enough love lately. Many websites have decided against breadcrumbs to keep the design simple.
They are helpful, though, and if it makes sense for your website, you should consider them.
Breadcrumbs force you to be more organized in designing your website and are helpful for site navigation. And, they work exceptionally well for e-commerce, sales, and information websites.
Use the pillar and cluster method for internal linking.
Find your strongest, highest converting content and link your other content to it. The internal links pointing to a particular page will help Google find that page and feature it. Pillar and Cluster is a clue to Google about where visitors can find the best site experiences.
It's always a good idea to link your blog articles to the best money-generating parts of your website. Discussing a great product and then linking to the product in your store is a good site design.
Add Schema markup to your HTML.
Schema helps the search engine return helpful information. Although people tend to select the higher-ranked search results in Google searches, that's not necessarily true. If your SERP pitch is much stronger than the higher-ranking website, you might be able to steal some traffic and gain some ground.
When Google understands your content better, that also makes Google happier, and we can easily predict a day when Schema markup will become required for SEO.
It's also straightforward; there's just no real reason not to do it.
Go to Google's Structured Data Markup tool to get started.
Create parent pages for each of your categories.
Similar to the pillar and cluster method, you should be creating parent pages for your categories. A parent page is a page higher in the hierarchy with links to the lower category pages.
Suppose that you have a category for shoes containing subcategories for boots and women's shoes. You should create a page for shoes that then links to boots and women's shoes. The structure allows each menu item and submenu item to be a link and more straightforward for Google to follow.
- Blogs should have an easy-to-understand brand.
Site visitors won't spend much effort trying to understand you as a person or as a brand. You need to make sure that they can simplify your brand down to a concise statement.
Similarly, your blog posts should fit into one blog category, have a clear message, and have a simple keyword strategy. It's surprising how often people start ranting in a blog post.
Keep in mind that when people land on your blog from the SERP, they have a particular intent in mind. If you do an excellent job of filling that specific intent, your blog will have a much better shot at taking off.
An easy-to-understand brand doesn't mean that you need a keyword-rich domain name. The best domain names are simply the brand name, but second-order brands can use their name with one or two keywords. Anandtech.com, ford.com, and Netflix.com are good examples of what I mean.
Create a site map for your website.
A sitemap is a document that tells search engines how to crawl your website. Humans don't usually use sitemaps for website navigation, but they're SEO-friendly.
Sitemaps are quick and easy to make using Google's XML sitemap generator tool. This is low-hanging fruit for improving your SEO.
Especially if your website is new, a sitemap will help Google find and index your site changes quickly. Quickly indexing your website can be especially important if your information is time-sensitive.
It's easy to think that Google knows everything, but even the computers at Google have a limited crawling budget. If you don't help them out, it might take them a few days to find your content.
Google doesn't find all of the content on the web. Many pages aren't indexed because that content has a robots.txt file instructing Google not to index that page.
In addition, some links don't work well, or a particular website design quirk confuses the crawler. Search engine crawlers are fast and efficient. They're not particularly smart.
Whatever the reason, your site map will serve as a backup plan to help you get indexed faster and more thoroughly.
Check out other websites. Especially your competition.
There's a significant Communication theory called expectation violations theory. This theory talks about the problem of doing things in unexpected ways.
If you go out and start doing things in a radically new way, it needs to be 10x better than the old way. Otherwise, you will get feedback about your "weird" and "strange" designs.
You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Just make your content better.
Websites in the same niche tend to look similar. In underserved niches like plumbing, it might be a good idea to put in a more modern design, even if your customers' websites are stuck in 2007.
Still, if you're going to compete against Amazon, you should copy them in every way you can. Look for the people in your niche that know what they're doing.
You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Just make your content better.
Design for humans, not bots.
It's crucial to be SEO friendly, but ultimately, humans visit your website and buy your products. Focussing on the people will result in better conversion rates, less bouncing, and, finally, higher search rankings.
There's a natural tendency to design everything around the idea of an unlimited number of site visitors coming in from Google. More traffic will equal more sales.
That's true to some extent, but you should focus on making the site visitors that you do get happy. Convert the people who walk through the door instead of worrying about building a bigger door.
Google has a vast but limited amount of traffic to pass around. It's in Google's best interest to pass it out to websites that serve the site visitors well. That's Google's job.
Google updates the google search algorithm constantly, and it's always with one goal in mind. Google wants its users to have the best experience possible.
The Footer is not for keyword spam.
The footer is way down at the bottom, where nobody goes. Since nobody goes there, you shouldn't put much in the footer.
The best use of the footer is to give your site visitors an option to go to one of your other content pages, credit a content creator, or put legal notices and disclaimers.
The footer is not a place for keyword spam. Nobody reads the footer, so Google pretty much ignores it.
Search Engine Optimization and web development are specialized fields where things change fast. You need to update your website and take care of it constantly.
Updating the design is a continual maintenance task that you need to do regularly. Links get broken with time, and tactics that worked two years ago just don't anymore.
If you want to rank well, you will need professional web designers and SEO auditors to build a clean website for your content.
Professionals will do a great job, and ultimately you're going to see a lot more traffic and higher sales conversions.