10 Tips For Creating a Killer SEO-Friendly Website Structure

Victoria Golovtseva
Mar 29, 2021

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When someone visits your website, they’ll want to be able to find exactly what they’re looking for quickly and easily. Your navigation and site structure will have a huge impact on this.

Search engines will assess your site structure to work out which pages to rank for certain queries, too. So, to boost your SEO,  you’ll want to design your site hierarchy with this in mind.

In this post, we’ll discuss the fundamentals of structuring a website and share tips for ensuring your web pages are attractive to both users and search bots.

Read on to find out more.

First Things First: What Is a Website Structure?

When we talk about the structure of a website, we’re referring to the way all of the different pages of a particular site are connected and grouped into clusters.

When deciding how to organize your site, you should have two goals in mind:

  • You’ll want to help users navigate your site easily
  • You’ll want to make sure bots can crawl all of your pages without any problems

A Good Website Structure Helps Indexing Crawlers

For a web page to show up on Google’s search engine results pages, it needs to be indexed.

How does Google find pages for indexing? Through crawling — this is a process that allows search engine bots to discover new content by examining URL structures. The efficiency of crawling will depend on how bot-friendly your website is.

The most common way to improve the speed of crawling and making sure all your important pages enter the index is to create an SEO-friendly website structure.

A Good Website Structure Boosts Link Authority

Not all pages on a website are equally important. Usually, the homepage has more of an impact in driving revenue than pages like your “Privacy Policy”. To make sure the bulk of your website’s SEO weight goes into promoting high-priority pages, you’ll want to design your website structure with this in mind.

Creating a website structure centered around the most relevant pages helps boost their PageRank and improve link authority.

A Good Website Structure Makes Visitors Comfortable

Search bots aren’t the only ones that will be confused by a complex website structure. Your visitors will also prefer it if your pages are connected in a way that makes sense.

By grouping pages into categories, using tags, and creating intuitive URLs, you can help readers navigate your website quickly and efficiently.

A good website structure answers two questions: “What can I do on this page?” and “What do I do from now on?”.

4 Common Types of Website Structure

The lives of marketers and web designers would be a lot easier if there was a standard “best” approach to structuring a site. However, there are billions of websites online, and they all have different target audiences, page types, and objectives. That’s why there are several ways to approach architecture — your job is to choose the one that fits your company’s needs.

Let’s take a look at four widely used types of website structures.

1. Hierarchical structure

Most websites follow a top-down approach, where there’s a core page that others branch out from. It’s an effective way to help crawlers distinguish high-priority pages and a scalable organization model.

The hierarchical structure is common for business websites or high-traffic news outlets like CNN.

2. Sequential structure

A sequential website structure is a horizontal one. Rather than grouping pages by SEO priority, marketers focus on structuring their sites in a way that will meet their users’ needs.

For example, if a reader engages with an article on how to manage a remote team, redirecting them to a page where they can try using a task manager is a sensible next step.

A sequential structure is common for blog platforms — for example, it’s the architecture behind Wikihow.

3. Matrix structure

Matrix structures tend to be more old-fashioned. They don’t give users clear directions — instead, visitors can choose where to go next using a search bar. Although quite rare, the matrix structure is still used on platforms like Wikipedia.

4. Database structure

A database-like website does not have a clear architecture — that’s why the importance of page meta-tags is so high.

A successful example of a site with a database architecture is Medium — the platform uses a top-down approach, encouraging users to start interactions with the website from low-level pages, which tend to be individual stories.

Flat vs Deep Website Structure: Which One Should You Choose?

Although there are different approaches to connecting website pages, marketers classify them into two broader groups — flat and deep architectures.

A flat architecture ensures a visitor is never more than 4 clicks away from the homepage. Thus, marketers who choose this structure make it a point to add links to the homepage on lower-level pages.

A deep architecture requires users to move up and down the hierarchical ladder to switch between pages. Thus, users typically need more time to reach desired destinations.

Most SEO professionals agree that a flat website structure is the way to go because:

  1. It facilitates website navigation.
  2. It improves link authority for the homepage and other high-priority pages (PageRank flows from pages with more backlinks to those with fewer).
  3. It facilitates website crawling and increases the indexing speed.

10 SEO-Friendly Website Structure Practices

An SEO-friendly website structure gives marketing teams the upper hand, helping to outsmart competitors and rank higher than other pages. There are a lot of details SEO professionals keep track of when building website architectures — let’s take a closer look at them.

1. Write SEO-friendly URLs

As mentioned above, search engine crawlers scan URLs when indexing pages. Thus, a page’s URL is its first impression for Google. So, you need to get them right.

Here are the properties of an SEO-friendly URL:

  • It’s short — up to 128 characters
  • It uses lowercase characters and no special symbols
  • It has an easy-to-read name
  • It is structured — URLs should have categories and subcategories, for example: sitename.com/category/subcategory/pagename

2. Build a sitemap

To help visitors find their way around a website, marketers often use sidebars, menu tabs, and other tricks. However, search engine crawlers don’t care for UI tweaks — instead, they like sitemaps.

A sitemap is a file that describes the content of website pages and the relationship between them. Google encourages developers to create two types of sitemaps — XML and Atom RSS feeds.

Creating sitemaps might seem complicated, but the good news is Google has a step-by-step tutorial on building and submitting a sitemap.

3. Create a network of internal links

Interconnecting pages improves a website’s overall SEO value. So, make sure to add internal links to the most important pages from other points of the website (e.g. link to the homepage from blog posts).

Also, pay close attention to what your anchor text says. Avoid generic anchors like “Click here” or “Read more” and write descriptive ones like “post on [topic name]”.

4. Use breadcrumbs

In UI, breadcrumbs are lower-level navigation tabs that help visitors find their way around a subcategory. The name is a callback to the Hansel and Gretel fairy tail with breadcrumbs being a metaphor for an easy-to-follow trail.

There are several types of breadcrumbs:

  • Location-based tabs — lower-level bars (subcategories) are usually lower than higher-level navigation (like the menu tab).
  • Path-based breadcrumbs show a user a full path taken to reach a particular page on the website. This way, a visitor can come back to one of the previously visited pages in just a click.
  • Attribute-based breadcrumbs are a helpful form of filtering for product pages or blog posts. You can often see them as sidebars on e-commerce websites or media outlets.

5. Use a heading hierarchy

The SEO-friendliness of your website will improve if the content of your pages follows a clear hierarchy. The most effective and easiest way to ensure this is by putting content into blocks and separating sections with subheaders.

Typically, pages have the following hierarchy:

  • Heading 1
  • Subheading
    • Heading 2
      • Heading 3
    • Heading 2
      • Heading 3.

Although most content management systems allow marketers to format subheadings up to H6, for the sake of readability, most teams draw the line at H3. It’s a good idea to include relevant keywords in subheadings, as it helps increase their search visibility and improves the overall page rank.

6. Watch out for duplicate content and meta-tags

Duplicate pages are two or more pages with the same content that are either part of the same or different websites. There are three reasons why duplicate content is bad news for SEO:

  • Search engine crawlers will be confused about which version of the page they should index.
  • Page metrics like link authority will be split between two pages, not allowing marketers to maximize the value of backlinks, metatags, and other optimization practices.
  • Different versions will compete against each other while trying to rank for relevant queries — in most cases, it leads to neither ranking well.

The worst part is that, even if you don’t copy someone else’s content, you’re still at risk of duplicate content. A few common reasons include switching from “www” to “no www” or having two identical website versions in http and https. To make sure you are in the clear, run a check for duplicates using online tools.

Tip: repetitive pages that rank for similar keywords might be flagged as duplicates. To avoid this, use canonical tags to point crawlers to the simplest version of the URL.

7. Update old pages

According to Google’s John Mueller, the priority of the search engine is to show people acclaimed content. Since it’s natural that older pages have more authority over newer ones, the rule of thumb is that old content ranks better.

Having said that, another metric search engines consider is relevance — ensuring that content takes into consideration the latest changes and updates. Thus, to not overcomplicate the structure of your website, refrain from creating new pages where it’s possible to update some of your older content.

8. Optimize the website for voice search

Voice search is a consistent trend in modern-day web usage. However, few marketing teams are ready to embrace it. To get a headstart over your competitors, implement the following voice search practices in your website structure:

  • Be mindful of user intent. Make sure all pages on your website feature answers to questions your readers ask online. For example, if one were to search “USA population”, the most optimized article will be the one that provides a clear, short answer to the question.
  • Write a schema. A website schema gives search engines a deeper insight into what the website’s content is about. You can create one via Google Structured Data Markup Helper.
  • Target long-tail keywords. To improve a website’s voice search friendliness, target longer, conversational queries —  these imitate the way people interact with search engines via speech.

9. Be mindful of user experience

Performance and user-friendliness are important factors that determine how high a page will rank on Google. There are four key characteristics that determine how well a page is performing:

  • Loading speed
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Navigating clarity
  • Security

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for frustrations like server errors — since most website visitors will leave these pages right away, the bounce rate of the entire website will skyrocket.

10. Structure for users, not bots

There are so many SEO practices, it’s easy to forget that crawlers are not the ones reading your website. To that end, experienced marketers recommend keeping the focus on making users feel comfortable. Whether you’re designing page layouts or writing content, make engagement and convenience a priority.

Here are the key characteristics of websites people love interacting with:

  • They are simple, without too many categories or subcategories.
  • They are not cluttered with links and keywords and prioritize valuable content over technicalities.
  • They are intuitive — all buttons and links are exactly where readers expect to find them.

How can you make sure prospective customers will feel at home on your website? The answer is simple: test and research.

The Bottom Line

Implementing an SEO-friendly structure on your website can take a lot of work. However, at the same time, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ensuring high search rankings. An equally important part of the job is to maintain best practices and run regular duplicate checks, category reviews, or content updates.

Committing to keeping your website SEO-friendly is a time-consuming but rewarding journey that’ll move your pages up in the search rankings and improve the user experience. That’s why implementing and sticking to a SEO-friendly website structure is worth the effort.

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

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Written by Victoria Golovtseva on March 29, 2021

Victoria Golovtseva - Content marketing manager with 8+ years of experience, currently contributing to Pics.io blog and developing the content marketing strategy of the brand. She’s lucky enough to write for successful companies, raising their brand awareness to a new level.