As the popular marketing saying goes, “Content is king.” Many modern businesses now know the importance of content: that is, the videos, images, text, and other information they include on their websites. Unfortunately, they don’t always put the same effort into creating and maintaining their website architecture.

But without a well-optimized structure, potential customers and search engines may have trouble finding and understanding that carefully crafted content.

Whether your goal is to improve SEO or customer conversion rates, proper website architecture can help you get there. In this guide, we walk you through the basics of website architecture, including what it is, how you can optimize it, and why it matters for your business.

What Is Website Architecture?

Simply put, website architecture is the structure of your website. It refers to how you organize and connect web pages. Just as information architecture organizes, categorizes, and presents information logically, website architecture does the same for your website.

Imagine your website as a big shopping mall. While some people come through the main entrance (your home page), others come through side doors. You need to structure the site to help people find what they want, no matter where they enter. This requires escalators between floors, hallways between stores, and a map to explain it all.

For a business website, visitors should be able to locate the main content sections quickly, along with important pages like Contact Us, Reserve Now, or FAQs. Your architecture should also clearly indicate how to get from one part of your site to another and back to where you came from.

Proper structure is important not just for humans but also for search engines. If Google doesn’t understand how the pages on your site relate, you may have trouble ranking highly. If human visitors find your navigation design confusing, they may simply leave.


Different Types of Website Architecture

All effective websites do three important things: group thematically related content together, organize those groups logically and highlight the most important information.

While you may choose from any number of web development frameworks, the following are the most common types of website architecture.

Hierarchical Structure

The most popular kind of website architecture, a hierarchical structure uses a simple top-down approach. After the home page, you have parent pages (categories) and child pages (subcategories) beneath those. Internal links connect all the pages.

Also known as the tree model, hierarchical structures are particularly useful for websites with vast amounts of information. You can quickly funnel visitors to the correct area of your website by directing them to the right “branch.”

For example, your local city government website may have top-level sections like “Government,” “Business,” “Residents,” “Safety,” and “Vehicles.” Subcategories may include “Fire Departments,” “Youth Programs,” “DMV,” and “Business Taxes.”

Flat Architecture

The flat architecture emphasizes simplicity, speed, and accessibility. Although it is a kind of hierarchical structure, it limits the number of levels in the hierarchy. That means that visitors can access any page on your website in a minimal number of clicks (usually one to four at most).

This places flat architecture in contrast to deep hierarchy, which requires several more clicks to reach the bottom layers of your website. Deep sites can accommodate more information but also demand more time and effort to navigate. For this reason, many experts consider flat architectures better for SEO-friendly web design and user experience design.

Flatter hierarchies typically start with more specific categories, which make them easier to use and understand immediately. For example, instead of a top-level category called “Products,” an electronics website may instead have “Phones,” “Laptops,” and “Tablets.” You’ve already streamlined the process and clarified the path by eliminating a layer of your website.

Sequential Structure

If you’ve ever visited an IKEA store, you already know all about sequential structure. Sequential websites take you through a series of steps in a specific order. Also known as a linear structure, this type of architecture is common for online courses and business surveys.

Sequential websites allow you to go forward and sometimes backward, but you can’t go elsewhere without leaving the funnel. This makes it useful for processes with specific steps and clear goals, such as making purchases or bookings. Many website checkout sections use this model, as do simple company websites with limited content.

Matrix Model

In many ways, the matrix model is the opposite of the sequential model. Users can access large amounts of information distributed throughout the website in a web-like pattern. This relative lack of structure allows visitors to navigate the site however they wish, creating their own path.

Probably the most common website with a matrix structure is Amazon. You have top-category pages, of course, but you also have countless interconnected pages that users can freely click between in virtually any order. Large news sites also often use matrix architecture to loosely structure immense amounts of content.


Database Model

As the name suggests, database website architecture focuses more on search functionality and user-directed navigation. It is a dynamic, interactive structure that allows visitors to customize their experience. This structure is also flexible, enabling easy addition, editing, and removal of content.

These features make the database model popular for online forums or websites, like Pinterest, with a lot of user-generated content. It’s also useful for platforms like Airbnb, which allow visitors to input search queries and add filters to streamline their content.

Rather than having a top-down structure, database models have a bottom-up structure. Users pull information from the database and create their own experience. For this reason, some people consider the database model the opposite of the hierarchical model.

Static Versus Dynamic Websites

No matter which internal structure you choose, all websites are either static or dynamic. Static website architecture delivers pages to users in the same format they are stored in, with no live content changes. Although these websites are fast, secure, and easy to build, they don’t allow for personalization.

Modern customers, however, are accustomed to interactive, customizable online experiences. These are possible only with dynamic website architecture. Dynamic websites can generate content in real-time as users interact with the content and input their preferences. The downside to dynamic websites is that they require careful planning and management to optimize SEO, minimize loading times, and avoid security risks.

Many company websites have static website architecture, as do personal blogs, informational guides, and other read-only content sites. Examples of popular dynamic websites, on the other hand, include Netflix, LinkedIn, and Medium. Netflix provides personal recommendations, LinkedIn offers real-time news feed updates, and Medium allows you to customize your reading experience.

Examples of Disorganized Site Structure

Sometimes, websites are disorganized from the start because of faulty web planning and design. They often become disorganized over time as pages are added, removed, and edited haphazardly.

Disorganized site structures often exhibit the following flaws:

  • Poor navigation: Disorganized navigation may have missing pages, illogical layouts, or inconsistent menu options from page to page. Users will have trouble finding what they want and may even get frustrated enough to leave.
  • Inconsistent hierarchy: A disorganized hierarchy doesn’t follow the same structure throughout the site. For example, if you have three website levels, you don’t typically want a navigation bar that points to four top-level pages, two second-level pages, and one third-level page.
  • Orphan pages: Every page must be incorporated into the website architecture. A page with no internal links pointing to it is known as an orphan page. Because Google struggles to find these pages, so will your visitors.
  • Link cannibalization: Cannibalization happens when more than one of your pages targets the same keyword. In other words, your website is competing against itself. This overlap in keywords may result in lower search engine rankings.

To prevent disorganization, consider the following tips:

  • Outline your navigation hierarchy on a web design storyboard, ensuring a clear, logical path for online visitors.
  • Group related content into topic clusters and link between those pages.
  • Ensure that web visitors can easily reach your home page and other parent pages from anywhere on the site.
  • Ensure each page has links that work and go where they’re supposed to.
  • Follow your existing structure when removing or adding pages.

Best Website Structure for Users and SEO

The smarter Google gets, the better it is for human web surfers. That’s because search engines can increasingly identify what makes a good web user experience, from content and design to navigation and structure.

That means the best website design for users is typically the best website structure for SEO. While the right choice for you depends on the nature and purpose of your business, one structure stands out from the rest: flat website architecture. The broad-to-specific layout of all hierarchical websites has advantages over other structures, but flat hierarchies are better than deep ones for users and search engines.

In short, a flat structure means that visitors can reach content in as few clicks as possible. Ideally, this should be fewer than four. By having easy access, intuitive navigation, and a logical structure, flat sites reduce confusion and frustration among visitors and increase the chances that leads will convert to customers.

Streamlined pathways also help search engines understand your site. When crawlers encounter deep hierarchies or confusing navigation, it is hard for them to find all of your web pages. This means your site won’t come up quickly in search engines — or at all.

Always keep the user experience in mind: An artificially flat hierarchy may hurt your business if it prevents customers from finding what they need.

Importance of Internal Links

No matter how shallow or deep your site is, you must create pathways between the pages. These connections come in the form of internal links (hyperlinks to other pages on your site). Having a website without a sound internal linking strategy is like asking someone to tour your home without letting them use the hallways.

Linking from one page to the next gives your website structure and provides a pathway to travel from one page to the next. It also gives search engines more context to understand your content. Contextual links tell search engines which pages are connected, direct human visitors to related information, and lead customers through the sales pipeline.

The final role of internal linking is to give your website more authority. If your site has earned backlinks from quality external websites, those pages tend to have more authority. Strategic internal linking can pass that authority through related pages on your website.

Whether you’re looking to improve SEO for new website design or a long-established website, you can’t underestimate the importance of smart internal links.


Three-Click Rule

The three-click rule is an unofficial rule in website design that says users should be able to find any content in no more than three mouse clicks. If you’ve been following along so far, you’ll know that this guideline fits quite nicely with the flat website structure.

Behind the three-click rule is the assumption that the more clicks required, the more quickly users will get frustrated and give up. In reality, a good website depends on multiple factors, including clear pathways, intuitive interfaces, understandable menu items, and minimal loading times.

While the three-click rule is somewhat arbitrary, it serves as a good reminder to keep information easily accessible. Streamlining pathways and minimizing the frustration of your visitors is always a worthwhile goal. What’s more, reducing site depth for crawlers can significantly boost SEO performance.

Perfecting Your Navigation

A navigation menu is a way to access content, but it is also a way to structure content. In fact, one way to build a website is by starting with the navigation. By thinking about how users travel through your site, you can more strategically visualize the content and the structure you need.

There are almost as many possible navigation menus as there are website designs. Choosing the right one depends on your business type, amount of content, and website purpose. The following are the most common options:

Horizontal Navigation Bar

The most popular menu type, horizontal navigation bars list the most important pages across the top of a website. Many businesses use the same set of headings, such as About Us, Contact Us, and FAQs.

While choosing these familiar categories can help users orient themselves on your website, you can also customize menu options. If “For Investors,” “Check Inventory,” or “News Updates” make sense for your business, incorporate those as well.

Drop-Down Navigation Menu

If you have a more complex business or prolific content, a simple navigation bar may not do. In this case, you can expand the horizontal menu bar with a drop-down menu under each category. This works well for businesses that can’t fit their primary categories across the top of a page.

When visitors hover over a menu category, they will see the sub-menu for that category. For example, the main category of “Skincare” may display the subcategories of “Cleansers,” “Moisturizers,” “Treatments,” and “Sunscreens.”


Vertical Sidebar Menu

Rather than appearing across the header of a website, vertical menus are stacked in the sidebar. These are less popular than horizontal menus, mostly because they take up precious screen space. However, they have the advantage of allowing for a larger number of top categories than horizontal menus.

Hamburger Menu

Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen this popular website navigation type. It consists of three horizontal lines that “hold” all of the content in one place. A type of dynamic menu, hamburger menus appear horizontally on larger screens but vertically on mobile devices.

No matter which design you choose, make sure the menu is logical, descriptive, and intuitive. Remember to use language your customers would use rather than insider lingo and branded terms that not everyone understands.

You may want to consider using wireframes for website design, which can help you visualize the customer experience and spot any issues with navigation before you launch.

Simple and Short URLs

That’s right: even URLs matter in website architecture. In an era of easy clicking and copy-and-pasting, you may not have paid much attention to the structure and content of URLs. But here, too, careful optimization can help you appear higher in search engines.

Current best practices suggest creating URLs with the following characteristics:

  • Simple: URLs with simple, concise language clearly communicate the topic of the page.
  • Short: Overly long URLs look unattractive to humans and spammy to search engines.
  • Organized: Your URL structure should logically follow your website hierarchy.
  • Consistent: Follow the same structure for all of your URLs.
  • Relevant: Use target keywords where possible in your URLs.
  • Clean: Google recommends avoiding URLs with strange characters, long ID numbers, underscores, or words joined together.

Creating an XML Sitemap

As the name suggests, a sitemap gives you a map of a website. But instead of images, you’ll see a list of links to all the pages a site contains. HTML sitemaps help users find every page on your website in case they can’t find them via your navigation or internal links.

XML sitemaps list all your pages, images, videos, and files using a special file format. While HTML sitemaps are meant for humans, XML sitemaps are meant for search engines. They display all the URLs in plain text to make it easy for crawlers to index.

Google doesn’t need a sitemap to find all the pages on your website. However, it can make things easier, especially for large or disorganized websites. You can even submit your XML sitemap directly to Google to help them index your site.

Using Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumb navigation shows online visitors where they are on a website. It can help them locate their current position, see the relationship with other website sections, and quickly return to previous pages. For example, you may have seen breadcrumb navigation that looks like this: Shoes – Men’s – Sneakers and Athletic Shoes – Running Shoes.

While not a substitute for the main navigation menu, breadcrumbs provide a secondary navigation path. This is especially useful for large, complex sites that have many sections. Big e-commerce sites like Sephora and Famous Footwear use breadcrumb navigation.


Tools To Help You Create a Site Structure

Thankfully, a variety of tools can help you build your website’s architecture. From free web design software to online brainstorming tools, these programs can assist you in planning, implementing, and testing your website.

Here are some examples:

  • MindMeister: This mobile mind-mapping platform allows you to brainstorm ideas, represent them graphically, and share them with others for collaborative work. You can use it to plan your website architecture and check the design with others before launch.
  • Optimal Workshop: A UX (user experience) research platform, Optimal Workshop allows you to test your website, understand customer behavior, and improve your design decisions.
  • Site Explorer: One of many popular Ahrefs SEO tools, Site Explorer analyzes your site structure to see whether any areas need improvement for search engine optimization.
  • Seobility: This company offers free SEO software and tools to audit your website, check your structure, discover crawling issues, and analyze your link strategy.
  • Site Audit: This tool by Semrush helps you uncover technical issues with your site, including internal linking problems or other obstacles for site engine crawlers.
  • Sitemap Generator Tools: Multiple companies, including Yoast SEO and, offer free and paid tools to help you create a sitemap for your website.

Website Architecture: The Bottom Line

In general, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to website architecture. Choosing the right design requires carefully analyzing your business’s needs and goals. When building a website, Connective’s bottom-line recommendation is to take structure as seriously as you take content.

Content is a powerful currency in today’s digital landscape, but simply having it isn’t enough. Whether you plan to invest more in Google ads this year or try on some new website design trends for size, don’t forget the structure underneath it all. From search engine ranking to lead conversion, website architecture is at the heart of any successful online marketing strategy.

Rodney Warner

Founder & CEO

As the Founder and CEO, he is the driving force behind the company’s vision, spearheading all sales and overseeing the marketing direction. His role encompasses generating big ideas, managing key accounts, and leading a dedicated team. His journey from a small town in Upstate New York to establishing a successful 7-figure marketing agency exemplifies his commitment to growth and excellence.

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