The most important aspect of site structure is user friendliness. Your website should be structured in such a way that your audience can easily find what they are looking for on your website.
Site structure is an important element as well as a challenge in Search Engine Optimization strategy. Since search engines crawl through your site by following links, the structure of your website is a very important aspect of SEO.
I was considering going to “Top Golf” with some friends. The cost of the game was part of our decision whether to go or not. I looked on their website. It had locations. I picked one. It told me how much it costs to reserve a VIP slot, how much it costs to reserve a bay, but not how much it costs to play a game. Eventually, I gave up and picked another activity. The link may be hidden in their site somewhere, but I have no idea how to find it.
- The importance of Site Structure
- Thinking about Structure
- How to incorporate or improve site structure
- How to maintain site structure
A. Why is website structure important?
Once upon a time I knew an alcohol researcher named Jan. Jan was an executive in her organization who was an expert in her topic. She needed some work related help at her home, and so I offered to go over there. I discovered something very interesting. Every surface in Jan’s living room was covered with printed research articles. Some were hers, but many were written by other experts in her field. There might have been a few hundred articles in Jan’s living room. Jan knew where all her articles were, but I had no way of knowing. The only way that I could know is to go through them one by one. It could have taken weeks.
That is what it is like for a search engine to try and navigate the content on your website.
1. The structure of your website is critical for the user. If the content is not organized, it is impossible to find it.
What if Jan had organized her articles into topics and labelled them with sticky post-it notes? All articles related to a topic such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome would be placed in a single pile. DUI could be another pile. If Jan had done that, it would be easy for me to find her articles and there would also have been more space in her living room. Maybe even space for her to sit down…
2. Site structure is important for the search engines.
It gives them important clues and links to your content.
What do search engines do?
- a crawler, spider or bot
- an index
- an algorithm
The search engines store every single item they have found in a huge database known as the index.
In the early days of the internet, you had to submit a site to a search engine so that it would know that the site exists. Google was the first search engine to create the spider or crawler. The crawler follows links from one site to another. Once it finds a link, it will follow it to that website. Then it crawls that site and all the links and saves the data in its index. When there is a change, then the search engine saves those changes. It crawls the pages periodically to check for changes. If there are a lot of links to the site the search engine crawls it more frequently. If there are fewer visitors (links) to the site, the search engine crawls the site less frequently.
Now that the search engine knows about the site and the links on the site, it can serve these results on search engine results pages when users type in queries.
The problem is that when the user types in a query or uses voice search to query, there are millions of other pages with those search terms and that presents a lot of competition for any website. The search engine determines which of the thousands or millions of results is the most relevant. This is where the algorithm comes into play. The search engines have a secret mathematical formula that determines which page will answer the query the best.
The significance of the story is that search engines follow links. Included in those links are internal links to pages and posts within your website. If there are a lot of links to a page, the search engine will crawl it often. If there are few links, it will not crawl it often. It interprets pages with many links as important. Taking that into account, consider the website structure as a guide for the search engines.
B. Think about site architecture
Let’s return to our story of Jan. How could she differentiate the important articles from the other articles? If she put the important articles on the top of each pile, she would see those first.
When you organize your website think about which pages are important?
Think about what you want the user to do once they reach that page?
What is it that makes your website so special and why you put that up in the first place?
Think about your mission.
What do you want people to find?
If you could show me 5 pages on your website, which would you choose?
We call those cornerstone articles. They should be lengthy informative articles. They could also be products, important sales pages, or informational pages. These pages should be landing pages. There should be sufficient context to understand who you are and what you are trying to do. They should have action items on them for the user.
Make conscious decisions about which articles you want at the top of your pile. Incorporate those pages in your other content so that search engines will know that they are important.
C. How to Incorporate Site Organization
The cornerstone articles should have the most internal links pointing towards them. The links cannot be random. They have to be in context and the topics have to be relevant. If you do not already have related content, you need to write a lot of different niche articles related to that broader topic. The niche articles should include search terms that are less competitive. If the search engine finds the little niche articles (known as long tailed articles) and they contain a link to the main topic (the head article), that will help with the rank for the main article. The main article will become cornerstone content.
For example, if Jan had a website and she was trying to rank for the term “alcohol”, it would be extremely difficult since there is so much competition for that term. However, if she had niche articles about FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and Interlock Devices in cars to prevent DUI that had links to her article on Alcohol, then she would find it easier to rank for FAS and Interlocks and ultimately show the search engines and the users the links to her Cornerstone content on Alcohol.
D. Maintain the site structure
Whilst you are working on your marketing strategy, you should also add blog posts to your site. Over time, you probably have lots of articles. Your site becomes cluttered and you might have several posts on similar topics with the same or similar key words. Search engines consider that to be duplication. The search engines will see the different posts all using the same keyword. It confuses them. It does not know which article to show. The search engine considers the two similar articles with the same or similar keywords to be competing. It demotes both the articles. This is known as keyword cannibalization because unknowingly you are competing against yourself. Each of the articles is “eating” the other. If you are not sure if you are suffering from keyword cannibalization then in the search engine enter the term.
site:yourwebsite.com search terms
Example : site:https://topgolf.com/us/ prices
Change the url and search terms for your own. If there are many articles with the same keywords, then you should change that. Link from all the less important pages to the most important page. That way the search engines will understand that the topics are similar but one is more important. What should you do if they are equally important? Combine the articles and make one long article. Before you delete one article, make sure that you redirect the user to the new article. If you delete a post or page, always redirect so that the search engine does not serve a ‘404’ (Not found) code on your website. If the user comes to a 404 page, they realize that they have reached a Dead End. You can help them find what they are looking for by providing a site map. This may prevent them from clicking away.
Make sure that your mission is reflected in the site structure. Your headlines, taglines, content and images should reflect your mission so that people have no doubt about what you sell or are trying to tell them.
Continue to add content and revisit old content.
Control your site structure and improve it.