What Is Website Structure?
Often overlooked, the structure of a website plays a significant role in the success of a site’s online presence. Beyond the obvious elements of visual appeal and user navigation, good site structure goes a long way to appease the algorithmic preferences of search engines like Google.
To ensure your website’s structure is primed for search engine optimization (SEO), this guide will
- answer the question, “What is website structure?”
- explore its ability to boost site visibility, improve user experience,
- and break down various elements that define a website’s structure.
What Is Website Structure
Website structure pertains to the organization and layout of a website’s content—a blueprint that determines how individual pages are connected and presented to users and search engines.
Think of it as the foundation of a building: just as a solid foundation ensures stability, a well-planned website structure is centered around optimizing the usability and accessibility of a site’s web design. Conversely, poor site structure will leave users confused, frustrated, and bounce-happy. Not something conducive to boosting key SEO metrics like time on site, time on page, and pages per session.
Learn more: Interested in further broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.
The Pillars of Website Structure
Just as buildings are designed in multiple architectural styles, websites are also structured in different ways, each with unique advantages and use cases.
Often paralleled with the form of a tree, the hierarchical structure starts with a parent or main page (typically, the homepage) and branches into the top-level, important pages and then the subpages or child pages.
It’s one of the most common methods used to structure a website, offering a clear and organized layout. Users can easily navigate from general topics to specific ones, making it intuitive and user-friendly. For search engines, this model provides a clear path for crawling, boosting the likelihood that every page is discovered by search engine crawlers and, subsequently, indexed.
The sequential structure (or linear structure) guides users in a linear flow, leading them from one step to the next. It’s particularly useful for small websites that don’t contain subcategories and child pages or sites that aim to educate or guide users through a process, such as tutorials or online courses. Like a PowerPoint presentation, each step logically follows the previous one, ensuring users don’t miss out on crucial information.
Also known as the webbed structure, the matrix structure offers users multiple pathways to navigate content. Like a spider’s web, every strand, every page, is interconnected, providing flexibility and multiple navigation choices. While it can enhance user engagement, it requires careful planning to ensure search engines are able to crawl and index the content effectively.
The database structure, or dynamic structure, is driven by, you guessed it, databases, dynamically generating pages based on user queries or actions. An approach common in eCommerce sites, where product listings adapt to user preferences or searches. Although it provides a customized user experience, like the matrix structure, it can pose challenges for search engine crawling and indexing—just something to keep in mind when considering this method to structure your website.
Why Is Website Structure Important?
Let’s delve into why a well-thought-out website structure is foundational to the success of a website.
A well-structured website focuses on providing a seamless navigation experience for its visitors. Guiding users intuitively through primary navigation and across multiple pages allows them to locate the information they seek with little effort, enhancing user satisfaction and positively impacting key metrics such as time on page and time on site.
Optimizing for ease of navigation and the site a user spends on a website also increases conversions, as visitors are more likely to engage and take desired actions when navigating easily and confidently.
Let’s quickly check in with a Hubspot case study to underscore this last point. Alongside the fact the company doubled its conversions by embracing good site structure, it also found:
- First impressions count. 38 percent of users will stop engaging if the content or layout is unattractive, highlighting the importance of a well-organized and visually pleasing structure.
- Visitors have priorities. 47 percent first check out a company’s products/services page. A logical and clear structure ensures that such crucial pages are easily discoverable.
- The homepage serves as a gateway. 86 percent of visitors expect to see product/service information, 64 percent look for contact details, and 52 percent seek “about us” information. A well-structured homepage caters to these expectations.
- The clarity in navigation is vital. After arriving via a referral site, 50 percent of visitors use the navigation menu to orient themselves, underscoring the importance of a clear and intuitive navigation structure.
The structure of a website plays a pivotal role in how search engines, such as Google, crawl, index, and rank your content. An organized, SEO-friendly structure clarifies the hierarchy and significance of your content, enhancing its crawlability. This can lead to added perks like sitelinks in search results, amplifying your site’s visibility and establishing its credibility.
A case study by Moz provides compelling evidence of the profound impact a well-structured website can have on SEO outcomes:
- Boosts organic traffic. Search engine traffic significantly increased, jumping a massive 515 percent after optimizing the website structure.
- Increased keyword diversity. The diversity of key phrases through which Google directed visitors to the site expanded dramatically. Before optimization, Google used 343 different key phrases, which surged to 5,988 post-optimization, indicating a broader reach for long-tail keywords.
Elements Defining a Website’s Structure
As we’ve established the importance of website structure, let’s now tackle the individual elements that come together to create this structure.
A clean URL structure—that’s logical, descriptive, and keyword-aligned—not only makes it easier for a website visitor to understand the content of a page but also plays a role in SEO. For instance, a URL like “website.com/best-chocolate-cake-recipe” is more descriptive and user-friendly than “website.com/post12345”. Additionally, it’s essential to avoid orphan pages—pages that aren’t linked to from anywhere on the site. These can be hard for search engines to find and may go unnoticed by users.
Just as signposts guide us in a city, a navigation menu and bars guide users on a website. They provide a clear path, helping users move effortlessly from one section to another. A well-designed navigation system ensures that users can quickly find what they’re looking for, enhancing their overall experience and reducing bounce rates.
Beyond the main navigation, internal links connect various pages within a website. They weave a web of related content, guiding users to additional relevant information and ensuring search engines understand the relationships between different pages. Effective internal linking also boosts the SEO value of specific pages by distributing page authority throughout the site.
Breadcrumbs are navigational aids that show users their path from the homepage to their current location. They’re like digital footprints, allowing users to trace back their steps or understand their position within the site hierarchy. For instance, “Home > Blog > Chocolate Cake Recipe” clearly indicates the user’s journey.
Think of sitemaps as the blueprint of a website. They list all the pages on a site, providing a roadmap for users and search engines. While users can access a visual sitemap to understand the site layout, search engines use XML sitemaps to crawl and index every page efficiently.
Conclusion and Next Steps
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