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The #1 result in Google gets approximately 32% of all clicks. And getting that coveted first result requires using every possible SEO (search engine optimization) tactic at your disposal.
One often overlooked SEO tactic is the creation of a website architecture that not only provides a good user experience, but also makes it easier for crawlers to crawl and index your website quickly.
Here’s what you need to know about website architecture to improve your SEO.
What is website architecture?
Website architecture is the structure of your website — how your pages are organized and linked together.
A simple website architecture starts with a homepage at the top of the structure and flows down to other types of pages, like category pages, blog posts, service pages, or, for an ecommerce website, product pages and variation pages.
Website architecture is a form of information architecture — you’re taking all the information on your website, and you’re connecting it together in ways that make sense to users and to search engine crawlers.
An ideal site architecture is as flat as possible, which means that no page is more than 4 clicks away from the homepage.
There are a number of reasons why you want to do this, both from an SEO perspective (what search engines are looking for) and from a user perspective (how site architecture makes navigating a website easier and more intuitive for users).
Why is website architecture important for SEO?
Website architecture is important for SEO for a few reasons. Design, usability, and crawlability are all impacted by how you set up your website. Here’s how…
A simple website architecture makes it easier for Google to crawl your website
The first reason is that good site architecture makes it easier for Google and other search engine crawlers to find all your pages, crawl them, and get them indexed.
For a small website (fewer than 10,000 pages), this generally isn’t a major issue because crawlers are very good at finding pages on your website.
However, for a large website (10,000+ pages) like an ecommerce website with many thousands of product pages, it’s possible to exceed your crawl budget (the number of pages that Google will crawl within a given time period) without proper planning.
This matters because for all businesses, getting website pages on Google as quickly as possible is a top priority. Every day your product pages and landing pages aren’t indexed in Google is a day you’re losing out on potential leads and sales.
A simple website architecture makes it easier for users to use your website
The second reason website architecture is important for SEO is usability.
When users land on your website, their goal is to find the information or products/services they’re looking for as quickly as possible. And if you have a complicated, deep website architecture, users will struggle to find what they need.
Making website information easy to find is called “navigation design.” Your goal is to make the UX so seamless that users don’t even realize you’ve optimized the website for usability. Over 94% of users say that easy navigation is the best feature of a website.
This matters for all types of businesses. 88% of online shoppers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience. Additionally, 42% of shoppers list poor website navigation as a reason they leave a website. Simple navigation is critical to the user experience.
A simple navigation menu
While simple architecture means that no page is more than 4 clicks away from the homepage, it also means that the navigation menu itself is easy to use. Some tips on creating simple navigation menus include:
- Make link labels easy to scan
- Ensure that drop-downs are not too small or too big
- Make menu links look interactive
- Ensure that your menus have enough visual weight
- Prioritize consistency
- Limit the number of items to seven (if possible)
A balance between website design and website structure
From a web design standpoint, this means ensuring your navigation menu doesn’t have dozens of options on it unless it’s necessary for users. Instead, you have as few options as possible so that users can quickly find what they’re looking for.
In this example, the navigation menu strikes the right balance between web design and user experience.
Good navigation menus help users to quickly find the type of product they’re looking for but ensure users are not overwhelmed by hundreds of options. They can click on a main category, choose a subcategory, and then find the products they’re looking for through that product page.
This is better than having dozens of categories because it takes users less time to visually assess the menu and then choose an option. The user doesn’t have to think to find what they’re looking for, which is an essential UX principle — don’t make the user think more than necessary.
Get involved in the web design process
Many website templates in a CMS like WordPress will favor design elements over a simple architecture, so it may be the case that you’ll need to stress the importance of a simple design to your website designer or developer.
This might mean getting a little hands-on during the design process, but it’s critical that you’re structuring a simple site architecture and navigation menu from the very beginning of your website’s creation. Even if you don’t have much design or SEO know-how, you can still use what you’ve learned here to make valuable suggestions.
As your own website grows and new pages are added, your website architecture can become too complex and overwhelming. So if you don’t start from a structured foundation, eventually you’ll have to reorganize your entire website to get back to a user-friendly and crawler-friendly structure. And it’s much harder to simplify your website retroactively.
Even if you’re thinking “my website won’t get much bigger,” you may be in for a rude surprise that can sneak up on you slowly over years. That’s especially true if your content strategy includes blogging.
Blogs, for example, have the potential to expand far beyond what they initially focused on after years of blogging. Keyword research can drive content in unexpected directions and lead to the development of entirely new categories that were unpredictable when the website was designed.
In fact, this is true of your entire website – not just your blog. You may find yourself offering new products or services, or expanding into new niches, after years in business.
Fitting in new categories as naturally as possible is crucial, and the more you can predict when you’re designing the website, the easier it will be to maintain your SEO-friendly website architecture.
Best practices for creating SEO-friendly website architecture
There are a number of best practices you need to follow to make your website architecture SEO-friendly and user-friendly.
1. Keep it simple
One of the biggest rules of UX is that you shouldn’t make your users think. Everything on your website should be intuitive. They shouldn’t have to try hard to find anything on your website.
This starts with your menu. A good menu shows users everything they might be looking for in an easy-to-understand format. It strikes a balance between giving enough detail to be useful without being so detailed it’s overwhelming.
A user who is looking for a specific brand will be able to find it. A user looking for clothes or gifts for women will know exactly which link to click on.
If the menu just said “clothes” and then had men’s clothes, women’s clothes, and brands all interspersed randomly across the menu, a user would have to search through each link to find what they’re looking for, and they would have to think hard about where the product they’re looking for might be.
2. Use a shallow architecture
Flat architecture is a website structure that allows users to get to any page in 4 clicks or fewer from the homepage. This removes friction, following the “don’t make users think” rule. It enables them to get anywhere they want to on your website without having to work hard.
Additionally, it’s important for SEO because it governs how link authority flows throughout your website. Pages that get a lot of backlinks will pass some of their authority to other pages that they link to, like your services pages.
The deeper your site structure is, the less authority is passed on, making these subpages less likely to rank highly on Google.
3. Be consistent with your design
When you’re designing your website, it’s important to use consistency in your menus.
This means that, while all your top-level categories are going to be different, keeping them as similar as possible in a way that makes sense is important in helping users find what they’re looking for.
Similarly, keeping the same type of structure for your subpages is important for the same reason — users will know what to expect when they start navigating your website.
If you organize your subcategory items alphabetically, for example, then this should be the same for every submenu. If you categorize them in a different way, this way should be repeated for each submenu.
If you have a number of menus on your website (for example, you might have a menu in your sidebar or footer), then those menus should all be structured as similarly as possible.
4. Use SEO-friendly URLs
Your URL structure is critical to SEO in several ways.
First, when a crawler is trying to determine what your web page is about, it looks at keywords and the content itself, but it also looks at the URL. If that URL is complex and full of long strings of random numbers and letters, then crawlers will struggle to understand what it’s about.
Also, URLs often include the page’s category. This tells crawlers more about the page itself and helps them to understand the major category the page falls under, allowing them to more effectively serve the content to users.
Similarly, users will get more value out of simple URLs. When users see a complicated URL on a SERP, they will have to rely on the heading and meta description to understand what a page is about, which may not be enough information.
Using a simple URL makes it easier for searchers to see what a page is about when they click through from another page, like a SERP. The URL “www.granwehr.com/blog/website-infrastructure” makes it clear the content on the page is about website infrastructure, whereas “www.granwehr.com/blog/post167800” doesn’t mean anything to users. They have no confidence in what they’ll find on the following page.
5. Use the topic cluster model
A topic cluster is a structure that many SEOs use to organize content on a website in a hierarchy.
The structure is simple. First, you create what’s called a “pillar page.” A pillar page is one of the most important pages on your website, and it’s usually a comprehensive guide or resource.
Pillar pages are used for content marketing purposes as hubs that can generate traffic and then send it out to other subtopical pages. For example, a roofer might have a page about all the different types of roofing systems available for commercial buildings.
Then, you create what is known as cluster content, which is related content that connects to the pillar page with internal links and uses anchor text that helps users to clearly understand what the pillar page is about.
For example, you might create a series of blog posts about each type of roofing system. You would then create internal links to the pillar page about different types of roofing systems.
Then you might go even more in-depth, to roof types, the best types of shingles for different climates, how to find structural flaws in your roof, etc. From each of these, you would link back to your pillar page on roofing systems.
This not only improves traffic generation to the page, but it also tells crawlers that this is an important page on your website and therefore should not only be indexed, but should get more authority than the cluster pages.
6. Use breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are links at the top of a page that help users to navigate your website.
The value of breadcrumbs is twofold.
First, breadcrumbs make for a better user experience. They help users to easily navigate your website without having to resort to the main menu.
This way, if they don’t find what they’re looking for on a particular page, they can go back to a previous page simply by clicking a link in the breadcrumbs.
Second, breadcrumbs help crawlers to understand your website’s structure by showing Google how your pages are related to each other.
Google will use breadcrumbs along with other information on your website, like your menu and your sitemap, to understand how your pages relate to each other and what each page is about.
For example, you might have a website that sells T-shirts. You’d have a page that sells a specific brand-name tank top that you’ve optimized for the brand name instead of the phrase “tank top.”
Even though that keyword might not be on the page, the breadcrumbs from a higher-level category page called “tank tops” and then the category page above that called “T-shirts” will help Google understand that this is a T-shirt and a tank-top.
It can then serve this product page to people searching for T-shirts and tank tops even if you’ve only optimized it for the brand name.
7. Make your sitemap easily accessible
Your sitemap is a file on your website that tells Google how all your pages are interconnected. It’s a critical part of technical SEO because it can be submitted to Google through Google Search Console to get your website more quickly indexed.
This makes your sitemap easily accessible by Google. However, you can also use tools like Yoast (a WordPress plugin) to automatically generate a sitemap. These are XML files that Yoast automatically places on your website where Google can easily find them.
This is especially important for brand new websites. If you just wait for crawlers to find your website online, it may take them weeks to find the website and then start serving it to searchers.
8. Secure your website
If you don’t use HTTPs, the data being passed is insecure, meaning a number of hacker attacks, like “man in the middle attacks,” can take place. You’re putting your customers’ and visitors’ sensitive data, like credit card information, at risk.
HTTPs keeps the connection between your website and your website’s server safer from hackers.
It requires you to put an SSL certificate on your website, which most website hosts will do automatically these days, so all you need to do is check with your host to make sure they’ve implemented HTTPs on your website. If you don’t, Google will issue a warning to users that your site is not secure.
Get a complimentary SEO audit
Website architecture can evolve quickly, so paying close attention to site architecture from the start is important for making it easier for crawlers to find new content and for users to consume your content.
This means following the steps in this guide, like continuing to use a shallow architecture, ensuring new URLs are SEO-friendly, keeping breadcrumbs active, and updating your SSL certificate.
When you do all these things, you ensure that Google can crawl your website more effectively and that users can understand how your content is organized, thereby making it easier for them to find the content they’re interested in.
Want to see how you’re doing with SEO? Get an instant SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost search traffic revenue by 700%.