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.
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What Is Website Architecture?
Website architecture describes the way you categorize, structure, and interlink content on your site.
Also known as SEO architecture, a good website structure facilitates user navigation and provides search engine crawlers with a clear understanding of the relationship between pages.
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, a hierarchical structure helps search engines understand what’s on your site so that they can find, index, and display your content on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Why Is Your Site Architecture Important?
Your website structure plays an essential role in how visitors experience your content 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.
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.
Plus, 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 post 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.
Website Architecture SEO
A logical website structure 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.
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An SEO-Friendly Site Structure Uses Topic Clusters
When you connect pages to create topic clusters, you signal 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.
Pass Link Authority Through Your Site Structure
If you’ve earned backlinks from reputable websites, you want to make the most of the authority and link equity 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’ll be more difficult to distribute the benefits of your backlinking efforts.
Tip: One easy way to maximize your internal linking (and simultaneously improve UX) is to implement breadcrumb navigation.
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.
Website Architecture Examples
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, like in this website architecture example:
In this website architecture example, the main sections represent important landing pages, and each page associated with them is topically related.
It’s easy to see how this site architecture can quickly scale as a website grows. Plus, 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.
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 plan 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 pinpoint 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.
Regardless of whether you’re at the sketch-on-a-napkin planning stage or you already have a website up and running stage, 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 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 landing page, 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 Googlebot.
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 structure 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 individual web pages is about.
Ideally, your website’s 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, not underscores.
- 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.
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 blog post. (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 about the content on the other end of the link.
Site Architecture Tools
When developing your site architecture for SEO, 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, 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.
Partner With an Enterprise SEO Agency For Expert Advice
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 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 agency that 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. Schedule a free consultation today.