When I think of site structure, I think of my record collection which consists mostly of dance music from the 1970s-1990s. While large, it’s not quite as large as this stash I found on the web:
I’m sure that the owner of this collection may know where most of their records are. But what if I stumbled on this collection? As much as I would enjoy comb through all these records, how long would it take for me to find the ones I want to play as I do at every thrift store’s dusty vinyl collection.
This vinyl collection (and possibly mine) is an example of a large website without a coherent site structure. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Why is site structure important?
A good site structure helps visitors find and search engines understand your content.
For visitors, it helps them navigate to the most important pages to your site. It also helps them understand the services or products you sell. Navigation should be easy, otherwise visitors will get frustrated and find another website to visit.
For search engines, a good site structure organizes your content in meaningful ways so it helps crawlers understand your website and know what content is most important.
Before we dive into the dollar bin…
What are the types of site structures?
Most websites fall into two types of structures: deep and flat.
With a flat website, the click path is shorter where the homepage links to most of the pages. Examples of this are a brochure website for a small business or a simple landing page for an event.
With a deep site structure, a visitor may have to click through multiple pages to find content. For example, an online publisher or an e-commerce website.
What is the ideal structure for a website?
Traditionally, site structure would mimic a folder structure much like your folder structure on your computer. Today, most websites mimic this through software.
While it may look like a folder structure in the URL, think of your website as a pyramid, with your homepage being at the top of the pyramid. Under your homepage are categories or sections of your website. If your site is large like an e-commerce website with thousands of products, you may have sub-categories. Under your categories should be your pages.
How do you know what belongs where? Compile all your pages on your site. Can you group these pages into categories? You can sketch your sitemap on paper or use a graphing tool Microsoft Visio or OmniGraffle to visualize how this will look. Then set up your architecture to reflect that.
Finally, your URL structure should reflect your site structure. But don’t make them too long.
How do I go about internally linking my content?
First, let’s talk about structural links which include your menu, breadcrumbs, and taxonomy links.
Your menu should reflect your optimized site structure. And while it’s tempting to put your sitemap within your navigation, it’s best for visitors and for crawlers to limit your navigation to your most important categories and pages. Many mobile visitors will use a hamburger button for navigation and be discouraged if there are too many options to tap.
Breadcrumbs reflect the structure of the site and help visitors find their way within your website. It also serves as a good visualization of your site structure.
And if you include schema metadata in the HTML, these breadcrumbs can appear within the search results page.
Taxonomy links like categories, tags, and author links help visitors find other related content. Be thoughtful with tags and categories as they can get unwieldy especially with large sites. You may end up with tag pages with one piece of content linked to it. With large websites, I recommend having a taxonomy strategy.
Contextual internal linking are links found within your content like a blog post or a product page. For example, you may have a pillar page that covers a topic area that which is broken down into subtopics found on other pages. For a product, you may have links to related products. These internal links help visitors and crawlers find relevant content. Use good anchor text to your link content.
Once you have your site structure in place, you can create a sitemap on your website and one to send to search engines.
Back in the day, websites would use HTML sitemaps to help both people and search engines find your content. I’ve been using the web for a long time and I still sometimes look for a sitemap to get a good sense as to what is available on a website.
For Google and Bing, you can create an XML sitemap and submit them to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools respectively. Most CMS software can generate a sitemap either through plugins or add-ons. Or you can use software like Screaming Frog or websites to generate one.
Today, it’s still a good practice to create an HTML sitemap for visitors. Sometimes, you’ll see them on a 404 error page. While you don’t need to have every singe page on your sitemap, having a link to your homepage and categories in an organized way helps visitors who may be lost.
What tools can I use to
analize my site strucutre
Screaming Frog SEO will crawl your website and give you a visual representation of your site structure.
Also, SEO Chat has a site crawler which will generate a sitemap you can put on your site or submit to Google and Bing.
Now that we’ve spun around the turntable…
You’ll be ready to structure your website so that it’s good for your visitors and for search engines to crawl and index — both of which are good for SEO.
Once you’ve neatly organized your website, it should look like this:
Now, I need to order these record dividers on Etsy before they sell out!