Website structure is a crucial part of every search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Your website’s architecture tells Google and other search engines what’s important on your website.
As a result, your website structure determines which webpage or piece of content ranks higher on search engine result pages (SERPs).
When you create an SEO strategy, you might focus on keywords, linking, and content, but if your website can’t tell Google what’s important, your efforts will be for nothing.
Whether you’re creating a brand new website or want to optimize your existing one, here’s everything you need to know about website structure for SEO:
Website structure 101
Website structure or architecture refers to how your website pages are organized and interlinked. It provides the foundation for aesthetic elements and content to be built on.
Typically, your website architecture starts with the home page and then branches off into different pages or subcategories.
SEO-friendly website architecture is all about structuring your website in a way that helps search engines like Google understand and favor it. Just like a well-organized bookshelf makes it easier for you to find your favorite novel, a well-structured website lets search engines easily find and index your web pages.
Why does this matter? Think of it this way. Your website is like a party and you’re the host. You want to guide your guests (both users and search engines) smoothly from the entrance to the dining area, without them getting lost in a maze of rooms and hallways. When search engines can easily navigate through your site, they reward you with better visibility in search results.
In simple terms, website structure can be classified as flat or deep.
Flat website architecture aims to give users information in as few clicks as possible. On the other hand, a deep website structure lets you create specific topic pages and lead users down longer paths to find that information.
Here’s an illustration from The Army of Flying Monkeys to help you understand better:
Most modern websites use a flat structure, so important pages are easily accessible. It’s also easier for users to navigate and search engines to crawl flat structured websites.
To go deeper, there are four types of website architecture:
- Hierarchical model: This website architecture has main parent pages followed by more detailed child pages.
- Sequential model: This website structure leads users through a sequence from page to page, either backward or forward.
- Matrix model: This structure presents many topic groups to the user so they can choose where to go, rather than being presented with “parent/child” or sequential options.
- Database model: This site architecture relies on content metadata and information architecture principles. This model is harder to execute but lets users create their own experience.
You can find a more detailed explanation of each model through Slickplan’s guide.
Why website architecture is important for SEO
Good site structure is a significant factor for SEO. Here’s why:
Acts as a Guide for Google
A well-crafted website structure with intuitive navigation and a solid internal linking structure helps Google bots navigate your website.
A well organized sitemap and internal link strategy can help search engine bots learn more about what pages are most important.
Increase in Organic Traffic
An SEO-friendly website gets better rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs), increasing visibility and attracting more organic traffic.
A well-structured site that delivers relevant, easy-to-find content helps reduce the bounce rate, keeping visitors engaged longer, which will compound other SEO benefits.
Helps Determines Sitelinks
Sitelinks are links to your website’s subpages that Google lists under your main URL. This is what they look like:
Your internal links and the structure of your site contribute to determining what the subpages will be. Typically, Google considers pages linked to main navigation tabs and menus the most important.
Provides a Better User Experience
Your website visitors should be able to navigate to different pages easily. A good website structure helps with usability — users can quickly find exactly what they want.
A messy website structure will frustrate users and lead them to your competitors, increasing bounce rates and decreasing conversions.
Increase User Engagement and Conversions
When users can easily navigate and find what they’re looking for on your website, they’re more likely to convert from visitors to customers. Users don’t want to have to think about where to click, they want it to be clean and obvious. A strong website design and architecture will support this.
Helps With Content Planning
Your website architecture acts as a foundation for your web design and content. Once you create the structure and optimize it for SEO, you can plan where and how you will place content.
You can also build your website’s wireframe — a basic outline of your web design — based on your site structure.
After you complete the wireframe, you can determine where you’ll place category pages, leading pages, keywords, and content.
Easier To Scale
Good website architecture is easier to optimize and scale as your business grows. You’ll have a better idea of where to add new pages, what old content to delete, and which pages need to be structured.
That is key from an SEO perspective since it’s an ever-changing field. For example, the keywords you target today might not be relevant in two years. A clunky website structure makes it harder to optimize for new keywords and reach your target audience.
How to structure a website
- Create an SEO-friendly URL structure
- Check out your competitors
- Plan a website hierarchy
- Clear out your website navigation
- Use breadcrumbs
- Prioritize security and user experience
- Build a comprehensive internal linking structure
We’ve laid out some of the steps involved in structuring your website. Let’s take a deeper look at the process:
1. Create an SEO-Friendly URL Structure
First, purchase a domain name if you haven’t already. Then, focus on URL structure and how it affects SEO.
URLs are crucial for SEO since they inform search engine crawlers what your website is about and help with indexing. Aim for your main categories and product pages to rank higher on Google searches.
Always have a unique URL for every page. Don’t create a structure where one page is accessible via five different addresses.
Your URLs should:
- Be descriptive for what a user can expect to see
- Contain a keyword (if possible)
- Be concise
- Use hyphens (not underscores) to separate words
- Be lower case
- Avoid superfluous words
- Be future-proof
Search Engine Journal did a deep dive into every factor that affects your SEO-friendly URL structure.
2. Check Out Your Competitors
Building a website structure can be difficult on a larger website. To get an idea of what you need to emulate — and hopefully surpass — find high-ranking competitors and see how their websites are structured.
Use SEO tools to identify your competitors’ best-performing sections and figure out how to create a similar or better experience for your users.
For larger niches, you can also check out industry giants. For example, if you’re building an e-commerce website, you can take inspiration from Amazon.
You might not have as many categories, but you can still analyze what the website’s done well and try to implement the same on yours.
3. Plan a Website Hierarchy
Your website hierarchy decides your website’s page order. High-priority pages include product pages, services, pricing, and contact forms. These pages will often contain lower-priority sections and subcategories.
Keyword research is essential for planning out this hierarchy and deciding where to add your main keywords. You can place your secondary keywords within specific topic, product, or service pages.
Your website hierarchy also includes information architecture, which is how you will distribute relevant information throughout the website.
Typically, there’s a pyramid-like structure where the most important content is placed on the home page, and other information is distributed throughout secondary pages and sections.
Search engines use website hierarchy to understand page importance, which ultimately decides their rank on SERPs. You don’t want a low-level services page outranking your home or main products page.
4. Clear Out Your Website Navigation
Navigation is a crucial element in your website structure. It’s one of the most significant factors that affect user experience, with good navigation between pages making it easier to capture leads.
A top-level navigation menu is a must. No matter how complicated your website is, a simple, user-friendly navigation bar below the header is ideal. Etsy is an excellent example of this:
Many web developers and companies make the mistake of creating a website that is filled with unnecessary pages. Clear these out.
Make navigation to key revenue-driving or inquiry pages simple. Users should easily find product features and pricing. You can include other information lower on the same page or another subpage.
When your website’s navigation is bogged down with unimportant links, search engine crawlers have a harder time moving through the website and determining priority. This is a misstep that directly affects your search rankings.
E-commerce websites should also use faceted navigation, commonly known as filters.
Andy Chadwick has a detailed guide on faceted navigation to help you get this functionality right.
5. Use Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are an often-ignored navigation and SEO factor. They’re navigation trails that display below the header to help users move around a website easily.
Here’s an example of breadcrumbs: Home > Services > Digital Marketing.
Breadcrumbs force you to think logically and help create a clear, SEO-focused website structure rather than a cluttered one. They also create a better user experience.
A refined website architecture improves crawling and helps search engines display the right sitelinks when users search for specific keywords or phrases.
6. Prioritize Security and User Experience
Both search engines and users care about security. Google will prioritize websites with an HTTPS protocol. Many users also know to look for HTTPS at the beginning of the URL, so they can avoid scams and suspicious websites. So make sure your website uses HTTPS.
Your website structure should also lead users to where they want to go in as few clicks as possible.
Maintain consistency throughout your website and create a structure that doesn’t change drastically from one page to the next.
If you’re new to the niche, you can start by following what the top dogs in your industry are doing. Then, try to emulate their navigation and layout to create a sense of familiarity with visitors.
7. Build a Comprehensive Internal Linking Structure
Create an in-depth internal linking strategy to boost SEO. Search engine crawlers will flow from one page to the next, and by developing a web of links between your own pages and content, you’ll help Google understand your website better and improve your rankings.
Be sure to include descriptive anchor text as well.
Internal links also lead users from one article to another or a related product or service. The longer you keep users on your website, the higher their chances of converting them into leads.
Audit your website’s SEO architecture
Just like a regular check-up keeps you in good health, auditing your website’s SEO architecture is key to keeping your site fit and fab. But how do you go about it?
There’s a wealth of tools available, like Google Search Console or Screaming Frog, that help you peek under your site’s hood. These tools scan your website and provide you with a detailed report of what’s working and what’s not. From broken links to duplicate content, they leave no stone unturned!
But wait, the audit’s done and you’ve got the results. Now what? It’s time to decipher those findings. Remember, an audit is only as good as the actions it inspires. The key lies in understanding the data, identifying the gaps, and then implementing changes to elevate your site’s SEO game.
Final thoughts: Building an SEO-friendly website structure
Website architecture is a crucial factor in SEO and user experience. When your site structure is solid, search engines can easily understand your website and link to relevant pages, and visitors will stay on your website longer.
FAQ on SEO Website Structures
A well-organized website structure enhances user experience and aids search engines in understanding content hierarchy. It improves crawlability, indexing, and navigation, resulting in better search rankings and user engagement.
An SEO-friendly structure includes clear content categorization, logical hierarchy, user-friendly URLs, optimized internal linking, and responsive design. It ensures easy access to valuable content for both users and search engines.
Organize content into categories and subcategories, grouping related topics. Create comprehensive cornerstone content, and support it with relevant blog posts or articles. Use descriptive headings and subheadings to enhance readability and SEO.
Design a clear, concise navigation menu with main categories. Use descriptive labels, prioritize key pages, and implement dropdown menus when needed. Aim for a seamless navigation flow that aids users in finding information.
SEO-friendly URLs with relevant keywords provide context to search engines and users. Use a hierarchical structure, avoid excessive parameters, and opt for short, descriptive URLs for both better ranking potential and user understanding.
Include contextual links within content to relevant pages, aiding navigation and distributing link authority. Prioritize anchor text that reflects the linked page’s content and relevance, enhancing both user experience and SEO.
Mobile responsiveness ensures your site looks and functions well on all devices, positively impacting user experience. Since Google prioritizes mobile-friendly sites, this aspect of structure directly influences SEO rankings and visibility.
Breadcrumbs provide a visual trail, indicating the user’s location within the site’s hierarchy. They enhance navigation and help search engines understand the relationship between pages, improving both user experience and SEO.
A logical website structure enables search engines to crawl and index your site more efficiently. A well-structured sitemap and internal linking guide bots to important content, helping index relevant pages and boosting SEO performance.