What Is Site Structure?
Website structure is how your website is built and how its pages fit and link together. It’s also referred to as website architecture or hierarchy.
Good site structure makes it easy for people and search engines to find their way around your website. It’s about allowing them to find what they’re looking for in as few clicks as possible.
Why Does Site Structure Matter?
Good site structure matters for two main reasons;
User experience, leading someone to find what they need and converting on your site.
Search engines, leading to your pages being found and indexed and ranking higher in search results.
Let’s take a little closer look at those.
Site Structure for User Experience
Giving your customers or potential customers a good experience and making things simple for them is at the heart of what good marketing is, and what successful businesses strive for.
It’s in your best interest as a site owner to make it’s as seamless as possible for someone to find the product, service, or information they’re looking for. The easier and quicker it is, the more likely they are to become a customer.
Site Structure for Search Engines
An effective site structure makes it easier for search engines to find, understand, and rank your content in search results. It will also make it clear which pages are your most important “pillar” pages and will allow them to rank faster.
Good internal linking and site structure also passes link power from one page to another. So, if you have one page benefiting from a powerful link pointing to it, you can share that link benefit with other pages by linking to them if they are topically relevant.
Flat Website Structure vs Others
A flat website structure means that any one page is anywhere from 1 to 4 clicks away from the homepage. This is good for both users, and search engines. Users can find what page they are looking for typically in the main navigation or from one of the core pages on the site. For search engines, crawlers will be able to quickly scan and identify which pages exist, whereas if you have a deep and confusing site navigation crawlers may not find some pages at all. This also helps with keeping the crawl budget low, which we’ll talk more about later.
A flat site structure will also pass link authority from your homepage to many of your other pages, most importantly, your service and/or product pages. A website’s homepage will almost always have the most links pointing to it. Having a flat structure disperses those links’ power and authority efficiently throughout your site.
How To Layout A Good Website Structure
Decide On Your Sites Top Navigation
Your site’s main navigation at the top of the page is important to get right. This is where users will look to get to where they need to go, and to be able to easily navigate between key pages. The bigger the website is, the more complicated top navigation can become.
Here, you should be thinking about your customer and their ideal journey once they land on the site. What information will they be looking for and where you want to direct them? How can you most easily group topics into easy to understand broad categories in your navigation? Remember, you want to make it easy for users to find what they are looking for in as few clicks as possible.
Decide On Your Key Pages and Do Keyword Research
Use a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush (or free tools like Keyword Generator or Keyword Sheeter) to find search volume labeling your pages and navigation. You know what you call your services and products, but there may be different ways people speak about them that you wouldn’t know existed if you don’t do the keyword research. If you don’t name your top pages what people are actually searching for, you could be losing out on a boatload of traffic.
You should also be doing competitive analysis. A good way to perform competitive analysis is to mine your competitor’s websites for ideas and study how their sites are structured and if it’s working for them.
Your top-level pages will most likely consist of a category page(blog, products, etc), a content hub(marketing page), or a stand-alone page(about, contact, etc).
Map Out Your Sites Structure
Armed with keyword research and a basic plan of what pages you’ll need, you should map out and visualize how everything will fit together. You can use a free tool like Gloomaps to do this. As you figure out more of what your site will include such as topic silos, and subcategories you can come back to this and update as you go.
Taxonomies – Categories & Tags
A taxonomy is a way of grouping your pages and content by using either categories or tags. Taxonomies will help with the concept of “content silo”, where keywords and topics gain relevancy and increased ranking by being grouped and linked together on your site.
A category is the default taxonomy in WordPress. Using categories is a great way to let users, and search engines know what broader topic the content information on specific pages are about.
You can also use subcategories sometimes called child categories. An example would be if the main category is “SEO”, subcategories could look like this:
If you have several pages relating to certain topics, products, services, etc on your site, that is where category pages become super important. If you have a small website, they may not be as crucial. To add categories to your WordPress website from the sidebar menu click Posts > Categories.
Tags are more useful for identifying more specific topics and keywords on posts and pages, whereas categories are more of a broad indicator. You can add multiple tags to one piece of content. The benefit of tags is if a user were to click on one of the tags they would be taken to an archive page with all other pages with that tag. To add tags in WordPress, from the sidebar menu, click Posts > Tags.
For example, If I wrote a post about link building, the category might be something broad like “SEO”, but the tags could be “off-page SEO”, “link building”, etc.
Custom taxonomies are a different, more complex way of grouping pages and usually seen on large websites. A custom taxonomy would come in handy when instead of grouping pages by certain categories or tags, you could group by people or locations.
Pods.io gives other examples of when custom taxonomies could be useful:
- Brands to organize Products
- Vehicle to organize Automobiles
- Job Type to organize Testimonials
- Event Type to organize Events
Taxonomies for search engines
Taxonomies like categories and tags can lead to duplicate content issues on your site, which could hurt your SEO rankings. If you’re on WordPress and use a plugin like Yoast or RankMath, you’ll want to select the settings to de-index categories and tags.
A permalink is a URL you see in your browser for any given page or post on a website. Staying with our common theme, a permalink should be both user friendly and search engine friendly. It’s important to get your structure for permalinks down before you build out a ton of pages.
Good permalinks are short, descriptive, and might include a category. Bad permalinks are long, confusing, have no keywords, and give no context. They might include dates, and random characters and numbers.
WordPress has 6 different permalinks settings to choose from, and its default “plain” setting will look something like this – yoursite.com/?p=123, which is not what we want.
You’ll want to select post name or custom structure as your new permalinks default. Post name will allow you to add custom slugs to every page, giving you complete control. For custom structure, you can add prefixes such as /%sample-post%/, or with the category included, /%category%/%post-name%/.
URL Best Practices
These best practices are for giving your user a good experience by allowing them to know what page they’re on and giving an indication of what it’s about, as well as making the URL easy for them to share. And, good for search engines by allowing them to see what the content is about with keyword-focused URLs, giving you a better chance to rank highly.
Here are URL best practices:
- Keep them short, no more than 5 words if possible
- Use lower case
- Use hyphens(-) between words
- Use your main keywords
- Do NOT include numbers or characters
- Skip filler words like and, the, or, but, etc
Internal Linking & Content Siloing
We’ve already talked about how effective internal linking is absolutely essential for a website. One of the main uses of good internal linking is for content siloing.
What is content siloing?
Content siloing is structuring and grouping related content together to establish a keyword-based topical relevance and authority for specific topics or themes. It usually includes a main hub page, which is typically a page that is keyword-focused towards the main topic/keyword you want to rank highly for. This is followed by many pages that focus on subcategories and answer questions relating to the main hub page, which all link together, but most importantly link back to the main hub page. Here’s what this could look like:
Virtual Silo vs Physical Silo
A physical silo is created by linking pages together in the site navigation like directories, menus, and breadcrumbs. A category page with many child subcategory pages is an example of a virtual silo. This is more common for eCommerce sites.
A virtual silo would be pages linking to each other through contextual links. Meaning, typically in the body of the content you would reference a keyword or topic of another relevant page in your silo and link to it in that content.
Breadcrumbs are a small piece of text, usually at the top of a page, that shows the path you took to get to the page you’re on. This might look something like this:
This helps users understand exactly where they are and how they got there, as well as makes it easy to navigate to similar pages. Also, If a user comes straight to that page, it gives them a better picture of the structure of your website.
Breadcrumbs also increase the internal linking of your website. The more pages link to other relevant pages within a website the more link power, authority, and relevance can pass throughout the site, and the healthier the website will be. Breadcrumbs are again more frequently used on eCommerce sites.
Pagination is breaking up content into separate ordered pages, instead of having a super long scroll. An example is how Google has many pages for search results instead of just one long scrolling page.
You will mostly find pagination on these types of websites:
- News Publications
- Large Forums
- Large Blogs
Pagination can lead to an abundance of pages created on your site which could cause search engine crawling issues, as well as duplicate content and indexing problems. The main way site owners and SEO’s battle this issue is by using canonical tags. Read more about this here.
Crawl budget is the number of pages a search engine crawler or spider is able to crawl and index in a certain amount of time. This could be an issue if you have a large and unoptimized site because the crawl budget can run out and you will end up with pages that aren’t being found and indexed by search engines.
Here are the main culprits of crawl budget issues:
- Deep, messy, and complicated site structure
- 404 pages
- Lots of redirects + broken redirects
- Slow site speed
- No or low internal links
- Duplicate and/or low-quality content
A well-structured website, that is fast, and has quality content shouldn’t have issues with the ol’ Googs crawl budget.
Subdomains vs Subfolders
For best SEO results, it is almost always better to use a subfolder rather than a subdomain. A subdomain looks something like this https://blog.hookagency.com, compared to a subfolder https://hookagency.com/blog.
Search engines treat subdomains as a separate entity from your main site. That means any topical authority or link power acquired on your subdomain does not transfer over to your main site. Subdomains may be useful if what is on your subdomain is completely unrelated to your main site, such as a totally different topic, service, company, etc.
The importance and complexity of the structure of your site grows with the size of it. With that being said, the structure of your site is its foundation and it’s important to get it right from the start or you may have issues and headaches down the road.