Site architecture is a foundational principle of technical search engine optimization (SEO). Instead of publishing a random collection of pages and posts, establishing an SEO-friendly site architecture can guide users to your content and help Google index it.
Whether you’re building a new site or thinking of updating your original one, it pays to take a good look at site architecture and consider your options before you get started.
What is Website Architecture?
Website architecture describes the way you categorize, structure, and inter-link content on your site.
Ideally, the arrangement of your website’s pages will help users and search engines alike easily find what they’re looking for.
Creating an intentional hierarchy for your website sends clear signals about which content is most important and how it relates to the other pages on your site. In addition to providing signposts for visitors, these hierarchical signals help search engines understand what’s on your site so that they can find, index, and display your content on search results pages (SERPs).
When you plan a site structure, you’ll want to consider things like:
- Navigation menus
- Internal linking
Why Is Your Site Architecture Important?
Regardless of how many pages you have on your website, its structure plays an essential role in how visitors experience your offering, and search engines crawl your site.
Let’s break down the two most critical functions of website architecture:
Website Architecture for Users
The primary objective of your website is to present your products or services to prospective customers. As such:
Every page you put on your site and the paths you forge to connect them should be designed with your customer in mind.
Website Architecture Forms the Foundation of User Experience
When a visitor lands on your website, the easier it is for them to find what they’re looking for, the more likely they’ll become a customer.
If visiting your website is a frustrating experience, prospects aren’t likely to stay long and are even less likely to return.
A Functional Site Is Easy to Navigate
If you create a website structure that mirrors your sales funnel, every step of the customer journey will lead effortlessly to the next. Whether it’s transitioning from reading a blog article to signing up for deals or moving from a FAQ page to make a purchase, a logical site structure greases the wheels of conversion on your website.
A Good Site Structure Keeps Important Pages Within Reach
It’s a widely held rule of thumb that a visitor shouldn’t have to click more than three links to find what they’re looking for on your website.
Website Architecture SEO
While it’s true that a logical site structure provides a better user experience, it will also improve your search results.
Structuring your site with an obvious hierarchy, clear topic clusters, and plenty of internal links makes it easier for search engines to index your pages and understand the context of your content.
Understanding your site as a whole gives Google confidence in serving your pages in search results. Higher confidence equals higher rankings.
An SEO-Friendly Site Structure Uses Topic Clusters
When you connect pages to create topic clusters, you’re signaling authority in your field.
If you offer several pieces of content that cover different aspects of the same subject in great depth and link them together, you’re helping search engines recognize your business as an industry expert.
If the same information were scattered throughout your website with no apparent relationship between those pages, it would be harder for a search engine to evaluate your industry expertise.
Structure Your Site to Spotlight the Most Important Content
Creating hub pages (also known as pillar content) that cover a subject in broad terms and link to related, more detailed information lets you highlight your most important content — positioning those pages to rank for high-volume keywords. Those general pillar pages will attract top-of-the-funnel traffic.
Then, you can pull those visitors deeper into your website with lower-volume, longer tail keyword-optimized content that’s linked to that pillar page.
At the same time, those pages with long-tail keywords attract other customers at a different stage in their customer journey, bypassing content that’s too general for them and bringing them directly to content that answers their specific questions.
Use an SEO-Savvy URL Structure
Be intentional about the naming convention you create for your content, because it will form the foundation of your site’s URL structure. Descriptive, keyword-relevant page names will help search engines establish a clear, semantic relationship between the different pages on your website.
A URL structure like this one signals that your website is well organized, demonstrates expertise in your industry, and tells search engines that you have authoritative, relevant content for anyone looking for information about h1 tags as they relate to SEO.
As you continue to add onto a site with an optimized URL structure, your relevancy signals will solidify and search engines will assign more value to the content you create.
Organize Pages to Expedite New Content Indexing
A site that’s easier for search spiders to navigate is a more efficient use of your crawl budget — leaving plenty of time for Google to discover and index your new content.
Pass Link Authority Through Your Site Structure
If you’ve earned backlinks from reputable websites, you want to make the most of the authority those endorsements lend. An internal linking structure passes that authority through a chain of related pages on your website. Without that structure in place, it will be more difficult to distribute the benefits of your backlinking efforts.
Additionally, an effective website architecture allows you to create pages that answer specific questions searchers might have. More pages that contain beneficial information related to your business will help you acquire more quality backlinks.
Prevent Keyword Cannibalization
Keyword cannibalization is a term that strategists use when a website has two or more pages competing for the same keywords.
More often than not, keyword cannibalization happens because a website is disorganized.
Websites with a clear organizational structure have defined places for different types of content. This makes it easier to craft a content strategy and prevent keyword overlaps that lower overall rankings in SERPs.
Optimize for Google Sitelinks
Sitelinks are an added benefit of SEO architecture. When your sitelinks appear in search results, you have the added value of taking up more real estate on the page and offering a clear path from SERPs that directs users to the best results in the shortest time.
Sitelinks are an asset to credibility, branding, and click-thru rates.
The only way to have your sitelinks featured in search results is to have a website with a clearly defined hierarchy. You can’t add structured data to create sitelinks.
They’re a reward for building an authoritative, well-linked website.
Examples of Good Website Architecture
Simple Site Structure
A simple website structure works much like a system of folders that organize related categories of paperwork in a filing cabinet.
With a simple site architecture, content is arranged in a logical hierarchy.
It’s easy to see how this site architecture can quickly scale as a website grows.
Pillar Pages & Topic Clusters
In addition to the easy navigation this simple structure provides, it also leverages topically related content and establishes authority signals by organizing relevant information into clusters of interlinked pages.
If we were to zoom into the subdirectory structure, we might see something like this:
Cluster topics around a single topic and create multiple opportunities to link information together — encouraging readers to stay on your site.
Learn more about which is better for SEO — a subdirectory vs. a subdomain structure.
How to Create a Website Architecture Plan
Ready to plan out a functional site structure that provides a positive user experience and sets you up for search success?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to planning your website structure:
1. Define Your Project Scope
Before you can start planning the structure of your website, you’ll want to identify the scope and scale of the project.
Do you want to rehaul an old website, restructure a directory on your existing site, or are you planning for the future launch of a new website?
The project scope will dictate your approach and help you better understand the resources you’ll want to allocate to get the job done.
In some cases, revamping the structure of a website is part of a whole website migration plan, in which case you’ll also want to be prepared for the technical details required for a site move.
2. Zero In on Your Goals
Before you start updating your site structure, you’ll want to zero in on what you hope to achieve.
Figure out how your site fits into the greater landscape of your market and how an architectural upgrade could improve your SEO architecture or other crucial aspects that contribute to the growth of your business.
3. Identify Your Target Audience
In a perfect world, you’d have a clearly defined target audience long before you publish a single page on the internet.
But, regardless of whether you’re at the sketch-on-a-napkin planning stage or you already have a website up and running, you’ll want to pause to consider who you’re building (or restructuring) your website for.
4. Conduct Keyword Research
Once you have clarity on your best prospects, it’s time to engage in some large-scale keyword research.
If you understand how your target audience looks for your solutions, you can build a search-optimized website from the ground up. Even if you’re restructuring an existing website, doing keyword research upfront produces immediate traction and saves you from trying to awkwardly backward engineer SEO for your site.
Build your site navigation to mirror the search intent you’ve identified for your customers at each stage of their buying journey. That way, you’ll create an efficient funnel that effortlessly delivers visitors from search to purchase.
Now is the time to think about:
- How the primary topics you’ll cover in your pillar pages will be optimized for broad, high-volume keywords.
- The clusters of subtopics you’ll create within these pillars to provide more in-depth information and rank for long-tail keywords.
5. Plan Your Site Structure & Information Hierarchy
Define your topic clusters, determine a pillar page for each content group, and then drill down to plan supporting content for each pillar.
When you plan your pillar pages, consider covering broad topics at the uppermost level of your site navigation. This provides the opportunity to expand on the specifics within each topic cluster.
Planning your content structure also allows you to strategize how you’ll link related information together. This type of advanced planning also gives you the opportunity to create a naming convention for your content that will build into a logical URL structure which is beneficial to both visitors and search engine crawl bots.
5 Website Structure Best Practices for SEO-Friendly Site Architecture
1. Use an SEO-friendly URL structure.
SEO-friendly URLs are designed to serve the needs of both users and search engines. To optimize a URL for SEO, make it short and keyword-rich. Along with your title tag, link anchor text, and the content itself, search engines use the URL to understand what the content on a page is about.
Ideally, your site structure will allow relevant content to sit within the same subdirectory as the pillar page it supports. This effectively creates a URL “silo” that describes how a subtopic is related to a pillar page and orients the user within your topic clusters.
Based on the site structure illustrated in the previous examples, a URL silo might look something like this:
If there are technical reasons you can’t structure your URLs to mirror your website architecture, there’s still tremendous benefit to structuring your web content with pillar pages and topic clusters.
When you’re creating URLs for your new site structure, remember, Google prefers simple URLs.
Keep these guidelines in mind:
- Use lowercase words.
- Join words with hyphens.
- Keep URLs short — 128 characters or less.
- URLs should make sense to human beings. Use descriptive keywords and avoid long numerical strings like session IDs.
- Create a logical system of directories for categories and subcategories of content.
2. Plan your navigation menus.
Navigation primarily exists to help your users find the pages they’re looking for. They’re the perfect way to show visitors at a glance which pages on your website are the most important (i.e., which pages they want to visit). How you structure your navigation menus will create an overview of your business offerings and dictate how people move through your site.
3. Use category pages.
Category pages make it easy to maintain your website’s organizational structure over the long term.
When you want to launch a new page, you simply add it to an existing category and link to it from that category page.
When you add a group of new pages, you can create a new category page and link to them from there.
Without a category structure, pages tend to get added randomly, which, over time, will create a complicated site structure that’s difficult for users and search engines alike to navigate.
4. Plan the depth of your site’s key pages.
An excellent website architecture should make it easy for both search engines and users to find your site’s content. That means that you’ll want to avoid putting important pages too deep into your website.
Conventional wisdom dictates that most pages on your site should be accessible within three to five clicks from your homepage. While that’s generally true, I think there are times when it makes sense (and it’s worth it) to click further down a topic column for more in-depth information.
5. Use internal linking strategically.
Internal links exist outside of your primary navigation, and they serve to connect related pages directly to each other. An excellent example of strategic interlinking might look like this:
If you want to learn more about SEO internal linking, check out this article in our blog. (See what I did there?)
You can create internal links using several different strategies, including:
- Contextual internal links
- Secondary navigation links (like sidebars)
Pay attention to the anchor text in your internal links. These words send an important signal – to bots and people – about the content on the other end of the link.
Site Architecture Tools
When developing your site architecture for SEO plan, you’ll want to make informed decisions about which improvements you need to make. Otherwise, you’re essentially guessing about what could be beneficial for improving UX, which leaves the success of your project up to chance.
Luckily, some tools can help you pinpoint the specific areas of your site that users find the most confusing and help you make data-driven decisions about what to change and why. With the help of tools like Optimal Workshop’s Treejack, you can analyze visitor behavior and identify roadblocks in their customer journey.
In conjunction with keyword research services, the data gathered from these tools can confirm that the changes you make to your site structure will have a meaningful impact on your business.
Carefully planned changes to your site structure can translate into top-notch results for your on-page optimizations and deliver the conversions your business needs to thrive.
Website Architecture Tips
By now, you probably have a better understanding of what you need to do to execute a successful site architecture project. To make sure that you have the best chance of success, here are some final words of wisdom about website architecture SEO best practices as you prepare to make changes to your site structure:
1. Use Common Sense
If there’s one key takeaway from these website architecture SEO best practices, less is more — fewer levels of information, fewer clicks, and fewer bells and whistles that don’t add value to the user experience.
Create consistently simple, hierarchical sections and subsections on your site.
2. Review Your Existing Content
As you’re taking inventory of the content and other assets on your site, this is the perfect time to address any problematic content.
Keep an eye out for these issues:
- Cannibalizing content:
Pages that compete against each other and hinder both from ranking. Consider consolidating articles that provide information about similar topics to create fewer pages with more valuable content.
- Non-performing content:
Content that hasn’t driven any organic traffic or conversions may have questionable SEO value and be wasting your crawl budget.
- Outdated content:
If you have dated content that’s no longer relevant, consider pruning them from your site.
And so we arrive at our last SEO tip on website architecture changes.
Consult an SEO company to run a content audit that will pinpoint relevance signals you want to preserve. If you move or delete content that Google deems valuable, it could have long-term repercussions for your search results. Removing the wrong pages could erase the domain authority you’ve worked hard to establish.
Get Professional Help
Updating your site architecture for SEO can be well worth the effort and pay dividends that will help your business thrive for years to come. That being said, it’s a complicated endeavor that requires a deep well of expertise across several technical disciplines. I wouldn’t recommend you take it on without professional help.
Partner with an enterprise SEO expert who can help you with strategic planning, project management, and technical implementation to make sure you get the most from your site changes and avoid potential pitfalls along the way.
The structure of your website can make or break the user experience and search ranking for your business. Especially as Google moves toward an emphasis on page experience, you’ll want to follow website architecture best practice, so your company can maintain search visibility.
If you want be sure that your site architecture is in line with the expectations of today’s users and search engines, contact us for a free SEO consultation. The experienced team at Victorious will guide you through the entire process.