Website architecture helps your site’s SEO by organizing and linking content across your website. Learn how to structure your site using real examples that work.
Here, you’ll find:
- What is website architecture?
- How to create an SEO structure for websites
- Why is website architecture important for SEO?
- What’s a good website architecture example?
- Expert tips for SEO site structure
Think of website architecture like the blueprint for a website. It’s essential for planning each individual part and ensuring they fit together correctly, without creating technical errors or performance issues.
Curious how the structure of your website can impact its performance and your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts?
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about site structure for SEO, including why it’s important, how to set up website architecture, and expert tips for technical SEO.
What is website architecture?
Website architecture is the framework you use to organize and link content throughout your site. It’s also known as site structure, since it refers to the way your website is arranged or built.
It’s also a key component of technical SEO. In order for your SEO campaigns to reach the goals you set and drive the return on investment (ROI) you anticipate, you need logical site architecture and page hierarchy.
How much of an impact can site architecture make on SEO ROI? “By integrating proper SEO strategies including website architecture, HawkSEM was able to help Easly increase their brand’s keyword portfolio by 1,500%,” shares Rambod Yadegar, President of HawkSEM.
How to create an SEO structure for websites
The optimal SEO structure for websites follows a few key principles. Follow the steps below to map out a site structure that works for your visitors and for search engines.
Start with a well-organized navigation menu
A great navigation menu is crucial to solid site architecture for a few reasons:
- Improves user experience. Users aren’t likely to find what they want on your homepage. With a well-organized navigation menu, they can see how your site is structured and find where to click.
- Reduces crawl depth. Visitors shouldn’t have to click through dozens of service, product, or other landing pages to find what they want. A good menu can save time and reduce clicks.
- Highlights pillar pages. Your navigation bar shouldn’t include every page on your site. Instead, it should link to high-authority pages that act as hubs to other important content.
For example, Chewy uses a simple navigation menu to help visitors find what they need efficiently. The “Shop” tab is divided by pet type, while the “Pharmacy” tab lists both pet type and condition.
Although site navigation tends to be relatively static, Chewy also places timely links in the site’s main menu. The “Early Black Friday Deals” link can help shoppers explore deals faster, potentially leading to more sales.
Set up breadcrumbs
In some cases, visitors may land on a page on your website, find exactly what they need, and click away once they’ve finished the task — which could be downloading a resource, signing up for a list, or buying an item.
But it’s more realistic to expect visitors to click around your site to browse inventory, explore resources, or learn about what your business does. That’s why breadcrumbs are so important.
On a website, breadcrumbs display the page path using text links with category-focused anchor text. Visitors can click these links to navigate website categories and see the hierarchical structure of your site.
Think of them like a trail of breadcrumbs. They help with navigation, creating a better experience for site visitors. They also invite visitors to explore other paths through your site, and they help with internal linking.
For example, Harry and David is a large ecommerce store with countless categories, sub-categories, and products. Breadcrumbs appear throughout the site, making it easier for visitors to find their way.
Aim for shallow crawl depth
Website visitors tend to have better experiences when they can access content faster. The more clicks they have to complete to find what they want, the worse their experience generally becomes.
The number of clicks it takes to access content from the homepage is known as crawl depth. To set the stage for a better user experience and create a more streamlined site structure, aim for shallow crawl depth.
How many clicks is ideal? As a general rule, requiring visitors to click more than three or four times can lead to a bad experience. You can achieve a shallower crawl depth with better internal linking.
Develop an internal linking framework
Most high-ranking websites organize pages around content pillars and topic clusters. Think of content pillars as the overviews or authoritative pages on a topic that’s important to your business.
For example, HubSpot’s Instagram marketing pillar page is a comprehensive introduction to the topic that’s packed with evergreen content like statistics, step-by-step guides, examples, and walkthroughs.
This content pillar also serves as a hub for the company’s Instagram marketing topic cluster. It has countless internal links to other pages about Instagram and digital marketing topics.
This setup makes it easier for users to discover useful resources and take the next step toward meeting their goals for visiting the site. It also shows search engines how the site is organized, which can help rankings.
As you map out internal links, avoid creating what’s known as orphan pages. These pages don’t have any internal links directed to them. That makes their role hard to decipher and can limit their ability to rank.
Build an optimized URL structure
As important as internal linking is, it’s not the only signal that tells search engines about your site architecture. Your URL structure also helps search engines understand and rank your website.
With URL structure, consistency is crucial, and simpler is almost always better. In addition to the domain, most URLs include two components:
- A category, which appears directly after the domain
- A slug, which details the topic and reflects keyword research
For example, the URL for the Hubspot Instagram stories guide uses “/marketing/” as the parent page. The slug is “instagram-stories-guide” which concisely captures the topic and includes an SEO keyword.
Depending on the nature of your business, your URL structure may look a little different. For example, Semrush organizes the platform’s features under the “/features/” category.
All blog content displays under the “/blog/” category. Any new pages the site publishes can easily fit into this site hierarchy.
Create and upload sitemaps
Once you’ve mapped out clear site architecture and established URL structures across the site, the final step is generating a sitemap. Note that there are two types of sitemaps:
- HTML sitemaps are designed for users to navigate.
- XML sitemaps are designed for search engines to crawl and index.
Use Google’s sitemap best practices to guide the process. Then upload the sitemap to Google Search Console to give the search engine the information it needs to crawl and process your site.
Does this workflow sound overly complex? We’re here to help. Reach out to learn how.
Why is website architecture important for SEO?
Good site structure has easy navigation and clear organization that interlinks content in a logical way. It’s important for website visitors and search engines alike. Here’s why it should be part of your SEO strategy.
Better navigation and user experience
A site that’s clearly organized is more user-friendly. Better usability means visitors can find the information or destination they’re looking for, which may make them more likely to complete a conversion.
It’s a win-win situation. Users click through to your site from a search engine results page (SERP), and they have a good experience. They may even become customers — which is easier to do with good site structure.
In contrast, if your site doesn’t match the target audience’s search intent and customers find that your site has limited functionality, they may click away quickly. That can lead to a higher bounce rate over time.
Although it isn’t technically a ranking factor, most SEO experts agree that bounce rate is an indicator of a site’s ranking. In other words, good user experience and low bounce rate can lead to good SEO performance.
Easier for search engines to crawl and index
The benefits of site structure go way beyond user experience. When your site uses a hierarchical page structure, search engine crawlers can index it more easily. In other words, it’s important for a SEO-friendly website.
When search engines can understand your site architecture and how web pages relate to one another, they can better grasp the context of your site. This can have a direct impact on organic search performance.
After all, when search engines like Google correctly understand your site’s content, they can deliver it in response to relevant searches. That means your site is more likely to rank on relevant SERPs.
In contrast, a disorganized site is more difficult for search engines to understand. As a result, Google may not know when or where to serve your site in organic search—which can compromise your rankings.
Better page authority via internal links
Internal links are one of the main ways that search engines like Google find a website’s pages and determine how to rank them. But that doesn’t mean more internal links are necessarily better.
When you create internal links, you essentially tell search engines that different pages are related to one another. As a result, it’s important to be intentional and use a logical internal linking strategy.
For example, if you link to a certain page many times from other pages across your site, you can convey its importance to search engines. This strategy is helpful for establishing pillar pages and topic clusters.
More value from high-authority backlinks
Your site’s linking structure is important for more than creating a hierarchy between pages. A logical internal linking structure can also help your website get more value from high-authority backlinks.
For example, when you publish particularly high-quality piece of content, other sites are likely to link to it. Backlinks from sites with high domain authority can naturally improve your own page’s authority.
The most effective way to pass that authority throughout your site is to link from the most important pages with the best backlinks to other related pages. The end result is a site with logical information architecture that passes authority naturally.
Higher chance of Google sitelinks
Not all organic search engine listings are created equal. For some pages, SERPs list more than a title, description, and URL. Some search engine listings include multiple links with relevant context.
For example, a search for Notion lists the workspace tool at the very top of the SERP. In addition to a link to the tool’s homepage, this listing includes sitelinks leading to a login page, a pricing page, and more.
As a result, the Notion listing takes up much more real estate on the SERP. Since the listing has so many links, it’s more likely that users will see one that reflects what they want to find — leading to more clicks.
It’s important to note that SEO experts can’t set up these sitelinks manually. At least, not exactly. With good website structure, SEO perks like Google sitelinks appear automatically.
What’s a good website architecture example?
All sites follow the same basic principles for SEO website structure, no matter the industry. Let’s look at a few examples of good architecture for SEO for different types of businesses.
Roto-Rooter: Local service provider
As a long-established local service provider with a long list of offerings and a deep catalog of content, Roto-Rooter has a lot of information to organize. Because its site structure is so clear, it’s very easy to navigate.
The site’s navigation menu makes common destinations like “Locations” and “Schedule Service” easy to find. It also organizes service pages under pillars like “Plumbing & Drains” and “Water Damage Restoration.”
While many sites use a heading like “Resources” for links to blogs, Roto-Rooter uses the heading “Plumbing How-To.” Here, users can find the company’s blog as well as libraries of videos and infographics.
Moz: Software company
As a software company, Moz takes a slightly different approach. The “Product” heading in the main menu makes it easy for visitors to learn about the company’s software products and assess capabilities quickly.
Although they’re technically also products, the site lists “Free SEO Tools” as a separate menu item. This organization can help site visitors find these popular resources faster, limiting crawl depth.
All Moz product pages use a “moz.com/products/” URL structure. The company’s educational hub uses a “moz.com/learn/” URL structure, and each page has breadcrumbs for easier navigation.
Ulta Beauty: Ecommerce site
As an ecommerce website, Ulta Beauty uses a navigation menu that invites visitors to click “Shop” to see product categories, “Brands” to browse labels, and “Beauty Services” to book appointments.
Although the site’s navigation features hundreds of options, it allows visitors to find what they need with few clicks. Each page includes a logical URL structure and breadcrumbs for better search and user experience.
Search Engine Journal: Media site
As an industry media site, Search Engine Journal organizes news content into pillars or main categories like “SEO” and “Content.” The website also has a “Latest” category page to help visitors find recent news faster.
Expert tips for SEO site structure
Using the site structure walkthrough and real-life examples above, you can implement website architecture best practices. For more advanced tips and in-depth recommendations, follow this expert advice.
Prioritize site structure for larger sites
In an ideal world, all websites would have logical site architecture from the very beginning. If you’re building a new site, using best practices can set the property up for success, both now and as it grows.
If your site is growing rapidly, it’s even more important to check technical SEO factors like site architecture. As technical SEO expert Joe Robinson explains, “Architecture becomes more important as the overall size and number of pages of the website becomes greater.”
“For a small site with less than, say, 150-200 pages, it doesn’t have a huge impact in my experience. There are definitely better ways to spend your time if you have a relatively small number of pages. Site architecture becomes increasingly important as the number of pages reaches the thousands or more.”
Align SEO tactics with user experience
When mapping out website architecture, avoid optimizing solely for search engines or website visitors. Instead, make sure your SEO efforts align with creating a good user experience.
For best results, focus on functionality. As digital marketer and SEO expert Nat Miletec explains, “Website navigation and usability are stricter now with search engine optimization.”
“After all, it’s the difference between interacting with the site further and closing an unresponsive, poorly built one, which dictates its ranking on search engines. There’s no shortage of websites that provide the users’ needs online, and nobody wants to waste their time on a site where they don’t know what to do next.”
“As such, navigation and user experience are crucial to search engine optimization,” Miletec confirms. “Your site’s internal linking must be logical. It should have keyword-rich anchors that search engines can find with ease.”
Above all, SEO experts recommend ensuring that site structure makes content as easy as possible for visitors to find. In other words, maximize findability across your website to improve organic search rankings.
“The most important factor to consider is how likely it is that someone will find the page when starting from any other page,” Robinson confirms.
How can you make content easier to find? A well-organized navigation bar with logical sub-topics is certainly a start. A hierarchical link structure with content pillars and topic clusters is also essential.
“No matter how many pages your website has, clicks should lead users to where they expect or want without difficulties, improving user experience and your SEO efforts,” explains Miletec. “All these affect click-through rates, time spent on the website, and bounce rates that search engine algorithms consider for search engine results pages.”
As a key element of technical SEO, website architecture is critical for both user experience and search engines. From structuring content and planning internal linking to building URLs and improving navigation, site architecture best practices can have a major impact on SEO performance.
Curious about next steps? Contact us for a free consultation. Our search marketing experts are here to help you get maximum value from your SEO budget.
This article has been updated and was originally published in August 2021.