A website without good structure is like a building with a confusing layout full of corridors leading nowhere. For a website to succeed, users must first find it among the multitude of sites on the web. Then users must be able to easily navigate its pages, and they should end up on the pages you most want them to see.

Crucial to a website’s success is how its pages are ranked in Google’s algorithms. Google’s computers use a site’s structure to decide which of the site’s pages are the most important. Website owners must structure sites carefully to ensure important pages aren’t misidentified by the Internet’s most important taste-maker.

If you are looking for a way to generate traffic to your website, read on to discover how to make your website structure work for you.

The importance of website structure

Most people have searched for websites only to land on the wrong one. This is a findability problem. And everyone has landed on websites that are impossible to navigate. This is a problem with usability.  A well-structured website takes both findability and usability into consideration.

Having a site structure that Google understands is the key to having the site show up in search results, which is the main way people discover new sites. And great website structure means that, having found your site, users navigate the content on your site easily.

Website structure for usability

A website is somewhat similar to a public building. If someone enters it and gets confused, he or she is likely to turn around and leave. On the other hand, a welcoming website that users navigate easily encourages return visits and, very importantly, recommendations.

It is frustrating to search a site for something you know is there but can’t find. It’s also surprising how many sites fall into this frustrating category. Luckily, it isn’t hard to make the structure of your website user-friendly.

Placing website content into categories and subcategories and creating links among posts and pages makes navigating websites intuitive. First-time visitors who land on individual pages via search engines should find clear navigation menus and internal links directing them to further pages that will be of value.

Website structure and SEO

structure and seo

Great SEO, or search engine optimization, is what makes websites rise in the all-important search engine rankings. If you want visitors to discover your website, your site has to show up high enough in search results. Website structure designed with search engines in mind is an important step in the right direction. Here’s why:

  • Great website design helps google understand content. Google’s AI (Artificial Intelligence) relies on clues in order to understand websites. Good web design enables AI to categorize and index a site’s content. Getting the structure wrong gives Google the wrong idea. On the other hand, a well-designed site emphasizes the most important things, helping them find places in Google’s rankings. The more consistent the message, the higher the ranking.
  • Smart website structure prevents pages from competing with each other. If your website has a lot of information on similar topics, search engines like Google might direct visitors to several posts, making them compete against each other for ranking. A clear hierarchy of posts helps Google understand each one’s relative importance. By putting a post in the top position on your website, you are telling Google that this is where to direct visitors, concentrating attention on one page and helping the page’s ranking. Smart internal linking and structure make your pages work in tandem with each other rather than in opposition.
  • Smart website structure enables easy updates. One of the wonderful things about the Internet is how easy it is to change website content. However, changing content on a badly structured website can result in visitors being directed to defunct pages. Carefully planned website structure takes future changes into consideration, avoiding these problems.

Ideal website structure

If you are creating a new website, optimizing the structure is easy if you keep this basic design in mind:

The best websites look like Pyramids. Here’s why:

  • The homepage sits at the top.
  • The next level houses the website’s different parts. For example, on a website about cooking, anchor categories could be “meat,” “poultry,” “fish,” “vegetables,” and “desserts.” All website content should fit into one of the categories. Another word for a grouping of similar things is “taxonomy.”
  • Next, come subcategories. For the food website, subcategories for “meat” might be “lamb,” “pork,” “beef,” and “game.”
  • Finally, individual pages relate to the subcategories. For example, different lamb recipes or tips on selecting lamb.

Larger websites may subcategorize subcategories. The main thing is to organize all content according to importance.

Creating a great homepage

A website’s homepage is the pyramid’s top. It is the entry to everything on a website and often the first thing visitors see. First impressions are important, so make your homepage represent you well.

A homepage leads to everything else, so its menu of categories must be clear. The homepage can also showcase the website’s most important pages. Even though those pages might be well down on your website’s pyramid, homepage links to them serve two important functions:

  1. They direct visitors to important content.
  2. They alert Google to the content’s importance.

A word of warning: Too much content on a homepage overwhelms visitors. Keep things simple so content isn’t lost in a muddle.

Designing foolproof navigation

fool proof nav illustrated using venn diagram

A well-designed homepage includes easy-to-use navigation. Navigation on a website is created in two parts:

  • The website menu, through which visitors discover what is on the website.
  • The breadcrumbs, which are links at the top of the page guiding visitors to specific pages.

What’s on the menu?

The first few moments a new visitor spends on a website are key. An interesting navigational menu will make them want to keep exploring. It tells them they have come to the right place and helps them get their bearings. For this reason, it is important that your menu includes your main page categories.

Remember, too much information is overwhelming, especially for visitors unfamiliar with a website. So, if you have a lot of categories to add to the menu, see if they can be put into categories of their own. More than six main categories can be hard for visitors to keep straight, and website creators definitely want to avoid the dreaded “more pages” or “…” at the list’s end.

Remember, too, that menus help search engines understand your website, so reducing clutter adds value to content you want to highlight.

Adding the breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs, in the form of clickable links at the top of a page, emphasize website structure. They help users navigate a site, but when adding breadcrumbs, be sure to keep your goals in mind. Which content best reflects your website? Which pages do you want search engines to direct visitors to. Breadcrumbs improve the website’s SEO, so make sure they are correctly targeted.

Keeping categories under control

Making websites easily understood is essential to enhancing user experience and to getting noticed appropriately by search engines. So keep all the website content neatly filed in categories, and if the number of categories becomes too big, group them into categories of their own.

Adding tags

A website tag is like a clothing tag. It gives information about something without being part of it. Unlike with categories, there is no hierarchy of tags. Tags do not belong inside bigger tags. However, they are still useful for grouping things and helping a website’s SEO.

The best places for tags are the bottom of blog posts or on their sidebars. Be sparing when creating tags, and make sure you use the tags consistently so that search engines and website users can recognize them correctly.

The two types of website link

Optimizing website structure depends on creating hierarchies and linking content. The categories, menus, and tags previously discussed are links that classify information, creating an easily navigated pyramid of content that search engines can understand.

The other links used on websites are contextual. These internal links take the reader from one page to another within a website and are a great tool for directing traffic to that websites’ most important pages.

The text that anchors the link is very important to Google. You mustn’t just highlight random words because Google’s AI uses the anchor words to understand where the link is heading. And that’s not all. Google also looks at the words around the anchor text to gather further information.

The Importance of Blog Posts’ Contextual Links

To be noticed by search engines, bloggers need to write many well-focused blogs on one topic. Main articles, otherwise known as cornerstone articles, should cover the topic’s big picture while linking to subsequent posts that go into detail about subtopics. The smaller posts should also link back to the main article, reinforcing the connections and hierarchy.

This internal linking directs website traffic to topics and pages that are important while also helping their ranking on search engines, especially when anchored correctly.

Contextual Links and Retail Websites

Websites built to sell things use contextual links differently from those intended to inform visitors about a site. Product pages don’t want visitors to leave them, so links within product pages tend not to be contextual except in these circumstances:

  1. Links taking shoppers to comparison pages or related product pages.
  2. Links showing items frequently sold with the one being viewed.
  3. Links providing items’ bundle or subscription offers.

Creating effective landing pages

Landing pages are where you want visitors to land after searching for a keyword. The content of these pages is for a different purpose than the content of regular website pages.

There are two main types of landing pages. Main, or cornerstone, pages, and product pages. Each requires different features to work properly in your website information architecture. To understand why it is important to understand the concept of search intent.

Understanding Search Intent

Getting visitors to a website depends on understanding how to communicate clearly that the site is what they are searching for. This is not just a matter of having the correct website content. You must also understand the search terms people use when looking for something.

People enter different types of phrases in search engines. They might pose a question or want a definition. They might be comparing two products or asking if a product really works. They might want something right away or be doing research for the future.

Keeping people’s intent in mind is essential when you’re creating landing pages. Understanding intent enables the addition of keywords and phrases that speak to the searcher’s needs. A landing page can cater to many intentions, but understanding what those intentions might be is the first step to getting SEO right.

Cornerstone Page Content

Cornerstone pages are the most important pages on an informational website. Their purpose is to give a wide overview of a topic rather than to go into detail. They can be very long, and links within them allow visitors to explore topics in more detail.

Retail Landing Pages

These differ from informational cornerstone pages. Informational pages invite further exploration of a topic, but retail landing pages must get to the point, concisely sharing information needed to convince visitors that the product is worth buying. Too much information can be confusing. The best product landing pages have 200 words or fewer.

Website owners still need their retail landing pages to be ranked, though, so these few words must be chosen carefully and contain sufficient information for Google to recognize the page’s purpose and its keywords.

Growing a website while keeping its structure

Working websites are constantly adding and removing content. Busy website owners often forget to maintain good structure while changing content, but this is a mistake. A little extra time spent making sure the website structure keeps working well is an important part of SEO that pays dividends.

Keeping an eye on the menu and pages

As websites change over time, website owners must ensure the menu still accurately represents what is on it. As time passes and a website grows, some old pages may no longer pack the punch they used to. Be ruthless in removing them, and check to ensure internal links no longer lead to them. A 404 message where a page should be sends a bad message.

Monitor The Site’s Taxonomy

Sometimes added or removed content requires the website owner to rethink the categories of your site’s taxonomy. Remember that the categories must give visitors and search engines broad strokes of the website’s focus. If you find very little content relates to a category, it could be that the title needs to change to incorporate more. The hierarchy of your pyramid must remain in balance.

Remember that any changes to taxonomy must be consistent throughout the website and reflected in internal linkage.

Don’t Cannibalize Keywords

If you use the same keywords in a number of posts, they will compete with each other for search engine attention, resulting in each post’s ranking being lower than ideal. The solution is remembering the pyramid. Decide which posts you want traffic directed to and prioritize those, perhaps by merging the information from the other posts into them and then deleting the competition.

Wrapping things up

There’s a lot of information in this post, but the key takeaway is that a website’s structure is crucial to its success. Creating a new website with this in mind is relatively easy, but restructuring an old website to take advantage of a good website structure is well worth the time it takes. And once the great structure is achieved, keeping it that way is also time well spent.

Good website structure helps search engines recognize what is important about your website, and this helps your site rise in Google rankings. This, in turn, helps drive traffic to your website and makes navigation easier for visitors once they arrive. Optimizing website structure can change the way the world sees your website, so give it a try today.