In Brief: Your site structure underpins everything you do online. A great site structure can act as a multiplier for your online efforts, making everything you do more effective. Conversely, it can also cripple your online presence by making it difficult for people and spiders alike to use your site.
This guide gives advice on structuring your site to enhance user experience, build brand authority and make it as easy as possible for spiders to crawl your site. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- 1 – Why Does Great Site Structure Matter For SEO?
- 2 – Introducing Silos
- 3 – Site Depth – Where Shallow = Good
- 4 – The Nav Bar
- 5 – Sitelinks = SEO Win
- 6 – Internal Linking
- 7 – Conclusion
- 8 – Practical Take Aways
Here’s a thought experiment for you: you have two guide books. One of them has all the related chapters grouped together in sections, with a clear Contents page and an index that lets you find exactly what you are looking for with ease.
The other book has information all over the place. It has a contents page but it’s difficult to use and there is no index. Which would you rather read?
It is a similar story online. If your site is difficult to navigate, with pages all over the place and no logical structure, it will tank. Badly.
In our example, one of the books grouped together its content into “silos” or thematically linked sections. On the MarketSuite website, for example, we put our content into silos based on topic: SEO, Content Marketing, PPC, etc.
To-Do: If you have a blog or host articles on your website, look at how they are organised. Create a spreadsheet of all the content you have and write down what silo it could be in. Try to keep your silos as general as possible.
If you run a food blog, for example, your silos might look like this:
- Food markets
A shallow site is (usually) a good site. In site structure terms, calling a site shallow means that there aren’t many layers of content.
A shallow site is one where the deepest content (the pages furthest away from the landing page) is, at most, three “layers” away.
In practice, having some content deeper than that isn’t necessarily a problem, but your most important pages should be within one or two clicks of the main page.
When you are looking for information on a site, you want to be able to find it quickly. Getting from one page to any other on the site is much easier with a shallow site. It also makes it easier for spiders to crawl and index the site.
To make it easy to navigate the site, a key part of a great site structure, you need a great menu.
Before you do anything else with your website, you need to have a clear plan for how you will organise the information in your site. Doing this as early as possible will make your life considerably easier in the long run.
Planning your site is simple. Take a piece of paper and a pencil and write down the first “layer” of the site under the home page. These are the top level categories that the rest of your pages will be grouped under.
Under these top-level categories, group your second level pages under the categories that they most closely fit in.
Example: in our food blog example before we created silos. These are the top-level categories that we can use to organise the rest of the site. The rest of their category structure might look something like this:
To-Do: There are a few things to think about when designing your site structure to make sure it gives you the maximum benefit. These are:
- Keep it simple – it’s easy to get carried away breaking your site down into ever smaller chunks. Whenever you are considering a new section ask yourself: is this going to help users find what they’re looking for?
- Keep it short – long names are descriptive but they take time to read. Stick to the shortest title you can unless you can give a really good reason why it should be longer
- Keep it obvious – use descriptive and helpful titles for your sections unless your whole business revolves around being fun(ny). Online, it pays to be obvious
- Keep it shallow – we’ve already talked about the benefits of keeping your site shallow but it bears saying again. Shallow sites are easier for people to use and easier for search engines to crawl
Your URL structure should mirror your category structure. The URL for our fictional food blogger’s Wine Bars page would look like: www.fantasticfoodblog.com/pubs-bars/wine-bars.
URLs should contain only numbers, letters and hyphens, no symbols or accented letters. They should also be descriptive and contain the keywords you are trying to rank for.
- No more than 6 or 7 top-level elements at most
- Put the most important sections first and last (they are more likely to be remembered)
- Use descriptive titles – it’s more helpful to users and signals what you do to search engines, making it easier for them to index and rank you higher
- If you’re an e-commerce site, use a mega menu structure
Mega-menus give users lots of choice in a relatively short space of time. For e-commerce sites with lots of product categories, this means potential customers can find what they’re looking for without having to search through lots of sub-categories.
Some great examples of mega-menus in use are:
- Target – Target has a great mega menu structure. There are a huge number of product categories but it is easy to find what you are looking for due to their great siloing
- Adidas – Adidas make it incredibly easy to find pretty much any type of sports shoes and apparel imaginable within one click of their front page
- Toys ‘R’ Us – the Toys ‘R’ Us mega-menu is a fantastic example of making thing easy for users and search engines to find any category on the site in seconds
Getting sitelinks in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) is SEO gold. They show that Google trusts your site. Google’s mission is to show the most relevent results to solve a users problem as quickly as possible. That means that if they show sitelinks for a site, they (or their algorithm) thinks that site is trustworthy, helpful and easy to navigate.
Sitelinks are the extra links you see under the first search result for some websites. They are links to other parts of the site that Google thinks are relevant. For example, searching for Amazon will show you a link to the home page and, underneath that four more links to sub-sections of the website.
We will be writing a detailed guide on how to get sitelinks soon. In the meantime, check out the Blogging Wizard guide.
The main things you can do to boost your chances of getting sitelinks on Google are:
- Have an intuitive and shallow site structure
- Make your navigation menu and URL structure as simple possible
- Host relevant, authoritative content
- Have a solid internal linking strategy
When you create a new page, do you link to pages you’ve already published? Aside from in the menu, many people write articles and then neglect to link them to the content they already have.
If you write a superb article but don’t link to your other content, you are missing out on an opportunity to be helpful and extend the user journey on your site.
Example: You own a website about bikes. You have just published an article on How to Repair a Bike Tyre. The last article you published was a roundup of the Best Tyre Repair Kits that you sell so you put a link to it in your content.
Next, you go to your Best Repair Kits article and add a link in to the new article. You look through the rest of your articles and see an article you wrote on the different types of tyres which has a section in it about which tyre is most puncture-proof so you add a link in there to your tyre repair article.
By doing this you have signalled to Google that these pages are related to each other. This helps to improve your authority on subject, both in Google’s eyes and for your customer because they have found three articles that are directly related to their query without leaving your site.
When you multiply this approach across an entire site, you start to develop “Hubs”. These Hubs are highly authoritative pages with lots of links pointing to them that Google and the other search engines love to show in search results.
By thinking carefully about the structure of your site, from the hierarchy of categories and pages, to the navigation menu and internal linking structure you can build a site that users love to use and that search engines rank highly.
Make sure that you have a great site structure that makes it easy for your users to find what they’re looking for. Doing so can have a huge impact on traffic, user engagement and sales.
There are lots of things you can do to improve your site structure. If you already have an established site structure in place, it can be difficult to change it without causing harm to your current search presence.
- List your content – make a spreadsheet list of all the content on your site and categorise it into the relevant silos, as above
- Start linking related pages – if you have articles or pages that are related but aren’t linked together, do so (create a “Related Articles” section for example)
- Use Google Search Console – as we touched on in our Introduction To SEO, GSC is a treasure-trove of information. Look at the Internal Links page, Crawl Errors and the Messages page for important notifications and structural issues
- Review your site structure – look at how deep your site is. If you have lots of pages more than three clicks from your front page, you might want to think about restructuring
- Review your menu – is your menu easy to use, descriptive, and less than 8 elements long? If so, great! If not, think about how you can make it more effective
What are your top tips for creating a great site structure? Is there something we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!