What is website architecture?
Site architecture is the organisation and hierarchy of the pages on your website. This is important to both users navigating through your site and search engine bots who need to be able to discover all relevant pages.
Well-designed websites have a structure that provides users a clear path through pages, leading them on what is known as a user journey. This lends itself to SEO as an optimised website makes crawling pages more efficient and will help search engines register changes faster.
How does website architecture impact SEO?
Search engine crawlers have a limited amount of resources which determines how frequently they will visit your site. Assuming search engine bots will enter your site from a top-level page, it’s important to create a clear hierarchy with the most important pages being linked to frequently.
An SEO optimised website will consider both the journey from one page to another, as well as the literal structure of the URLs. With these in mind, it is also important to ensure each page has a clear definable purpose with a logical entry point from search. This means avoiding unnecessary pages, known as gateway pages, or duplicating content across different URLs.
In addition to helping search engines crawl and discover pages, the structure of your site will help determine the perceived authority of pages. The more internal links a page has the higher the link authority will be to that page. This means sites more frequently linked to such as in main navigation menus will benefit more.
Important factors to consider when reviewing a website’s architecture
Page structure is the foundation that you use to organise content on your site. Every site should have a homepage representing your overall brand and site’s purpose.
Most of your content should be grouped into categories, the number of categories and structure of them will depend on the size and nature of your website. In many cases, if the site is large enough there will be a need for sub-categories too.
Typically, the search volume will be larger for categories and become smaller as search terms become more specific and long-tail. Your category pages should therefore reflect what users are searching at a broad level and sub-categories reflect the longer tail, more specific but lower volume categories.
Landing pages are those pages beyond your homepage that you expect a user to enter directly from search. While your website may have several different pages with content for different reasons, landing pages are those that target specific search terms where search volume exists.
Individual Pages or Posts
The lowest level in the hierarchy should be the end journey pages such as specific articles or product pages. These pages typically have a specific purpose or intent. While they may not make up the majority of a site’s visits, they’ll probably be numerous and many will hold the highest value.
Many websites choose to house blog style articles that contain supporting information or thought leadership pages in their own section.
Once you have a clear page structure laid out, it’s important to make that structure both clear and accessible to users. The most common way to do this is by using a main navigation or menu. This is a consistent series of links that sit at the top of each page allowing users to navigate to other sections of your site. Ideally, the menu should reflect your overall site structure with category pages being the top level of a navigation and having drop-down menus for both sub-categories and individual pages.
However, it’s important not to clutter the main navigation to keep it clear and concise. Therefore, unless a site is very small, it is not recommended to make the navigation a comprehensive list but rather a shortcut to the most important pages such as top category pages filtering down to the most sub-categories.
Many pages on your site will contain snippets of information that can be expanded upon in more depth by another page on the site. Contextual links contained within the copy of your page are the best way to reference other content on your site helping you keep your pages concise while still ensuring users get the full value.
Google uses these contextual links to help it understand the information on each page, most prominently using the anchor text — the actual text the link sits on, but also considering the content around it. Google is becoming more sophisticated and better at understanding intent, so it’s always important to ensure that contextual links are used logically for the benefit of the user and not purely to help search engines.
Tips for a solid website architecture
Review your top competitor’s structures
One of the easiest ways to start with a website architecture is to check who is ranking well for your top keywords and see how they structure their content. As they are ranking well in search, it’s a clear sign that Google is valuing their content and it will benefit users as you’ll be modelling your site on something most consumers are used to. This is the reason a lot of popular websites look and feel very similar to one another.
The page design, linking structure, and navigation should be consistent across your website. This will ensure users feel comfortable navigating through a site as they won’t need to adapt to a new interface every time they click through to a new page. One way to keep up this consistency is to use breadcrumb trails showing the hierarchy and where the user currently is within it.
Don’t over optimise
Navigational tools such as contextual links are powerful when used correctly but using them too frequently can cause clutter content. Selecting a few opportunities within a block of text that links out clearly to more information will boost performance, but overlinking or using poor contextual links can hurt performance.
Keep journeys short and seamless
If a user must manually click through several category and sub-category pages to find the product page they want, then they’re likely to get frustrated and leave before purchasing. A user should never be more than a few clicks away from their desired content; this may be providing short-cut navigational links on hub-pages.
Make sure URL structure follows a hierarchy
URLs should reflect the hierarchy of your website, but they can be separate from how a user navigates it. The best practice is not just to have the navigation filter down through categories and sub-categories, but to also reflect this in the URL structure. This will make it clearer to Google the difference between a page that links contextually to another part of the website, and a page that is a sub-category or product of a broader section.
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