Website structure — how to build a search-friendly site

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29 Feb
2024
1 Dec
2022
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Site architecture directly affects usability and the search engines ranking. The structure and organization directly affect how quickly the users can find the information they need and the bots can scan the pages.

Properly designed website architecture is one of the main aspects of technical SEO. A good structure should include the following points:

  • Convenient and clear for users – easy navigation, with pages being in those sections where users can expect to see them.
  • Available for search robots – logically built sites and connections between categories and separate pages allow you to manage the indexing process and ensure that no documents are left undetected and unscanned.
  • Fully covers the users' needs – a well-designed structure allows catching the highest number of queries that interest you and your target audience.

You should think about developing a website structure both when planning a new site and to ensure the correct upgrade of your existing one. In this article we will cover the creation of the right website architecture.

What is site architecture?

Website architecture is a combination of all pages placed in a logical and hierarchical order and their interconnection to each other. An ideal site structure directs users to the right information and helps search engines easily identify pages.

Think about how the pages on your website are connected to each other, particularly how they branch off from the homepage and are grouped in deeper catalogs. A typical website structure looks like a tree chart, where the homepage is a trunk. Pages linked from the homepage are the main branches with additional branches (pages) extending from them. Then they are linked to each other.

The bigger the site, the more branches in its structure

It’s best to pay special attention to the creation of the structure as it will help you avoid problems with future search engine optimization.

Why is it important?

No matter the size of your site, architecture is an important component for success. We can highlight several critical aspects that depend on the correct development of the site structure:

1. Improves UX.

Website architecture is essential for creating a great user experience and is directly involved in shaping the users' impression of the site. The selected structure affects the website's usability and how quickly users find products or information they’re after. Moreover, the easier it is for people to find what they’re looking on your site, the more likely they are to become customers.

If your site is understandable and well-structured, potential customers are more likely to stay on it for a long time.

2. Makes it easy to scan.

A good site architecture makes it easier for search engines to crawl it, allowing them to find new pages faster and to consider changes on those previously crawled. This is especially important if your site is large and contains many categories and subcategories.

If pages are several clicks away from the homepage and have no links from any other page, it will be difficult for Googlebot to detect them, and they may stay unknown to Google. And if the site architecture is created in such a way that all sections and pages are interconnected among themselves, search crawlers will follow the internal links and will be able to find all the documents.

3. Enables correct site navigation.

Well-designed site architecture makes it easier to find pages and posts, keeps users engaged and prevents them from leaving your website. When you plan the structure at the development stage, you can analyze what exactly your visitors need and how to simplify their journey. Because no one wants to spend eternity searching for relevant content. In addition, a properly designed structure and well-thought-out navigation encourage users to visit more pages.

4. Prevents keyword cannibalization.

Keyword cannibalization is a situation when two or more website pages are optimized for one query and are in competition with each other. As a result, it generally hinders the ranking, and none of them can take positions in the TOP.

Keywords seem to "eat each other" during cannibalization, which has a negative impact on the promotion in search engines.

Usually, keyword cannibalization happens because the website is unorganized and the correct structure prevents this problem. Sites with a clear organization have a specific place for each topic or content type.

5. Allows you to highlight the expertise in topics.

Thematic SEO is very important for website promotion and your site structure is a great way to demonstrate how different pages and posts are related. By linking pages to create thematic clusters, you position yourself as an expert in your field, showing that you cover a topic very deeply and from different angles. It helps search engines understand your website and give context to the keywords you should be ranking for.

When the same information is scattered throughout the site with no visible connection between pages, it will be more difficult for the search engine to determine your industry expertise.

6. Helps emphasize the most important content.

Proper website architecture can highlight the most important pages which are often called hubpages or central pages. They usually coincide with highly competitive keywords with a high volume of queries. Central pages cover the topic broadly and contain links to related but more detailed information if the structure is organized correctly. In such a way, they guide users from the general to the specific, drawing them deeper into the site.

Types of site structure

There are several types of site structures, and you need to consider your website’s specifics and size to choose the right one. Let’s take a look at them.

Linear. Pages are placed in a logical chain, moving from one to another. Choose this type if you have a small website, for example, a business card site.

Linear structure is a perfect choice for small sites
Linear structure is a perfect choice for small sites

Block. Ideal for sites with a small number of pages that are logically linked to each other. With this website organization, users can easily navigate from one page to another. In reality, the block site structure is rarely used.

Block structure is suitable only for sites where all pages are linked together
Block structure is suitable only for sites where all pages are linked together

Hierarchical or tree-like structure. One of the most common variants, suitable for both small and million-page websites. With a block structure, pages are usually organized into thematic groups and connected with each other by links within these groups.

The hierarchical structure includes parent and child pages
The hierarchical structure includes parent and child pages

5 steps to the perfect website structure

Work on structure is one of the most important tasks when you create a new website or redesign an old one. Let's consider each stage you must go through to get a convenient and SEO-friendly website structure.

Step 1. Competitor analysis

It would help if you had a detailed keyword analysis to provide relevant and logically organized website content. In the case of a new site, competitors will help you in collecting queries. Also, competitor analysis is necessary to determine which type of structure will be the most effective and traffic-generating. This also ensures you do not miss anything important.

To identify competitors correctly, you need to determine the main site queries, as well as the key parameters of your business model, and keep them in mind during this stage. You can learn more about how to find your competitors in our other article.

Tools such as ahrefs can simplify this stage. In the Top subfolders report, you can see the subfolders (categories) used by the competitor and the amount of traffic they generate.

Once the main categories are identified, you can see how everything is organized within them. The same report will help us with this, but in this case, you need to specify the category that interests you as the URL for analysis and select the “Prefix” parameter.

You also need to:

  • Identify key queries of your competitor and the types of pages created for them.
  • Assess the structure and determine the type and main topics.
  • Create a coverage map that includes sections and documents of your competitor to help you determine the must-have pages for your future site.
  • Analyze the XML-Sitemap to find out which pages the competitors focus the attention of search bots on.

Step 2. Semantic core collection and its clusterization

After identifying your competitors and understanding their website organization, you can start collecting the semantic core.

A semantic core is a database of queries used by people to search for your site and utilized by search engines to promote it. A full semantic core allows you to fully meet the needs of your target audience.

It will be almost impossible to find keywords without tools. In our work, we use Ahrefs, SE Ranking, as well as free tools such as Keyword Planner from Google AdWords and Google Trends. They help us to identify the queries that competitors promote and to catch long-tail keywords.

To make a complete and relevant semantic core, follow these tips:

  • Collect the maximum possible number of keywords.
  • Do not ignore words with low or ultra-low volume.
  • If you collect data from different sources, filter out duplicate key queries.
  • Review the key phrases and remove those that do not suit you.
  • Classify queries by intent and sort them by volume – from the most to the least frequently searched keyword.

Clusterization

Once you have collected all the queries and discarded the ones you don’t need, it is time to understand how these requests will be placed on the site. To do this, you should first cluster all the phrases.

SEO clusterization implies grouping of keywords based on the analysis of SERP. It helps organize the collected semantics into target groups for easy site optimization.

We recommend using special tools for this, especially if your site contains thousands of queries, as it can take weeks to sort them manually. In any case, do not forget about manual rework because none of the tools will give a 100% result. Once you’re done with clustering, you will have a table with all the key phrases distributed into groups. To make things clearer, tag these groups depending on which topic they relate to.

Clustering will help you choose the main keywords for each category, determine what types of pages you need to create, and create a hierarchy — subcategory pages, tags, and filters.

Keyword research will allow you to form the structure of the site based on user needs. After forming the semantic core, you will understand which queries are the most frequent — as a rule, they are at the top level, and categories are formed for them. Accordingly, lower-level pages are formed from medium and low volume keywords.

The number of branches depends on the number of clusters and their focus

Step 3. Hierarchy visualization

Once you’ve analyzed your competitors are clustered all the queries, it's time to think about the site's hierarchy. You need to plan all the site's main sections or visualize them with tools, and think about which subsections and pages they will include.

Also, at this stage, you need to decide what type of content you need: commercial, informational, technical, and so on. This depends on the niche and specifics of your site, as well as the amount of information you want to offer your users.

No matter how many pages and branches of the structure you have, think about how quickly you can get to any of the pages of your site. Make sure that the depth at which the pages of the main categories are located does not exceed the 2nd level. For the narrow-profile pages you shouldn’t go further than the third level.

Depth is the number of clicks a user makes to get to the needed page

We recommend using a flat structure rather than a deep one to avoid this problem.

With a flat structure, it is easier to avoid great page depths
With a flat structure, it is easier to avoid great page depths

This variant guarantees that any two pages will be just a few clicks away from each other.

Here’s a list of some other tips to help you create the right structure:

  • Think about which pages will be primary and secondary for your users.
  • Create a list of pages that your site must have.
  • Write down all the possible connections between pages, and see if there are links to all the pages from the list.
  • If you need more than three clicks to get to the page from the homepage, you should also address this problem.
  • Create clear names for categories and subcategories.
  • Visualize. Use a notepad or web tools to draw the hierarchy of the pages and the connections between them.
  • Provide scalability for adding new categories and subcategories in the future without completely changing the structure.
Visualization tools can help find flaws in the structure of your future site
Visualization tools can help find flaws in the structure of your future site

Step 4. Navigation

How users navigate between pages is an important part of the site structure. To facilitate navigation from one page to another for the users, you need to organize linking correctly. Make sure that each page of the site contains links to the other ones.

Logical linking is a reliable guide to the site for both users and search bots. To make the linking correct, start from the most important pages for visitors and promotion.

You should also check whether there are any orphan pages in your plan.

Orphan pages are the pages that are not linked to from any other page or section of your site. Thus, the "orphan" page is in complete isolation, i.e., the user cannot access it without knowing the direct link.

Ideally, such pages should not exist at all. However, for large sites, the minimum requirement is to ensure that this doesn’t affect any valuable pages.

We recommend using two types of links to create internal linking:

  • Contextual — links directly from the text content.
  • Navigational — located in specifically allocated sections.

Let's take a closer look at various navigation sections.

1. Header and footer

This is a fundamental element that is present on every site. The header is at the top of the page and it typically contains links to categories and service pages that are important for users. You can find more about what should be in the header and how to design it correctly in our article.

A footer is another crucial element of your site, where you should add important links. It can both duplicate sections from the header and contain other navigation elements. Here you can add, for example, links to CTA pages so that the users who have reached the end of the page can take an action without having to go back. Read more about how to design a footer in our article.

2. Navigational menu

The menu should contain links to all pages (categories) that most users may need. It is usually placed at the top of the site or vertically on the left side. If the site is multi-thematic, you can use options with a drop-down menu, so the users can visit not only a category, but also choose a more suitable subcategory option.

3. Breadcrumbs

This navigation element helps users understand which part of the site they are in, leading them from a specific page to the previous subcategory or category. We recommend adding it if your site has a deep and branched structure.

4. Filter and sorting unit

If you have an E-commerce site, you definitely should not ignore this element. This navigation option helps users find the right product. You need to organize filters in such a way that they cover the maximum number of characteristics of the products presented on the site without cluttering the page.

5. Similar products/articles

Another opportunity to let the user delve deeper into the site is the "See also" and "You may also like" sections. They facilitate navigation between specific pages within categories, ensuring that they are not lost over time.

Step 5. Technical components

Work out the URL structure

The URLs structure is one of the things affected by the site hierarchy, and you should consider whether the page address will contain a category or subcategory indicator at this stage.

Create a Sitemap

You should make navigation easy not just for the users, but also for the search robots, and a sitemap will help Google index your site faster. You need to create an XML-file that contains a list of all URLs and a hierarchy of pages.

Block technical pages

Determine which pages perform only a navigational function and should not be included in the search engine index. These can be, for example, search or filter pages, as generally they are not useful for promotion. We recommend hiding them from crawling using robots.txt or meta name robots.

Conclusion

A properly organized site structure is an important step toward its effective promotion. Think about what pages your site will include and how they will be connected. If you consider the recommendations above, you will likely satisfy both your users and search engines alike. You can also write to us, and our specialists will help you develop your site’s structure, taking into account all the project's features.

Writing team:
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