Why is Site Structure Important?
- User Experience (UX)
- The term UX refers to the experience a user has when interacting with your website. Good UX design makes navigating your website a delightful experience. A sound site structure makes it easy for users to find what they are looking for on your site.
- This is your spot in the Search Engine Results Page.
- Web Crawler Budget
- Every web crawler has a set amount of time allocated to crawling each website. A cluttered site demands more time from the crawler. If your site structure is too cluttered, the time required to index your site might exceed the web crawlers budget. In that case, your website will not be ranked.
- Lower Bounce Rates
- Bounce rate refers to the amount of visitors who only view one page on your site before they leave. A poor site structure can leave users lost and confused.
As with everything else SEO related, there are many components that are affected by site structure. The most important component is usability. You always want to gear your website towards your user as best you can. The easier it is for a user to spend time on your website and get the answers they are looking for, the better your PageRank will be. Interestingly enough, the same thing applies to web crawlers. The easier your site is to navigate, the quicker web crawlers can index it. You will be ranked accordingly. However, we encourage you to always prioritize the user. If users have trouble navigating your site, they will leave and find what they are looking for elsewhere. If they only visit one page it will increase your sites bounce rate which decreases your PageRank.
How to Start?
Before you start building a website, it is a good idea to spend some time planning the layout. This process is called “wireframing”. It is a technical sounding term, but all you really need to do this is a blank notepad and a pencil. The idea is to draw the layout of the website you want to build so you get an idea of what it is going to look like before you begin building.
You also want to make sure to consider the hierarchy and navigation of the website during the wireframing process. How will visitors be guided through the site? Is it clear and logical? Are labels presented in a logical order? These are some questions that are important to answer before you begin building. That’s why wireframing is so useful. Once you have your website blueprint completed it is time to start building. Now you have a clear goal of what you want to achieve and the process will get easier and appear less daunting.
Here is an example of what a wireframe sketch of two pages can look like:
What is the Ideal Site Structure?
A common strategy to arranging site structure mimics a filing cabinet in many ways. It is simple, clean, and effective. You want to aim to have four different layers to your site; homepage, high-level category, subcategory, and individual pages. By doing this, you keep the site structure wide rather than deep. On your right is a textbook example of how to structure a website.
Good vs Bad Structure
A site structure like this makes for good usability. It will leave your audience pleased with their visit to your site. The example below is from the home page of Apple Inc. This website has impeccable structure. High-level categories are presented at the top in the navigation bar and sub categories are listed in a lower navigation bar. The site is easy on the eyes and easy to understand.
This brings us to the next important topic on site structure: navigation. It’s not too difficult to understand, but it’s essential for good SEO. In a nutshell, good navigation means that users are never confused on how to get to where they want to go on your site. The example of Apple’s home page above still holds the standard. Simply by looking at each link and navigation item on this page you have a pretty good idea of how to navigate the site. For example, if you click the iPad link at the top, it’s a good bet that you will get to the iPad category page and be presented with the different iPad options in the lower navigation bar. We tried it out, and sure enough, that is exactly what happened.
For contrast, it is good to know what not to do. The following site is a good example of a cluttered, disorganized, and poorly structured website.
Long story short, don’t structure your site like this.
If you have everything above covered for your website, you are doing well already. However, there are always ways to further improve. When the foundational structure of your website is in good shape, the following list is a good checklist to refer to for added optimization.
- List navigation items in order of importance from left to right.
We read text from top to bottom, left to right. Our eyes automatically begin in the top left corner of a site and work from there. Look back at the Apple home page. There is a reason they don’t list Support, Music, and TV first with Mac, iPhone, and iPad last.
- Make sure users know exactly how to proceed on every single page.
You never want users to be lost or confused at any time. Always place crystal clear navigation buttons that inform the users how to move around the website and what options they have on any given page.
Alright, let’s talk mobile.
Approximately 60% of all searches are done from a mobile device today. Your site will have a separate PageRank on mobile search than it will on desktop search. In other words, you need to design a mobile site that adheres to the principles above and adjusted to mobile devices. This means you must have clear navigation but you can’t simply copy the navigation bar from your desktop to your mobile site. It won’t be user friendly since it forces a user to scroll both horizontally and vertically to find things.
Here is what Apple’s home page and navigation looks like on mobile.
The two bars in the top left corner of the left picture form the trigger for the navigation menu. When clicked, the menu on the right appears. This menu is the same as the primary navigation on the desktop home page. Similarly, the links on the mobile home page are clear and inform the user of where they will go if they click on them. Apple maintains simplicity and clarity. This is a common approach to mobile site structure.
What about Single Page Sites?
Another common question in SEO is that of single page vs. multi page site structure. There are a few pros and cons to both. Let’s explore these and see what the result is. First of all, we have exclusively looked at multi-page sites for all the examples above. That should be a good preliminary hint for our recommendations. In any case, it is worth mentioning.
Single page sites are exactly what the name claims. A website with only one long page. The benefits of single page site are:
- These sites typically load a lot faster than multi-page sites which has a positive impact on SEO rankings. More on that in the chapter on PageSpeed.
- They are good for mobile users as they are much easier to navigate from a mobile device.
- Efficient for specific content curated towards a specific audience.
These make for excellent promotional sites and high niche blogs that don’t vary between a multitude of topics. The downsides of using single page sites are:
- Lack the ability to target a wide variety of keywords.
- Can’t target a wide range of topics in great detail.
- Must always have highly valuable content since the user has nowhere to go but the one page.
- Highly limited for content creation
Finally, always remember...
Finally, remember that no matter how technically optimized your site is, if it isn’t optimized for good user experience it will not be presented to users on the SERP. User experience always comes first. Good user experience is founded in a sound site structure.