In this chapter, we show you how to create a site architecture that is both easy for Google to crawl, and users to navigate.
A site’s architecture can make or break its chances of flourishing in the SERPs as it heavily impacts Google’s (and users’) ability to be able to discover pages.
Website architecture is how the web pages on a site are structured and linked together.
Why is Site Structure Important?
Increase Crawlability and Indexability
A meaningful site structure allows for easy navigation for search engine spiders too.
This should come as no surprise as we’ve already seen that Google treats pages as nodes, and the links between pages as edges.
So, if your site has pages that are multiple clicks away from your homepage or not linked at all from other pages, Googlebot will struggle to crawl and index them.
By linking to all pages internally, you’re not only ensuring that spiders are able to crawl and index them, but you’re also passing link authority through them.
A page with lots of internal links (aka “virtual siloing” – more on this very soon) will have a higher PageRank as more authority is flowing to it, which can lead to an increase in rankings.
Better User Experience
Whilst it’s great that a well structured website will help rank your site in Google, ultimately it’s the searcher that will interact with it.
Therefore UX should be considered too. A well structured website should allow users to quickly find the desired page.
A better user experience will also impact engagement metrics like bounce rate (how quickly users leave your site) as well as conversions (how often users make a purchase, fill out a form, sign up to a newsletter), or simply – return for another visit. Naturally, Google rewards sites that offer a user experience.
A good site structure has the added benefit of appearing as a sitelink in the search results.
This is because Google “likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site”.
Here, Google displays your main page (usually the homepage) along with multiple internal pages that it deems to be important below.
Here’s an example:
Needless to say, sitelinks are great!
- Increase navigability
- Point users to the most important or relevant information
- Build brand authority and reputations
- Improve site’s trustworthiness
- More real-estate in the SERPs = higher CTR
So, what’s the best way to structure your website?
Flat vs Deep Site Structure
A flat site structure adopts the idea that users and web crawlers can find any page on a site in no more than 4 clicks.
On the flip side, a deep site structure contains pages that may require more than 4 clicks to reach.
A flat site structure is preferred for the following reasons:
- Ensures link authority flows to (and from) all pages
- Googlebot can quickly and easily crawl and index your pages
Essentially, an ideal site structure should mirror the simplicity of a pyramid.
1. The top layer is your homepage.
2. Underneath, you have the main sections or categories.
3. On the ground, you have the rest of your individual posts and pages.
Let’s see how this would look for a website selling furniture and homeware:
After your homepage, category pages are next in line in a desired site hierarchy. This is because they make organising your site a lot easier in the long term.
New pages can easily be added to an existing category page that is relevant and add a link from the category page to it.
If one doesn’t exist, you can create a new one and do the same.
Without a logical category structure, the site structure can easily get muddled, which as we’ve seen – makes crawlability difficult for search engines, and navigability difficult for your visitors.
When it comes to your website, one of the first elements that both users and search engines will see, is the URL.
According to Google, a site’s URL structure should be “as simple as possible”.
Content on your website should be organised in a way that is easy to read for both humans and search engines.
Here’s an example of a URL structure that is commonly adopted by websites:
Writing the Perfect URLs: A Checklist
- Are they user friendly? – Creating descriptive URLs that convey content information about the documents on your website not only improves your site’s organisation, but makes it easier for those that want to link to you.
URLs that are too long or contain cryptic strings of characters (such as session IDs etc) are unnatural and can be intimidating for users.
Want another reason as to why you should keep your URLs simple? Google displays them within the search results.
- Do they contain your keywords? – Where appropriate, include your keywords within your URLs. This is because search engines look at the URLs of a web page to determine its topical relevance.
- Are they concise? – Users and search engines should be able to gain an understanding of what they can expect to find on your web page from the URL.
- Are you using the right punctuation? – Use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) as separators for words in your URLs. In the example below, we can see that using hyphens improves readability.
- Are they consistent? – All URLs on your site should adopt the same pattern to avoid complicating the overall site structure.
Semantically Organising Your Content
Apart from your URLs, your content should be organised semantically so that you can capitalise on its topical authority.
In its Webmaster Guidelines, Google emphasises the importance of designing a page that has a “clear conceptual hierarchy”.
In other words, adopting this type of structure enables you to showcase your expertise to Google by engineering a page that delves deep into answering the queries of the searcher about a particular subject matter.
This can be achieved via content siloing.
A content silo helps you organise your content based on its topical relevance.
This involves aligning the user’s search behaviour at different stages of their journey with the content at each level of the silo structure. This weirdly enough, should also mirror your site’s architecture and is known as physical siloing.
Here, you should also identify the main content (i.e. the main body of content on a news article or the products on a collections page) and supplementary content (i.e. navigational links to other parts of the website) for your topic. This is something that Google outlines in their Search Evaluator Guidelines.
Let’s take a look at how we might apply this to an eCommerce site in the Fashion niche:
- Homepage: The homepage should briefly introduce the core products that the company offers as well as include some details about the brand itself. Here you would target a mix of broad commercial and transactional keywords.
- Key Silo Categories: This is where the siloing begins!. Group the website into distinctive sub-topics such as “Menswear”, “Womenswear”, “Sale”, “Brands”. Here you would target a mix of commercial and transactional keywords.
- Category pages: This is where we break down the key silo categories into smaller sub-categories. For example, the “Menswear” silo may contain category pages like “Jumpers”, “Sweatshirts”, “Trousers”. Here you would target a mix of commercial and transactional keywords.
- Sub-Category pages: In this level, we could break down the category pages further. For example, the “Sweaters” category may contain subcategories like “Short Sleeve Sweaters” and “Long Sleeve Sweaters”. Here you would target a mix of commercial and transactional keywords.
- Product pages: These are pages that anchor the main categories in your silos. Here, you would add content at the product level and target transactional keywords.
- Blog pages: Contain content that targets very specific long tail keywords (usually informational) designed to drive traffic to pages on higher levels. For example “How Are Leather Shoes Made?”.
Let’s see how this would look as a URL structure:
A topical cluster, is a group of pages that are internally linked and constructed around a piece of pillar content targeting a broader topic.
Pillar pages generally focus on a broad keyword with high search volume whereas the supporting pages that make up your topical cluster focus on more specific search terms that have smaller search demand.
In the context of our fashion related example above, a pillar page would be the Jumpers page which targets high volume search terms like “men’s jumpers”.
Our supporting pages would then target more specific keywords like “long sleeve jumpers” and “short sleeve jumpers”.
If we were to take things even deeper, we could break down those pages further by targeting brand specific keywords like “nike long sleeve sweaters”.
We already know that Google uses internal links to navigate and understand your site structure.
On top of this, we’ve seen how algorithms like RankBrain and Hummingbird consider links between and within sites to be a signal of authority and topical relevance.
For example, the “Sweaters” page should link to the “Menswear” category page as well as the “Long Sleeve Sweater” and “Short Sleeve Sweaters” pages.
Blog pages are another great way of creating a web of connections between your landing pages by internally linking to other relevant pages on your website.
A well linked website will naturally develop authority within a particular topic area as Google will “see” that the content is connected, so by extension, it is highly relevant for the semantic web.
To summarise, content silos and topical clusters enable you to align your site with the intent-based practices that Google’s algorithms are currently emphasising.