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How to plan and create a solid website structure, and why it’s important for SEO

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Anastasia Osypenko
Jul 19, 2021 | 16 min read

A well-planned structure is what turns a messy set of webpages into a site loved by users and search engines. For both, it’s crucial to get a clear idea of how your website is organized and how to find relevant information on it. 

What are the main rules essential to creating a solid website structure? How should it look from the very beginning and be developed afterwards? And why is it important for both SEO and UX?

In this article, you will learn about some simple but crucial actions you have to take to build a good basis for SEO while developing your site.

First of all, what is website structure?

Website structure is the way all a website’s pages are organized and connected to each other and how navigation to different pages is managed. There are three most commonly used types of structure, each best suitable for a particular website type:

  • Linear, or sequential structure. Pages are connected in a linear manner and all follow a logical path of actions, for example, from the main page to the service page and to the request/quote page. It works well for small websites that aim to present a product, service, or brand.
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  • Network, or web-linked structure. It’s a rare type of site organization where each page can be accessed from any other page. It can make sense for websites with a limited number of pages, all naturally connected to each other.
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  • Hierarchical, or tree-like structure. This is the most popular type of structure that can be applied to a website of any specification. It follows a hierarchy of categories, moving from general pages to more specific ones.
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A hierarchical website structure usually implies siloing. Silos stand for semantic entities used to group pages and enhance their content to make it more relevant for user queries. You can create content silos based on separate topics or search intents and organize your pages according to those silos.

For a large-scale website, the hierarchical structure is the only viable option. The path a user takes looking for a smart speaker on an e-commerce site can look like this: main page — smart home general category — entertainment devices category — speakers and soundbars catalog — product page. If this path is complicated by redundant or incomprehensibly named categories, the structure and navigation need some improvement. A user doesn’t necessarily enter your site through the main page or a target page for a certain query, so they should be able to find the necessary information no matter which page they start with.

The important thing to remember is that you need to involve SEOs, UX designers, and content specialists to work on an effective site structure. This way, you won’t miss a thing and a website will be both user and search engine friendly. 

Why does structure matter for SEO and how?

If you have an SEO-friendly structure with smart linking, both users and Google will “understand” and love your website. But how exactly does a thorough structure help with search visibility and optimization?

  • Search engines care about user experience. Rankings in the SERPs are connected to how easy a website is to use and navigate. All transitions between pages should be natural and any page should be accessible in no more than 3 clicks. 
  • Search engines evaluate the whole structure. Even though they serve page-based rankings, they do look at where a given page stands in the website’s structure.
  • A good website structure increases the chances of getting sitelinks and other SERP features. Sitelinks are the block in the SERP that shows your domain along with several internal URLs grouped below. They separate your website from others in the search results and are likely to increase the CTR. Google automatically pulls out the most relevant information to generate sitelinks, and the only way you can influence this process is to build a comprehensive structure.
  • You can’t keep up with technical SEO without a solid structure. Lots of technical SEO aspects responsible for page crawling and indexing are reliant on the structure.
  • A proper structure ensures proper page crawling. The logic behind site structure and internal linking not only makes the crawling process easier but also optimizes a crawling budget (the number of pages a search crawler can go through in a given time). Note though, that a crawling budget also depends on the website’s scale.
  • An effective structure helps make content more relevant for search intents. It allows for a better distribution of content across the web pages according to different topics and queries.

Guide to build a solid structure

Let’s dive into the process of creating a website structure step by step. 

Step 1. Look at what your competitors are doing

Take a look at your competitors’ websites. Identify who they are and how they’ve built their websites. Look at how they’ve organized information on their site: how many sections they have, how they are connected. It’s a good idea to check the structures of several rivals, evaluating them from the perspective of a user. Besides manual research, you can use parsing and web scraping tools.

Also, you can check which particular pages of your competitors show the greatest results in search, what’s their place in the website structure, and what keywords they use. You can get all of this information using SE Ranking’s Competitive Research. The tool will help you find your rivals and discover the most ranked pages in Google’s top 100 organic and paid search results. 

Run an analysis of a major competitor site and go to Pages in the Organic traffic research section. Here, you can see all pages and subdomains and filter them by traffic share and number of keywords. Export the results in .xls or .csv to examine the structure by URLs.

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Examine common sections and similar pages your competitors have and decide which of those to incorporate on your website. SE Ranking’s Competitive Research allows you to see semantic overlaps between three sites: thanks to the tool, you’ll get the list of keywords that are common for the major resources in your niche.

Step 2. Collect a website’s keyword list and divide it into groups

You’ve already analyzed which keywords work for your rivals. Now, it’s time to add more research to those observations and collect a full keyword list for your website.

SE Ranking’s Keyword Research tool will help you collect all relevant search queries: specify the search engine and get the list of suggestions for each keyword with the list of the highest-ranking domains. Note that for a multilingual site, you’ll have to conduct a separate keyword research for each language.

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Use other tools like Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends and visit relevant forums to expand the list of keywords. It’s important to include queries of different search volume to cover both general inquiries and very specific intents.

When you’ve collected a huge list of keywords, that is the time to filter the irrelevant ones. Cross out all the queries that don’t suit your website and classify all the rest based on a criterion that works best for you: intent, search volume, difficulty, or another. The Keyword Grouper tool will help you automatically cluster queries based on their similarities in the SERPs. By going through the results, you can match groups of keywords with different sections and pages you plan on having.

Step 3. Categorize all pages

After you’ve collected and filtered all the irrelevant keywords, adjust them to your website’s hierarchy. Write down all major sections and visualize the structure, moving to subsections and specific pages. Use visualization tools like Mindmup and XMind to get a clear picture of the hierarchy: which pages represent the general categories and which ones are more specific, and finally, how they should be connected.

You can also visualize website structure with the help of crawl map tools:

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Some of our recommendations on the process of page categorization:

  • Regardless of the complexity of your structure, make sure each page can be easily accessed, in no more than 3 clicks from anywhere on the website. 
  • Don’t build a hierarchy based on target keyword search volume, as it’s not always the case that the most searched query is your top keyword for a given page.
  • Determine all technical pages and think through how they should be indexed: for example, use noindex and nofollow to limit the indexing of website search results, sorting options, and pagination but leave contact pages and policies open to crawlers.
  • If you plan on having filtering options, think how those filters will be implemented, especially if combined with each other. 
  • Make sure the website is scalable and you will be able to add new categories and subcategories without completely redoing the structure. 

Common mistakes

Here’s a list of things to avoid while working on your website structure:

  • Lack of clarity in category names. Both users and search engines find it difficult to evaluate a website’s content if the category names are confusing or duplicate each other.
  • Lack of classification. If subcategories and filters don’t follow an efficient and logical structure, it can’t be difficult to find a particular page. Be sure to design a balanced structure that is all-inclusive, but not overly detailed that is hard to navigate or requires too many clicks.
  • Page duplication. Duplicated or identical content placed on different URLs negatively impacts search rankings. Sometimes, CMS or code issues might lead to the creation of duplicate URLs with dynamic parameters.
  • Outdated information. Make sure that all pages are up to date and don’t feature irrelevant information or unavailable products.

Step 4. Maintain a clear URL structure

Not only should your content make sense, but also the URL. After you’ve created your website’s wireframe with all the categories and pages, proceed with a simple and user-friendly URL structure that follows your website hierarchy. 

Here are some tips on how to keep your URLs clean:

  • Use readable words and make the URL as short as possible. 
  • Use relevant keywords in your URLs but avoid keyword stuffing (e.g. www.domain.com/keywords-research is better than www.domain.com/buy-the-best-tool-for-keyword-research-and-keyword-suggestion-discounts).
  • Use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) because search engines perceive the former as a means of word division and the latter as a part of the word (e.g. www.domain.com/keywords-research is better than www.domain.com/keywords_research).
  • For a multilingual site, add the hreflang attribute with a language indicator to each URL. 

Step 5. Connect pages with internal linking

When you have a set of pages prioritized and organized within a hierarchy of your website, you need to provide a clear connection between them through internal linking. It enhances your website’s navigation and helps spread link juice around the web pages. 

The rule of thumb here is that every page should have a link pointing to it and coming from it. Search crawlers find and index websites by going from one page to another, and they do so by following the links, unless they are told otherwise. Smart internal linking will help crawlers find all the content on your website.

You can work on internal linking based on page priorities: the more value a page holds for attracting target traffic, the more links should be pointing to that page. Also, make sure your website doesn’t have orphan and dead-end pages that don’t have any links to them or from them. If you have all your URLs written down or visualized before you start categorizing them, you’re likely to have everything under control. For more details on building strong connections between your pages, check out our guide on internal linking.

Step 6. Build simple navigation

Let’s discuss the necessary navigational elements that will help you connect your pages and make users feel at ease using your website.   

Menu

In many cases, a user’s journey through a website starts from the menu, so it has to feature all important sections. The menu can be placed in the top of the page or on the left, as well be opened by click or by hover. Depending on the site architecture, it can have one or several types of menus. The important thing is that the menu should be easily accessible on both desktop and mobile devices.

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Breadcrumbs 

When navigating through your website, users won’t necessarily understand where they are and how they got there. Breadcrumbs will help them find the way back to any section. Not only does this element makes user lives easier but it also helps search bots to understand the site’s hierarchy.

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Header

A website header is a block placed on top of the page that features the most important categories or pages (for example, the Delivery section for e-commerce or the Pricing plans section for SaaS websites). Typically, contacts, a search box, a language or region switch are also included in the header.

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Footer 

A footer is a block placed on the bottom of the page that might duplicate what is included in the main menu and also features links to Privacy Policy and other documentation, FAQ, contacts, etc. 

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Filtering and sorting

If your website has a lot of services or products to offer, you should design a system of filters and sorting options to help users find what they are looking for. The filters can differ depending on the category and should cover all possible product characteristics. 

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Tags

Tags represent another great way to organize your content and provide users with a specific set of relevant pages.

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Linking blocks

Consider creating recommendation blocks like “See more on the topic,” “You may also like,” “People also viewed.” They will strengthen your internal linking and drive more traffic to relevant pages.  

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Step 7. Create a sitemap

Making your site easier to navigate, don’t forget about search crawlers. Sitemaps help them keep track of all pages that appear on your website and index them faster. Search engines can also use the sitemap as a reference when determining canonical URLs. 

You can create an XML sitemap for crawling purposes that will include a list of all URLs and their hierarchy and also an HTML sitemap for users that will act like an interactive list of all pages. Each search engine has its own instructions about creating and submitting a sitemap file. SE Ranking’s Website Audit can ease this process for you and create a sitemap automatically. For more details on proper formatting, check out our guide on creating sitemaps

Step 8. Test your website

Search engines enhance their algorithms to cater to user needs, so the best way to evaluate your website’s structure is to look at it from the perspective of a user. Before your website goes public, show it to colleagues and friends to get an idea of how the structure and content work according to search intents and how easy it is to navigate through different pages, and interact with them. 

After the launch, you can monitor user behavior with various tools. Heatmaps like Hotjar and Crazy Egg will show how visitors move around the site and where they click, A/B and usability tests will help define which features perform well and which don’t, while real user feedback will give you insightful ideas on what needs improvement.

To check your structure from the technical point of view, use tools like SE Ranking’s Website Audit. It will scan all your pages, identifying all issues with links, tags, indexing directives, and so on. Also, use Google Search Console to monitor how Googlebot sees your pages.

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Step 9. Check your sitelinks

As we’ve mentioned, a good structure often results in getting sitelinks and standing out in the SERP.

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Search engines automatically generate sitelinks and recommend the following:

  • Ensure a logical structure and navigation. Google claims it generates sitelinks if they will be useful to searchers.
  • Submit a sitemap to Google Search Console or webmaster services of other search engines. Make sure that all important pages are open for indexing. 
  • Build internal links with informative and relevant anchor texts. 
  • Write unique title tags for each page that are descriptive and helpful for searchers. 
  • Present user structured data to organize different types of content you have on the website.

Note that once you get sitelinks, it doesn’t mean you’ll have them forever. Search bots recrawl websites and might change sections in the sitelinks (if there are new ones on the website) or remove them altogether (if the structure has changed). 

Conclusion

Building a solid and simple website structure is not only about sections and links—it’s about user experience and design as well. Make sure you invest time and resources in creating an SEO-friendly structure before you build the site itself. Examine your competitors’ structures, do in-depth keyword research and categorize your web pages based on the findings. Maintain a clear URL structure, connect pages with internal links, and design navigational elements that will allow users to find everything they need in no time. 

If your website is already running, analyze it from the structure perspective, find weaknesses, and start implementing changes. Don’t overlook this opportunity as it’s your chance to enhance your rankings and user experience. 

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